Coconut oil is rich in lauric acid which several studies have shown to have antibacterial, antiviral, and antioxidant properties. Recent studies have also provided evidence of coconut oil improving memory and learning by inhibiting inflammasome and reducing oxidative stress.
Many of the purported benefits point to it as a source of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), a type of fat that is absorbed and metabolized more efficiently than other fats. There is some debate about whether lauric acid, the primary fatty acid in coconut oil, acts more like a long-chain fatty acid than a medium-chain fatty acid in the body. Proponents claim that coconut oil can increase your levels of HDL ("good") cholesterol, making it a better option for your heart than the saturated fats in cheese, butter, and red meat. Virgin coconut oil improves the health of the hippocampus and improves memory and learning in Alzheimer and high fat diet model rats by inhibiting inflammation and reducing oxidative stress.
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Opting for "virgin" coconut oil means that the coconut oil was extracted from fresh coconut flesh at low temperatures without being refined, bleached, or deodorized. In addition, virgin coconut oil tends to offer a richer flavor than refined coconut oil.
Unrefined, or virgin, coconut oil should only be used at low temperatures or not heated at all. If you're looking for an oil that can be used at high heat for frying and sautéing, look for monounsaturated fat-rich oils such as almond oil, avocado oil, or grapeseed oil.
Coconut oil can be used as an alternative to butter, or in moderation in recipes that complement the oil's unique, subtly sweet flavor:
- - Add coconut oil to your coffee
- - Use coconut oil on your popcorn instead of butter
- - Try baking with coconut oil
- - Sauté onions and garlic
- - Roast vegetables in coconut oil
Coconut oil also has skin and hair uses. It's sometimes used topically to moisturize dry skin or as a massage oil.