While coconut was once viewed as an unhealthy food high in saturated fat, the health benefits of coconut have become more apparent. The saturated fat in coconut oil and meat is a different type than the saturated fat found in products such as butter or beef and may have benefits including improved thyroid function and improved heart health. The nut also contains lauric acid, which may have anti-viral and antibacterial properties. Other health benefits of coconut include replenishing lost electrolytes and improving the condition of a person's skin and hair.
The saturated fat found in coconut oil and other coconut products, such as grated coconut, is made up of medium-chain triglycerides instead of long-chain triglycerides, which the fat found in other products, from meats to vegetable oil, is made up of. One of the health benefits of coconut is that the human body can more easily break down medium-chain triglycerides than it can long-chain triglycerides. While the body stores long-chain triglycerides, it burns medium-chain triglycerides, leading to a boost in the metabolism, more energy, and, in some cases, weight loss.
Other health benefits of coconut include a reduction in heart attack risk in some cases. When a person eats coconut meat or uses the oil and consumes a diet high in vegetables and fruits and low in animal products, he may have a reduced risk of heart disease. The fat in coconut oil does not increase levels of LDL, or bad cholesterol, and may increase levels of HDL, or good cholesterol.
Lauric acid provides other health benefits of coconut. When a person eats coconut, the body transforms the lauric acid into monolaurin, a compound that destroys bacteria, fungi, and viruses. Coconut is one of the only natural sources of lauric acid. A tablespoon (15 ml) of dried, shredded coconut meat has about 2 grams of lauric acid, while a tablespoon (15 ml) of coconut oil has 7 grams. The recommended daily amount to see any benefit is between 10 and 20 grams.
Coconut water, the liquid found inside the nut, contains electrolytes the body needs, such as potassium and sodium. It is also a natural source of glucose. The water from coconuts may be a suitable replacement for sports drinks, but because it does contain sugar, it should be consumed in moderation.
Some people use coconut oil on their hair to soften and moisturize it. The oil is also a great skin moisturizer and can help ease itchiness caused by dry skin. In some cases, coconut oil can help ease or prevent skin wrinkling.