To say that I love coconut oil would be an understatement. If you asked me what one food I always have on hand, it would be coconut oil. I have two quart jars of coconut oil (one refined and one virgin) on my counters at all times. So, why do I love coconut oil so much? Well, because it has so many health benefits and a wide variety of uses, plus, it tastes good!
Let’s start off with the health benefits of coconut oil. Coconut oil, along with other saturated fats, used to be shunned because of their supposed link to heart disease. Because of all of the negative press that saturated fats have received over the last century, it is taking a long time to re-educate the general populace that saturated fats are actually good for you and are not the cause of heart disease. Coconut oil’s popularity is growing quickly, but it’s not quite back into the mainstream diet … yet. What’s even more promising is that the scientific community is beginning to acknowledge the potential health benefits of this oil. Coconut oil has been reported to:
- Have anti-microbial properties and help kill viruses, bacteria, yeasts, parasites, and fungus
- Support proper thyroid function (especially helpful for hypothyroid)
- Provide a boost in energy
- Stimulate metabolism and increase thermogenesis (fat burning)
- Aid in digestion and improve the absorption of fat-soluble nutrients
- Support insulin levels and help regulate blood sugar
- Reduce inflammation
- Help prevent heart disease
- Stimulate healing when applied as a topical treatment to wounds and bacterial skin infections
- Boost brain function, especially in those suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia
- Control dandruff
- Help prevent wrinkles and sagging skin
This is far from a comprehensive list of all of the health benefits of coconut oil, but as you can see, coconut oil has many potential benefits when incorporated into a healthy diet.
What Makes Coconut Oil So Magical?
Since the middle of the 20th century, saturated fat has been portrayed as a the bad guy. This all started when vegetable oils made their debut on the market as a “healthier” option, and traditional fats like butter, lard, tallow, coconut oil, etc., were shunned. This was the same time that the “experts” began telling us that saturated fats increase cholesterol, which in turn increases heart disease. Hmmm … where has that “good” advice gotten us? We are now in a national health crisis as heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and other preventable diseases are at almost epidemic proportions. Yet, most people don’t eat saturated fats (because they have been told that they’re bad for them), so it’s pretty obvious that saturated fats are not the cause.
Turns out that saturated fat is actually an essential nutrient that is needed for the body to maintain proper cellular function. Coconut oil has the highest amount of saturated fats, at 92%, but well over half of those are made up of medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs). One of the main things that makes coconut oil so healthy is that it is nature’s most abundant source of these special fatty acids. Medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs) are metabolized much differently in the human body than long-chain fatty acids (LCFAs), which is what most vegetable and seed oils consist of. Contrary to the advice that you will hear from most mainstream physicians, MCFAs do not raise cholesterol levels and they actually have been shown to help protect against heart disease. As more people learn the truth, they will see that cholesterol is not the cause of heart disease — why people with higher cholesterol levels have actually been shown to live longer than those with lower levels! See my post on The Saturated Fat Myth for more info on this topic.
Now that we know about MCFAs, let’s take it a step further. There is one very important MCFA found in coconut oil and it is called lauric acid. Coconut oil contains about 50% lauric acid. Where is the best place to find lauric acid outside of coconut oil? Mother’s breast milk and it is there for a very important reason. Lauric acid is critical for immune development and function. It is not only needed by babies and growing children, but it is also essential nutrient for all humans in that it helps keep our immune systems functioning properly. In her book, Nourishing Traditions, Sally Fallon recommends that people with compromised immune systems should consume between 20 and 25 grams of lauric acid per day, which is the equivalent of 3-4 tablespoons of coconut oil. Most researchers state that 3.5 tablespoons per day is the optimum dose for adults, regardless of whether your immune system is compromised or not.
What Kind of Coconut Oil Should I Buy?
There are two main types of coconut oil: virgin and refined. It is important to note that unlike the olive oil industry, there are no standards for “virgin” and “extra virgin” coconut oils. The term “extra” is simply a marketing term and does not indicate higher quality. There really is no such thing as “extra virgin” coconut oil.
Virgin coconut oils are going to retain the scent and taste of coconut. They will be made from fresh coconut meat (called non-copra), either through the process of drying the fresh coconut and then pressing out the oil, or a process called “wet-milling”, where the oil is extracted from the fresh coconut meat without drying it first. Virgin coconut oil is very shelf-stable and typically has a shelf life of two years, but if kept in a dark, cool, dry place, it will most likely last much longer.
You may hear a lot of people say that you should always avoid refined coconut oils, but this is not true. Refined coconut oil is perfectly safe to eat and is great for those who may not like the taste or scent of coconut. It’s also handy when you’re making something that you need a neutral tasting or smelling oil in. The key when looking for refined coconut oils is to make sure that the brand you are purchasing from has not used any chemicals, solvents, bleaches, or deodorizers when processing the coconut oil. The brand I purchase uses a steam deodorizing technique that yields a delicious, neutral-flavored oil, without the use of anything harmful. Processing information should be available on each brand’s website, and if it’s not, they should be able to provide that to you if you call or write them.
How Do I Use Coconut Oil?
This is my favorite, and most frequently asked question, when I am discussing the topic with others. There are literally hundreds of uses for coconut oil. The best, and easiest, way to start using coconut oil is in your cooking and baking. Use it as a replacement for unhealthy vegetable oils in recipes. Use it to fry and saute. Add it to smoothies, tea, or coffee (I love it in my herbal coffee — yum!). Make healthy candies or coconut oil fudge. Spread it on your toast like you would butter (and I have nothing against butter — it’s a good fat too!). Or, if you’re like me and enjoy the taste of coconut oil, you can just eat it off the spoon!
In addition to dietary uses, coconut oil also has a wide variety of other uses too. Some uses include:
- Hair conditioner
- Makeup remover
- Massage oil
- Diaper cream
- And more!
There are literally hundreds of ways that people use coconut oil for more than just cooking and baking. If you’re in need of some new ideas, check out my post 122 Uses for Coconut Oil. It is probably one of the most versatile products that I have in my home! I hope you’ll check it out, if you haven’t already!
About Delicious Obsessions
Jessica Espinoza is a real food nut, coconut oil enthusiast, avid reader and researcher, blossoming yogi, and animal lover. She has had a life-long passion for food and being in the kitchen is where she is the happiest. Jessica began helping her mother cook and bake around the age of three and she has been in the kitchen ever since, including working in a restaurant in her hometown for almost a decade, where she worked every position before finally becoming the lead chef. She loves to show people how making even small changes in their diet and food selections can make a huge difference in their lives. Visit her site at www.deliciousobsessions.com, or visit her on Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest.
Nourishing Traditions. Sally Fallon and Dr. Mary Enig. Newtrends Publishing, Inc., 1999
“Health Benefits of Virgin Coconut Oil“. CoconutOil.com
The Virgin Coconut Oil Book. Brian and Marianita Shilhavy. Sophia Media, 2012.
Eat Fat, Lose Fat. Dr. Mary Enig and Sally Fallon. Plume, 2004
Know Your Fats: The Complete Primer for Understanding the Nutrition of Fats, Oils and Cholesterol. Dr. Mary Enig. Bethesda Press, 2000
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