Coconut oil: healing salve or harmful fad?

Photo by Sebastien Gabriel

Photo by Sebastien Gabriel


So you bought a jar of coconut oil. Maybe you picked it up thinking you’d replace butter for something healthier. However, as big as the hype is on the health benefits of coconut oil, it's also notorious for its saturated fat content, leaving a health conscious individual as yourself in limbo. Though the saturated fat debate is a hot topic in the nutrition world and it will surely continue, Here's what we do know. Plus, a recipe for Turmeric Coconut Milk.

Coconut oil is different than other oils with saturated fats such as butter and lard. Coconut oil is high in saturated fat; in fact, it is made of 80% saturated fat while the remaining 20% is medium-chain fatty acids. Medium-chain fatty acids function differently in the body than long-chain fatty acids that are found in butter and lard.  MCFA are absorbed more quickly than longer chain fatty acids and therefore are less likely to deposit in your tissues and the bloodstream. The concern with fats in the diet is the accumulation of such in your bloodstream which can contribute to cardiovascular disease (CVD).

When looking at cultures that traditionally use coconut oil, the population health is very unlike the Western world. Population studies of those living on islands such as the inhabitants of Papua New Guinea and Polynesia show an absence of heart-related conditions. Nonetheless, it’s important to note that population studies of nutrition can sometimes make it difficult to tease out if a particular food has health specific benefits. Rather, the strength and vigor of a population may be due to a synergy of elements.

In the tropics where coconuts grow, the coconut palm plant has myriad uses. All the elements of the coconut palm are put to use: from drinking the electrolyte-rich water to transforming the husk into rope.  Because of the versatility of the coconut palm, three spiritual traditions have a term Kalpavriksha which means “the all giving tree” which is often attributed to the coconut palm tree.

Coconut oil has also been used for centuries in Ayurvedic medicine. Consuming coconut oil offers many health benefits and is known to be anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-inflammatory. It equally has a place in the kitchen cabinet as it does in your medicine cabinet. Coconut oil has many benefits when used topically and for oral health care.  Coconut oil is a great moisturizer for body and hair, and a little goes a long way! It even has anti-septic qualities that prevent the growth of microorganisms in the mouth. Clinical studies show that there is no difference in effectiveness between coconut oil and medicated mouthwash on dental hygiene. Try swishing your mouth with coconut oil — but be sure to spit it out afterwards!

When it comes to oil, coconut or not, it should be used sparingly as it is pure fat. Currently, coconut oil in the United States is more of a fad than a health movement. Simply replacing coconut oil with other oils is not necessarily any healthier for you because fat is fat. Think critically about whether coconut oil potato chips are any better for you than chips fried in other oils.

A great way that you can use coconut oil is in recipes that are smart and functional. Coconut oil can be part of a healthy diet when used in traditional cooking such as with Indian cuisine. Try Turmeric Milk that combines traditional Ayurvedic ingredients for a warm soothing beverage. The combination of coconut oil, black pepper and turmeric is traditional in Ayurvedic medicine and beneficial for reducing inflammation.


Turmeric Milk

Serves 1



1 cup coconut milk

2 tsp coconut oil

1 tsp ground turmeric

¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper

½ tsp freshly ground or dried ginger

Optional: raw honey


Combine all ingredients in a saucepan. Stir and heat over low heat until milk begins to boil.

Sip slowly and enjoy!