While olive oil is most known as the "healthy oil," coconut oil is gaining popularity as possibly an even healthier alternative. While coconut oil has myriad health benefits, is inexpensive and has been used as a health supplement for centuries, like any oil it can be messy to take in liquid form. This makes it a good candidate to be taken in capsule form so you can enjoy all the nutrients of the coconut in a convenient and clean package.
Coconut oil has been used by natives in tropical areas for thousands of years. The coconut palm tree was known as the "tree of life" within these traditional communities. However, research in the 1970s on coconut oil determined that its high levels of saturated fats made it an unhealthy choice. These studies were later found to be flawed because inferior grades of hydrogenated coconut oils were used in the experiments that were not representative of the properties in natural coconut oil.
More recent research on coconut oil has concluded that while it does contain a high amount of saturated fats, the bulk of this fat has been found to be "beneficial fat." While beneficial fat sounds a bit like an oxymoron, saturated fats in the form of medium-chain fatty acids such as lauric acid have been found to positively affect many functions in the body. Not only are these kinds of fatty acids good for you, they can be tough to find in other oils, as all other vegetable oils beside tropical oils are completely devoid of them.
Because coconut oil contains an array of essential fatty acids, it can be effective for a broad range of health issues. While it has antioxidant, antimicrobial, antifungal and antibacterial qualities, one of coconut oil's most significant effects is on immune system health. Lauric acid is especially good for the immune system, and coconut oil has higher concentrations than any other source except mother's milk.
There have been many reports that coconut oil can be effective for weight control, and while it may not work for everyone, there is some scientific research to support this claim. Studies have found that the essential fatty acids in coconut oil are more easily digested than other fats because they process directly in the liver. This process has been proven to increase metabolism and provide more immediate energy. Higher metabolism and increased energy--provided the extra energy is used for exercise--can both have a positive effect on weight control.
Coconut oil is available in organic form and virgin form, but be wary of products labeled "extra virgin," because unlike with olive oil, there is no such thing as extra virgin coconut oil. It is just a marketing ploy. Coconut oil is hydrophobic, meaning it does not mix well with water, so choosing soft gel capsules which facilitate absorption is recommended. One of the more practical benefits of coconut oil is that it is relatively easy on the wallet; in 2009 you can find a bottle of 120 softgels of virgin coconut oil for $8.80 on iherb.com, and luckyvitamin.com sells organic virgin coconut oil in bottles of 120 softgels for $11.85.