The Surprising Health and Healing Benefits of Coconut Oil
Way back in the 80’s I worked at a restaurant that had free popcorn made in one of those huge popcorn machines. The oil used to pop the popcorn was coconut oil. I remember not only that it was semi-solid at low room temperatures (which I thought was weird) but also that the popcorn was fantastic! Sometime after that it was said that coconut oil was really bad for you and I thought “Darn, cuz it made great popcorn!!” Oh what a difference a few decades makes!
Flash forward to the present, where we not only have great science and research that sings the praises of coconut oil but we have the internet so that everyone knows about it! Almost everyone that is, and you probably don’t even know the half of it. Coconut oil is not only really healthy to use in cooking but it’s an exceptional beauty product and has many health benefits.
Why Coconut Oil?
Coconut oil is made up of medium chain triglycerides which the body metabolizes differently than it does other saturated fats. The medium chain triglycerides are utilized directly by the liver and turned into quick energy or into ketone bodies that are used to make healthy cells. Every cell in your body is made up of lipids/fats. It’s important to understand that you need healthy fats in your diet to make healthy cells in your body. Coconut oil has the kind of fat that your body needs to keep making healthy cells, particularly healthy brain cells. Medium chain triglycerides (MTC’s) have been shown in studies increase your body's energy expenditure by up to 5%. What that means is eating 15 to 30 grams of MTC’s per day can actually help you burn more calories that may help with weight loss. The idea is that a calorie is not just a calorie. Calories that come from certain foods are healthier and your body will use them differently.
Societies that eat a lot of coconut as a staple of their diet have been shown for generations to be healthier with lower than average heart disease. Studies in rats and humans have shown that coconut oil can lead to an improved lipid profile by increasing the HDL (good) cholesterol and lowering the LDL (bad) cholesterol. This can lead to better heart health and a lower risk of heart disease.
Cooking with Coconut Oil
Adding coconut oil to your diet can be easy and tasty. Not only does it make great popcorn but it has a high smoke point so it’s great for sautéing. Using it instead of vegetable oil is a healthy replacement. It can also be used as a butter replacement on toast or in baking. Some people put it in their coffee as an alternate creamer. You can use it pretty much anywhere you would use another oil or butter and it adds a nice, mild taste.
Hair and Skin
It can also be used as a beauty product. It absorbs quickly so it makes a great skin moisturizer for adults and children. It works great as a baby moisturizer for infants that wear cloth diapers; it absorbs quickly and won’t ruin the cloth. You can use it as a hair conditioner by applying it to your hair before or after you shampoo. There have also been studies that have shown it to have a sunscreen effect of approximately SPF4.
Another healthy way to utilize coconut oil is by using it for dental care. A process called “Oil Pulling” has been shown to have beneficial effects on oral health. You simply take a tablespoon or so of coconut oil in your mouth and swish it around pulling it through your teeth for 10 or 15 minutes. I’ve tried it and it’s not as unpleasant as it sounds. It can be very helpful for healing unhealthy gums and killing bacteria in your mouth. It has soothing and healing properties for any tissue it is applied to so people use it for everything from chapped lips, nipple irritation during nursing and helping with stretch marks during pregnancy. You can make your own lotions and soaps using coconut oil as a base as well.
This is just the tip of the iceberg! There are hundreds of healthy uses for this amazing oil.