How much should we really trust coconut oil? The pros and cons of the 'miracle' product

Coconut oil has been lauded a ‘miracle’ product in the media. [Photo: Getty]

Whether you’re superfood aficionado, beauty product enthusiastic or someone who simply couldn’t care less, there’s one product no one has been able to escape in the last few years: coconut oil.

The coconut extract has been lauded a ‘miracle’ product in the media and by experts alike, praised for its do-all applications.

Perhaps one of the most universal uses for coconut oil is in our food. Health food advocates claim the oil is a healthier substitute to other fats, with many using it in coffees, smoothies, baking and as an oil substitute for fried dishes.

We follow coconut oil with blind dedication, touting its benefits to our friends and family, but just how good for you is it?

Not very, according to one Harvard University professor.

Dr Karin Michels has made headlines by calling coconut oil “one of the worst foods you can eat” and “pure poison”.

During a speech at the renowned American university entitled ‘Coconut Oil and other Nutritional Errors’, Dr Michels warned against its use.

Dr Michels said the consumption of coconut oil and other ‘superfoods’ was unnecessary as we get enough nutrition from everyday fruit and vegetables.

Some people add a dollop of coconut oil to their morning coffee. [Photo : Getty]

What research has been done about the health benefits of coconut oil?

Coconut oil is about 86% saturated fat, which is roughly one-third more saturated fat than butter.

Diets high in saturated fats can be linked with heightened cholesterol, heart disease and stroke, yet people claim the fats in coconut oil are healthier for us than other saturated fats.

But according to the British Heart Foundation (BHF), there is “not enough good-quality research to provide us with a definitive answer” on whether this is true.

An expert from the foundation advised that coconut oil was ok to use “every now and then,” but “it’s best to restrict yourself to small amounts and use unsaturated oils as an everyday choice instead.”

Foods containing unsaturated fats include avocado, nuts, and vegetable oils such as olive oils and canola oils. 

Coconut oil has myriad uses. [Photo: Getty]

What else can coconut oil be used for?

Before we boycott coconut oil and banish it to the back of the cupboard, it’s worth investigating its other uses.

As a hair treatment:

Coconut oil is often used on scalps as a nourishing treatment: simply massage the oil into the roots of your hair and leave for 10 minutes.

Some people use coconut oil as a full hair treatment to combat dry hair, but there has been some debate about just how effective this is.

Experts claim you shouldn’t use it to combat dry hair problems as the oil stops necessary, nourishing amino acids getting in the hair shafts.

On the other side of the argument, some say coconut oil is especially useful for damaged hair as it coats the hair, protecting the shaft from becoming waterlogged, leading to further damage. 

As a skincare product:

Coconut oil is often touted as an effective natural moisturiser, though some beauty experts claim the product only sees to coating the skin and clogging pores.

For your teeth:

Perhaps most surprisingly is the use of coconut oil on our teeth. A study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) of 60 adults showed that swishing your mouth with coconut oil for 10 minutes every day significantly reduced the amount of bacteria in saliva in as little as two weeks.

Of course, every person’s hair, skin and teeth respond to products different, so it’s best to test coconut oil out before you write it off, or likewise, add it into your daily beauty routine.

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