Scientific research is performed on nearly every imaginable topic these days, sometimes conflicting with previous studies, such as coffee studies.
This brings me to my newest semi-obsession: coconut oil. It started with a quest to find perfect oils for my hair, which has been natural, or without relaxers, for nearly two years. (curly/kinky textured hair needs moisture to be healthy).
As I began researching the benefits of coconut oil on hair, I came across other uses, from lotions and body scrubs to homemade deodorants and toothpaste. Not to mention, the health benefits found in virgin coconut oil used in cooking or as a supplement. There are 101 things to do with it, and users of it swear by its antibacterial and antiviral properties.
Trying to find conclusive evidence to support many of the claims is difficult. Coconut oil has received a bad rap because it is almost entirely a saturated fat and is solid at room temperature. A processed version of the oil was formerly used in theater popcorn.
However, early research on unrefined, or virgin, coconut oil suggests that this particular type of saturated fat doesn’t raise the risk of heart disease. That saturated fat contains medium chain fatty acids, or lauric acid and stearic acid, scientists explain. Apparently, these act differently in the body. The fatty acids are metabolized quickly in the liver, therefore, may not get stored as fat.
Coconut oil has been touted by many as an aid to weight loss because it quickly makes people feel full.
I asked a nutrition expert about these claims and what a consumer, should consider.
“We still need more research,” said Tami Lawrence, a registered dietitian at Mother Frances Hospital. “It is still considered a saturated fat, so don’t overdo it.”
Ms. Lawrence said the American Dietetic Association has not yet advocated using coconut oil as a supplement nor has it promoted its many other uses. As a dietitian, she’s used to hearing about the next best thing in nutrition, and coconut oil is no exception. For her clients, she tells them that like everything else, moderation is key. How often or how much of the oil people should consume depends on many factors, including health conditions.
If you are going to use coconut oil in cooking or as a supplement, Ms. Lawrence suggests an overall diet of low saturated fat with plenty of fruits and vegetables. Additionally, individuals should do their own research. When choosing to add a new type of food to diets, she said, to present it to their doctor, particularly for people with health issues.
It’s good to find new and creative ways to use what is given to us by nature, whether it be for cooking, medicinal or cosmetic purposes. In a world filled with manmade things, it’s refreshing to find uses for natural subjects.
As for weight loss and the pursuit of health, one solution is almost guaranteed to provide a path to wellness: There’s no need to find more research on eating real food, getting exercise and avoiding alcohol and tobacco products.
As scientists continue to research health benefits of coconut oil, I’m just glad I’ve found a naturally good way to moisturize.