Coconut Oil Health Benefits and Side Effects

Written by: Christopher Karam | ✔️ Medically Reviewed by: Dr. Riad M., M.D - G.P and Micheal B., M.D | Last Updated: 2020 April 27

Table of Contents

  1. Break Down
  2. Health Benefits
  3. Side Effects
  4. Nutrition Facts
  5. Recommendation
  6. Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
  7. Related Articles
  8. Sources
  9. Buy Coconut Oil Now (US)

Break Down and Background

Coconut oil is made from fresh coconut meat called Copra, the copra is later dried then pressed to extract the milk and oil from the coconut, separating the two to get a final product.

Coconut oil has a wonderful aroma and great flavor profile, coconuts are a moderately cheap and healthy choice for cooking, baking, and pan-frying.

The huge list of health benefits and minimal side effects of coconut oil makes it a powerful superfood. It has heart-healthy fats such as medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) and long-chain fatty acids which improve heart health, promote weight loss, as well as improves cognitive health and function.

spoon of coconut oil

The medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs) found in coconut oil include caprylic acid, lauric acid, and capric acid. Over 60% of the fatty acids found in coconut oil are made up of MCFAs. It also has no trans fats.

The USDA’s national nutrient database shows that these MCFAs are some of the healthiest fats you can add to your diet. This is because MCFAs are easy to digest and not directly stored as body fat.

Over 87% of the fat composition is saturated fat, which is a smaller molecule and is why coconut oil is solid at room temperature, although it melts at 24° Celcius (74° Fahrenheit) which is just below core body temperature.

Coconut oil is the 4th most consumed oil in the states hovering around 403,500 Metric Tons of oil, trailing behind olive oil, soybean oil, canola oil, vegetable oil, and Palm oil who’s combined total consumption in 2017 sits at about 14,747,000 Metric Tons.

The top producers and exporters of coconut oil and coconut butter around the world are:

  • Indonesia

  • Philippines

  • India

making up just over 75% of all global exports totalling a combined total of around 455 million metric tons. Followed suit by Brazil and Sri Lanka both combining into around 5 million tons.

That's a huge difference in the consumption of healthy vs unhealthy fats. That's because the low-quality oils are full of trans fats and are heavily used by most fast food companies and manufacturers.

It’s mostly used by the health care products and cosmetic industries, along with the health-conscious dieters. Coconut oil is even used in many hand creams, moisturizers, body and hair care products, and sprays appealing to a wider range of people.

Coconut Oil Has Many Controversial Studies

Medical advice from the American Heart Association (AHA) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) both talk against the consumption of coconut oil because it’s high in saturated fat and triglycerides.

coconut shell and oil jar

Coconut oil is a dense source of energy, which comes from its saturated fat, MCTs, and MCFAs. You'd only need about a tablespoon of coconut oil to get all of its nutrition, which is about 130 calories and 14 grams of fat.

Using MCT oil gives you positive health properties including the ability to help with weight loss, reduce bad cholesterol levels, and alleviating symptoms of yeast infections.

Soybean oil, canola oil, avocado oil, seed oils, and palm oil are the worst fats you can consume, especially since their hydrogenated versions are found in almost all superstores.

Even buying them for home cooking is no better since they're smoking points are very low, which makes them easy to burn.

The American Heart Association and the public health advocates claim that these are better alternatives for improving your heart health.

This is false and their results have been disproven in countless studies showing how hydrogenated vegetable oils are harmful to your health.

Refined vs Extra Virgin vs Organic Coconut Oil

It’s made in many different ways, regular refined coconut oil and its virgin counterpart both carrying different results, it's better to opt into the virgin coconut oil option. Avoid refined and hydrogenated coconut oil.

The actual difference between virgin and extra virgin coconut oil is nothing as the only difference is a play on their branding.

The real difference you should be thinking about is between refined versus the virgin alternative. Made from Copra, which is the dried coconut kernel being pressed, extracting and refining the extracted oil.

The unrefined coconut oil is then bleached and deodorized to make it suitable for consumption. This would be the lower quality option since it’s lacking any healthy triglycerides and saturated fats.

coconuts and coconut oil jar

These will be the ones that you'll usually find in major supermarkets and stores being relatively cheap, close enough to canola oil.

Because the coconut kernel has a tougher chemical composition, the smoking point for refined coconut oil is at 400°F.

Extra virgin coconut oil is made by extracting oil from the coconut milk, then left unrefined. Since coconut oil is left close to its natural state, it's color will not be as bright nor as white as its refined counterpart.

Since the structure of coconut milk is more sensitive compared to the coconut kernel, the smoking point for organic virgin coconut oil sits at 350°F.

A good quality coconut oil is very healthy and nutritious, being regarded as being a top tier food product. The list of coconut oil applications can go on, from physical uses, cooking applications, to helping you lose weight.

The negative health effects are relevant but controllable. Issues only come forth when you consume too much. The biggest factor for the lack of availability is the high price due to the cost of production and gathering of coconuts.

When you're able to get canola oil for just over 1.50$ per liter compared to coconut oil or coconut butter who’re both priced at an average of 20$ per liter, it's easy to see why the difference in consumption is so massive.

It's always recommended to get the highest quality coconut oil that you can, a few great selling points on a good quality oil you should look for is having it be cold-pressed, organic, virgin, and have no artificial preservatives or additives.

So how much coconut oil should you have a day? It depends on what else you’re eating daily and the nutrients you get through your diet.

If it's your only choice of cooking oil at home, then you have to substitute it for some other cooking oil and reduce your intake to about 2 tablespoons of coconut oil to no more than 3 tablespoons per day.

Coconut Oil Health Benefits

Coconut oil has a lot of amazing benefits stemming from all of its healthy list of fats, which includes:

  • Saturated fat

  • Lauric acid

  • Unsaturated fats

  • MCFAs

  • MCTs

These applications can range from physical body care applications, raising good (HDL) cholesterol, to internal organ health.

Eating plain coconut is alright if you're looking for the raw benefits of coconut oil, but you should keep your total consumption low since it's full of saturated fats. These fats are mostly healthy unless you ingest too much, which can start to cause heart complications.

It's gone through minimal processing before made into a final product. The coconut oil is usually made by cold pressing it to extract all of its natural oils, without the use of chemicals.

Refined cooking oils are a lower quality product that's been processed by bleaching and deodorizing the oil, it’s best to use cold-pressed coconut oil.

It has usually been processed with high heats and chemical reactions to get a refined product, this kills a lot of its antioxidants.

cocos nucifera tree

The refining process takes away the taste and smell of coconut and makes the hardened oil have a thick white color, instead of a clear white.

1. Improves Hair and Skin Health

Using coconut oil as well as other healthy cooking oils regularly can improve your physical and mental health.

Coconut oil clears your digestive system of any harmful bacteria and by being a great source of healthy fats that are essential for brain function.

Applying it to your hair is great for proper hair health, it locks in moisture, keeps your hair soft, protects it against humidity, and boosts your hair care arsenal due to its beneficial saturated fat content and MCTs.

This also increases shine because coconut oil penetrates the hair better than traditional mineral oils.

Regularly using it on your hair and scalp weekly ensures that you stay dandruff free, regardless of chronic dryness. It also helps with keeping your head free of lice, a valuable skincare alternative.

It has antibacterial properties that help fight against dry skin, eczema, and other fungal related issues like candida albicans (yeast infections) and staphylococcus aureus (causes lung and respiratory disease).

Coconut oil also increases and enhances our outer skin cell health and helps reduce inflammation.

2. Helps You Lose Weight and Increases Metabolism

It'll also help by burning fat by increasing your basal metabolic rate (BMR) by removing excess stress on your pancreas since it's much easier to digest than conventional cooking oils.

This makes it so that coconut oil may help you burn off more calories and belly fat, all of which can make you lose weight and lowers your body fat levels.

coconut milk and flakes

The healthy fatty acid levels help minimize the severity of many common skin conditions such as dryness, eczema, dandruff, and dermatitis.

It can reduce all forms of bloating and clogging while moisturizing the affected area.

The healthy balance of MCTs and saturated fat can also aid to control blood sugar levels by improving your insulin sensitivity which will reduce your insulin resistance.

The antioxidants also help with reducing stress, reducing cortisol (stress hormone) levels can aid by further balancing your blood sugar and maximizes the belly fat burning hormonal effects.

3. Maintain Oral Health and Whitens Teeth

Research shows that the oil pulling and teeth whitening effects of coconut oil are the most effective when compared to products that are marketed to do the same.

The antimicrobial effects of its MCFAs help stick and neutralize the bacteria in your mouth. This helps heal your gums, repair tooth decay and damage.

Removing excess bacteria around your mouth can start to whiten your teeth and decreases your risk of gingivitis, gum disease, cavities, and even oral cancer.

It's recommended oil pulling using coconut oil around 2-3 times a week, swishing the oil around your mouth for between 15 to 20 minutes.

4. Reduces LDL and Increases HDL Cholesterol Levels

A study and research paper at Harvard Medical School states that the healthy fats found in coconut oil help raise the levels of good HDL cholesterol in your blood and decreases LDL cholesterol.

This is linked to a reduced risk of heart disease and other cardiovascular risk factors. Coconut oil is full of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), some of the benefits of HDL cholesterol are:

  • Helps clear blockages in the arteries

  • Lower risk of heart disease and cardiovascular disease

  • Has anti-inflammatory effects

This is also proven by the vast amounts of regions that thrive on having a diet rich in coconut oil, such as the Philipines and India. These countries have reduced rates of:

  • Heart disease

  • Cardiovascular complications

  • Overall reduced levels of inflammation

MTCs and polyunsaturated fats are much easier to burn for energy compared to long-chain triglycerides (LCTs) and more difficult for your body to store it as fat. Which is why coconut oil is beneficial for weight loss.

selling coconut husks

5. Strengthens Your Immune System

Many different healthy fats have the added benefit of boosting your immune system, such as:

  • Antimicrobial lipids

  • Capric acid

  • Caprylic acid

  • Oleic acid

  • Linoleic acid

  • Lauric acid

They're all used for antifungal, antibiotic, and anti-ageing effects when applied to the skin or ingested through the mouth. Similar to healthy remedies and detoxes, coconut oil also helps with clearing up your digestive tract and can prevent any digestive issues.

It's saturated fats help coat your digestive tract and clear up any bacteria or fungi that can hurt your digestive system.

This benefits and improves your digestion by increasing absorption rates of vitamins, essential minerals, and amino acids. The fats help you absorb fat-soluble vitamins such as A, D, E, K, as well as Calcium and Magnesium.

6. Helps Prevent The Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease

Countless studies show that consuming coconut oil daily can benefit people suffering from Alzheimer's disease. The healthy fat profile and antibacterial properties of coconut oil help minimize the effects of Alzheimer’s.

The healthy ketones released to your brain cells help with improving memory and reduce the rate of calcification of the brain. The brains in patients with Alzheimer's can't produce insulin to properly use glucose for energy, functions, or repairs.

Ketones don't require insulin to be metabolized which serves as a powerful energy source for the brain to help reduce damages.

Coconut oil also reduces inflammation which also helps protect against the development of Crohn’s disease or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) coming from coconut oil’s lauric acids and polyunsaturated fats.

7. Detoxifies and Cleans Your Liver and Kidneys

Coconut oil’s antibacterial properties help detoxify and clean your liver, which reduces your risk of contracting types of fatty liver disease, also called Hepatosteatosis.

The healthy lauric and other fatty acids in coconut oil also help coat the liver and protect it from being damaged.

The MCFAs act as a natural antibiotic that helps fight bacteria and destroys their protective lipid barrier, similar to the effects of soap. Lauric acid is the leading factor for coconut oil’s antiviral, antioxidant, and anti-fungal properties.

broken coconut shells

Most diseases are caused by the overgrowth of harmful bacteria and viruses, lauric acid makes your digestive system a hostile environment for bad bacteria growth.

Lauric acid has also been shown to have anti-cancer results by triggering apoptotic and anti-proliferation effects (cell division) in cancer cells.

Even the coconut water helps hydrate and clean your kidneys. It helps flush away bacteria and can even help unlodge kidney stones. The antioxidants found in coconut oil can reduce inflammation and minimize Arthritis symptoms.

The MCFAs ingest and kill the membrane walls of bacteria, including Helicobacter Pylori, a bacteria that's been proven to increase your risk of stomach cancer.

Here’s a list of healthy oils have similar benefits to coconut oil, which includes:

There are other healthy ingredients, recipes, and desserts that pair well with coconut oil:

  • Fruits such as: apples, pineapples, lime and lemon juice, grapes and raisins, dates, watermelon, cantaloupe, raspberries, peaches, pomegranates, and mangoes

  • Herbs and spices including: chives, mint, spinach, basil, rosemary, dill, chilli, sage, vanilla, saffron, mustard seeds, parsley, cilantro, flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, thyme, oregano, hemp hearts, chia seeds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, and bay leaves

  • Seasonings such as: garlic, cocoa powder (chocolate), salt and black pepper, cumin, turmeric, ginger, smoked paprika, and cinnamon

  • Red meat, seafood, and poultry including: beef steak, ground beef, game meats, tuna steaks, chicken, turkey, salmon, tilapia, red snapper, shrimps, crabs, and lobsters

  • Vegetables and legumes such as: green beans, peas, carrots, beets, mushrooms, corn, bell peppers, black beans, kidney beans, white beans, chickpeas, broccoli, leeks, cauliflower, bean sprouts, and soybeans

  • Carbohydrates and starches including: potatoes, sweet potatoes, white and brown rice, oats, pasta, and bread

  • Nuts such as: almonds, cashews, peanuts, pecans, and macadamia nuts

  • Deserts including: pies, creme brules, custards, sweet sauces and drizzles, cakes, and cookies

8. Unsaturated Fatty Acids May Reduce Seizures

The Keto diet has a wide range of benefits, most of it which comes from the use of ketones instead of glucose as your main energy source.

There are many studies reiewing the effects of ketones and ketone bodies in the bloodstream, with its ability to reduce the risk of seizures in children with epilepsy.

Coconut Oil Side Effects and Detriments

1. Can Harmfully Increase Cholesterol Levels

The coconut oil side effects vary based on your diet, it has high levels of harmful LDL and good HDL cholesterol, this can still be troubling to people who already have a high amount of cholesterol in their bloodstream.

However, if you suffer from too much bad cholesterol in your blood, consuming a product that's too high in good (HDL) cholesterol can still be a cause for concern.

coconut flakes

Your total cholesterol will be so high that it can start to cause harm. At this point, it's best to confirm with your physician or nutritionist if you should include any ingredients like coconut oil into your daily diet.

2. Can Cause Diarrhea

Because coconut oil acts as a detox for your digestive tract, killing all the bad bacteria can be sent out in waves of diarrhea.

This is only temporary and fades away after the first few days, foods containing hemp oil have similar results.

Coconut oil's high level of saturated fats shouldn't be something to overlook. You should look to take in about 1-3 tsp per day. Any more and you'd be very close to passing over your daily limit.

3 tsp would be around 60% of your daily limit, which is more than enough considering you'll be filling that gap with other foods throughout the day.

3. Possible Allergies to Coconuts

Make sure you check to make sure you have no allergies with it comes to coconut oil, it's best to test both.

The safest and most efficient way to go about testing allergic reactions is to apply it to your skin. This is only recommended if you're not at all able to clinically verify your allergies.

Do not ingest the oil. First, apply a fingernail-sized drop of oil on your skin, let it sit for 30 seconds and then wipe it off.

Check the applied area consistently, if 30 minutes have passed and no reaction occurred, you should now test it orally under the supervision of a pediatrician. Only test your allergy orally under medical supervision.

coconut products

Rating and Recommendation

Highly Recommended

Going through the proven studies conducted on coconut oil which include:

  • Physical healing properties

  • Full of antioxidants

  • Antifungal, antiviral, and antibacterial

  • Boosts brain function, heart-health, as well as mental and physical wellbeing

The health improvements from including coconut oil into your diet heavily outweigh its negative effects.

Coconut oil’s chemical composition makes it resilient to higher heats and can withstand being cooked with up to medium-high heat. Virgin coconut oil's smoke point is 204°C (350°F) and refined coconut oil's smoke point is 205°C (400°F).

Here’s the full list of the health benefits of coconut oil:

  1. Virgin Coconut Oil Improves Hair and Skin Health

  2. Helps You Lose Weight and Increases Metabolism

  3. Maintain Oral Health and Whitens Teeth

  4. Reduces LDL and Increases HDL Cholesterol Levels

  5. Strengthens Your Immune System

  6. Helps Prevent The Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease

  7. Detoxifies and Cleans Your Liver and Kidneys

  8. Unsaturated Fatty Acids May Reduce Seizures

Here’s the list of side effects of coconut oil:

  1. Can Harmfully Increase Cholesterol Levels

  2. Can Cause Diarrhea

  3. Possible Allergies to Coconuts

If coconut oil is out of your budget but you still want to have coconut be a part of your diet, you can opt-in for coconut flour instead.

Coconut flour is relatively cheap, it’s low in carbs, loaded with fiber, fat, and protein sitting at around 1 to 1.3$ per 100 grams. It's safe to say that we give coconut oil a very high rating, it's highly recommended to have some regular consumption and usage of coconut oil.

These antibacterial and anti-fungal properties are great for cleaning up your digestive system as well as helping regulate your hunger and helping you lose weight.

Think of it as a detox, it cleans your body, paired with virgin olive oil consumption which is rich in nutrients, is the best combination to keep your body functioning at it's highest potential.

Frequently Asked Questions

Copra and coconut oil are edible cooking ingredients used in many southeast countries due to its abundance of healthy fats and fatty acids, health benefits, and practicality. Because it's so high in saturated fat and high in medium-chain triglycerides (MCT), it's really slow to oxidize making it resistant to rancidification.

Virgin coconut oil is its most pure form. One coconut can yield between 200 to 300 ml of coconut oil. And it can last up to 6 months without going rancid.

How is Coconut Oil Made?

The traditional way to extract coconut oil from coconuts is very simple. The process has recently been improved by manufacturers to automate the process even more.

They're gathered and then cracked open having the coconut water separated, and then grinding the meat out from the shell. The coconut meat is then put into a cheesecloth and squeezed to release all of the milk.

It's then filtered, poured into a bin and heated to around 350°F for up to an hour depending on the amount of milk being boiled. It's then cooked till the residues sink to the bottom and the coconut oil stays afloat.

Coconut oil is used in traditional Southeast Asian and Indian cuisines and cleaning products. The cleaning services in these countries cut the shells in half and begin wiping the furniture, floors, and walls with the coconut meat.

The food applications coconut milk and butter are mostly used in are curries, rice, chicken and beef sauces. These are also great vegan-friendly options for thickening soups, sauces, and salad dressings.

Coconut oil is amazing for you, it's full of healthy saturated fats, MCTs and fatty acids, with a small amount of good HDL cholesterol, polyunsaturated, and monounsaturated fats. These healthy fatty acids benefit the function of your brain, heart, kidneys, and other internal organs.

Coconut oil is fantastic for your hair in almost every case.

Although, it's dependent on your hair type. Since it can help retain the hair's natural protein, it can also cause brittle hair and damage in people with a thick or coarse head of hair.

If your hair is fine to average in thickness and shine, you're a perfect match. If you suffer from thick, dry, and brittle hair, use marula oil or argan oil since those are much better for moisturizing people with thicker hair types.

Articles and Sources

1. United States Department of Agriculture (2018 April 01) National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference - Basic Report: 04047, Oil, Coconut

2. Nutr Hosp. (2015 November 05) A coconut virgin oil-rich diet increases HDL cholesterol and decreases waist circumference and body mass in coronary artery disease patients.

3. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. (2011 February 11) Coconut oil is associated with a beneficial lipid profile in pre-menopausal women in the Philippines.

4. J Cosmet Sci. (2003 March 02) Effect of mineral oil, sunflower oil, and coconut oil on prevention of hair damage.

5. J Cosmet Sci. (2001 May 03) Secondary ion mass spectrometric investigation of penetration of coconut and mineral oils into human hair fibers: relevance to hair damage.

6. Int J Mol Sci. (2018 January 19) Anti-Inflammatory and Skin Barrier Repair Effects of Topical Application of Some Plant Oils

7. Biomed J. (2013 January 01) Medium-chain triglyceride ketogenic diet, an effective treatment for drug-resistant epilepsy and a comparison with other ketogenic diets.

8. ISRN Pharmacol. (2011 March 15) An Open-Label Pilot Study to Assess the Efficacy and Safety of Virgin Coconut Oil in Reducing Visceral Adiposity

9. Ghana Med J. (2016 September 03) Coconut oil and palm oil's role in nutrition, health and national development: A review

10. Nutr Rev. (2016 April 04) Coconut oil consumption and cardiovascular risk factors in humans

11. BMC Complement Altern Med. (2017 January 28) Maternal intake of dietary virgin coconut oil modifies essential fatty acids and causes low body weight and spiky fur in mice

12. J Intern Med. (1993 March 03) Apparent absence of stroke and ischaemic heart disease in a traditional Melanesian island: a clinical study in Kitava.

13. J Med Food. (2007 June 02) In vitro antimicrobial properties of coconut oil on Candida species in Ibadan, Nigeria.

14. Eur J Clin Nutr. (1996 March 03) Twenty-four-hour energy expenditure and urinary catecholamines of humans consuming low-to-moderate amounts of medium-chain triglycerides: a dose-response study in a human respiratory chamber.

15. J Am Coll Nutr. (2019 February 02) Health Effects of Coconut Oil-A Narrative Review of Current Evidence.

16. BMJ Open. (2018 March 03) Randomised trial of coconut oil, olive oil or butter on blood lipids and other cardiovascular risk factors in healthy men and women.

17. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. (2017 December 14) Daily Consumption of Virgin Coconut Oil Increases High-Density Lipoprotein Cholesterol Levels in Healthy Volunteers: A Randomized Crossover Trial

18. Circulation. (2020 March 10) The Effect of Coconut Oil Consumption on Cardiovascular Risk Factors: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Clinical Trials.

19. Nutr Rev. (2016 April 04) Coconut oil consumption and cardiovascular risk factors in humans.

20. J Med Food. (2013 December 12) Antimicrobial effects of virgin coconut oil and its medium-chain fatty acids on Clostridium difficile.

21. Nutr Rev. (2020 March 03) Impact of coconut oil consumption on cardiovascular health: a systematic review and meta-analysis.

22. Eur J Nutr. (2018 June 04) Effects of coconut oil consumption on energy metabolism, cardiometabolic risk markers, and appetitive responses in women with excess body fat.

23. Eur J Clin Nutr. (1998 September 09) Effects of dietary coconut oil, butter and safflower oil on plasma lipids, lipoproteins and lathosterol levels.

coconut shells open

Coconut Oil Nutrition Facts

Serving Size 100 g (about 3.5 Oz or 0.44 Cups)

Amount Per Serving
Calories 884 Calories from Fat 884
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 100 g 154 %
Saturated Fat 87 g 435 %
Polyunsaturated fat 1.8 g
Monounsaturated fat 6 g
Trans Fat 0 g
Cholesterol 0 mg 0 %
Sodium 0 mg 0 %
Potassium 0 mg 0 %
Total Carbohydrate 0 g 0 %
Dietary Fiber 0 g 0 %
Sugars 0 g
Protein 0 g
Vitamin A 0 % Vitamin C 0 %
Vitamin E 0 % Vitamin K 0 %
Vitamin D 0 % Vitamin B6 0 %
Calcium 0 % Iron 0 %
Magnesium 0 % Cobalamin 0 %

Calories per gram:

Fat: 9 | Carbohydrate: 4 | Protein: 4

Source: USDA's Nutrient Database

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