Coconut Oil Health Benefits: No doubt about it, coconut oil is a paleo favorite. It’s got a lot going for it. First of all, it’s a traditional fat that’s been used for centuries in the Philippines, Polynesia, Jamaica and in many other tropical climates. It’s naturally antiviral, antibacterial and anti-fungal – what’s not to love?
Well, I’ll tell you what’s not to love, according to some people. Coconut oil (CO) is 92% saturated fat, and if you’re to believe conventional wisdom, that’s a no-no. However, it’s precisely the fact that it’s saturated (with as many hydrogen molecules as it can hold) that makes it very stable, and when it comes to fats, stable = good. Unstable fats become rancid when heated or exposed to light.
Up until a few years ago, I knew one fact about coconut oil: it’s unhealthy. However, those claiming it was an unhealthy fat weren’t differentiating between partially hydrogenated coconut oil – an industrial fat found in processed foods – and the natural, traditional oil used safely by many cultures, generation after generation. Coconut oil is suddenly gaining in popularity in the west. It’s been vindicated and is gaining back its reputation.
Coconut oil appearance, smell, and taste
Because it’s mostly saturated fat, it’s solid and white in winter, but clear and liquid in summer, or at least, when the temperatures rise above 25 degrees C (75 degrees F). Unrefined CO has a mild coconut smell and taste. I find that the taste varies from brand to brand, so you might have to try a few to find your favorite.
Coconut oil without the coconut taste is also available. This is a refined product that stays solid even at higher temperatures. The advantage is that you can use it in any dish because the taste will never clash and it’s still stable at high temperatures. On the other hand, it’s been refined, bleached, and deodorized. Still preferable to refined corn, soybean, or canola oils, but definitely not ideal.
Note that there are also coconut oil products on the market made for external use (skin and hair). Don’t make the mistake of buying that for kitchen use, like I did!
Coconut Oil Health Benefits
The reported benefits of coconut oil are numerous. One that seems especially exciting is that it helps Alzheimer’s patients. Dr. Mary Newport gave it to her husband and saw definite lessening of his Alzheimer’s symptoms. Here’s her story. Others have reported similar benefits. This isn’t to say it’ll have the same benefit for all sufferers, but with so few treatment options out there, it’s certainly worth trying.
Some people report increased energy when taking coconut oil, and surprisingly, it boosts weight loss for many. There’s even some indication that coconut oil can reduce viral load in HIV/AIDS patients.
It can also help with gum health. My friend Seree’s gums stopped bleeding very soon after she added a bit of refrigerated coconut oil to her morning routine. Every morning she pops a cube in her mouth and munches on it. While this won’t be to everyone’s taste, she’s found a brand that tastes really coconutty, which she loves, so for her a CO cube is a treat – and has the added value of topical benefit. (See below for instructions on how she prepares her cubes.)
When taken orally or used topically, it helps alleviate a wide variety of skin problems, including dry skin, foot fungus, and even psoriasis. Well, I did say that it’s anti-viral, anti-bacterial, and anti-fungal, so it’s not surprising that it treats skin conditions. Note, however, that using it on the skin does make some people break out. Start slow.
How to use coconut oil?
- Use it as food: Simply cook with it instead of using other oils.
- Use it topically: Use on your skin or hair.
- Use it as a supplement: Some people take a few teaspoons or tablespoons daily, either straight, or mixed into yogurt, smoothies, etc… I like the idea of just using it as food, but if it’s giving you a real energy boosts or helping with weight loss, it might be worthwhile taking daily as a supplement.
Uses for coconut oil – in the kitchen
Because coconut oil can with stand high heat, you can basically use it in any recipe where the taste won’t detract from the dish. I find it adds great flavor to stir-fries, like my Perfect Paleo Stir-Fry or this Paleo Curry.
Use it for baking, roasting, or frying. Since it solidifies in the fridge, it’s perfect for mixing with other ingredients to make easy fudge-like confections.
Coconut oil does have a mild coconut taste, the intensity of which varies from brand to brand. When you use it in cooking, you’ll find either:
- No coconut taste in the final product. For instance, I use it to make liver and beef stews. Thankfully, I can’t taste the coconut.
- There‘s a noticeable coconut taste, and it adds to the dish’s flavor.
- There’s a noticeable coconut taste and it detracts from the dish.
Experiment to see which of your dishes it goes with.
Uses for coconut oil: cosmetics
I love the idea of using a single ingredient on my skin, rather than a commercial moisturizer which is made of such delightful things as petroleum based ingredients. You can use CO as a facial moisturizer and as a body lotion. It does come on somewhat greasy, but don’t worry, it absorbs quickly. You can even use it in place of shaving cream, when shaving legs, just make sure you don’t slip in an oily tub! Men can use it for shaving too!
Coconut oil is a great choice for skincare, but as mentioned above, it does make some people break out. I’m not sure if this is due to a sensitivity to CO or maybe a detox effect. Either way, I suggest starting slowly. Use a tiny amount every other day and build up.
For skin, use the food grade – why not use a higher quality product?
I’ve used it as an eye makeup remover, though I prefer olive oil for this. I’ve also tried it as a hair mask. I massaged a little bit in, left it wrapped for a couple hours, and rinsed out. Lots of people find that this is a great mask. It didn’t do the trick for me, (gelatin is my personal, favorite natural hair-care trick) but I believe it depends on the kind of hair you have.
Tip: If you do use it as a hair mask, when you wash it out, put the shampoo on BEFORE you wet your hair. It doesn’t feel nice, but the shampoo does a much better job of getting the oil out this way.
Finally, coconut oil is the main ingredient in most homemade deodorant recipes.