Coconut oil comes from the fruit or nut of the coconut palm tree. Much like olive oil, coconut oil tends to be classified as “virgin” or not. However, unlike olive oil that term really has no meaning for coconut oil and is used to simply mean that the oil was not processed, bleached, deodorized, or otherwise refined.
Coconut oil contains zero cholesterol, no fiber, and trace amounts of a few vitamins (mainly vitamin E), minerals, and plant sterols. A tablespoon of the oil has about 121 calories and 14 grams of fat – 11 of which is saturated. It contains fats known as medium chain triglycerides (MCT) and is absorbed differently in the body (mainly they are harder for the body to convert into stored fat) than other types of saturated fats which had lead some to believe that it is a healthier oil to consume. Though there is no real scientific backing on any of the health claims about coconut oil. It has gained popularity over the last few years as a “healthy alternative” to the oils we are used to cooking with but it is even more popular in topical products such as lotions, salves, and body scrubs.
Due to the way the oil is absorbed by the body and the fact that it is nontoxic to humans and animals, people claim that it has:
- Anti-carcinogenic properties (may prevent the spread of cancer cells and enhances the immune system)
- Anti-inflammatory properties
- Anti-microbial / infection fighting properties (bacteria, viruses, yeast, fungi, parasites and protozoa)
- An antioxidant properties (may protect against free-radical formation and damage)
- Improves nutrient absorption since it is easily digestible (meaning they feel that it makes fat-based vitamins more available to the body – i.e. vitamins A, D, E, K)
What do they say coconut oil can help with?
Well, there are a lot of claims that coconut oil can help heal your skin – whether you consume it or rub it on topically. The claims range from helping small burns or cuts or bruises heal faster, stopping bug bites from itching, healing dandruff and other dry scalp problems, to helping your body burn more fat, strengthening your immune system, helping fade age/liver spots, and even re-grow hair.
There are also claims that coconut oil can help with medical conditions such as:
- Thyroid function issues
- Bowel issues
- Heart Disease
- Gallbladder disease
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Kidney disease and stones
- Cholesterol problems
- Poor circulation
- Flaky or dry skin
- Acid reflux or indigestion
- Adrenal and chronic fatigue
- Alzheimer’s and dementia
- Athletes foot and other foot fungus
- Back pain and sore muscles
- Stomach ulcers
- And more
One thing I can say for certain, using coconut oil topically on your skin or in your hair has noticeable visible benefits since it is a very effective moisturizer. For dry skin, use a very small amount and gently massage it into your skin. For dry or frizzy hair, apply a small amount to the hair and leave on at least a few minutes before washing it out.
Some of the most useful uses for coconut oil in the kitchen are:
- Cooking with it! It tastes great and a little goes a long way. When substituting coconut oil for butter or vegetable shortening you only need about 25% of the amount you would have used of those other items.
- Oiling your wooden cutting boards or other wooden kitchen items (such as bowls, platters, and utensils).
- Seasoning your cookware (like cast iron).
A word of caution
Coconut oil is still oil… and more specifically it is a saturated fat (80-90% saturated!). This gives the oil a firm texture when it is cold or at room temperature. It is not good to consume in large quantities. Consumption of coconut oil in large quantities can lead to an increase in the body’s level of “bad” low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol which in turn can lead to serious health problems. Always consult a medical professional before starting a new diet routine or if you have any questions about adding new foods into your diet.
What are your favorite ways to use or consume coconut oil?
Let us know in the comments below!