I have a ten litre bucket of coconut oil under my desk. It’s under my desk because it’s the only place it fits. I’m slowly, slowly working my way through it. It may take me well over a year but man I love coconut oil!
I had a conversation recently with someone who couldn’t understand why I used coconut oil to cook with, why I put coconut oil in my smoothies, why I baked with it, why I used it as a moisturiser. I paused for a moment looking to see if she was kidding.
“Isn’t it one of the worst oils for you? It’s so high in saturated fat!” she exclaimed.
She was deadly serious. I bit my lip and wondered where on earth I should start when it comes to the miracle that is coconut oil.
Maybe at the beginning…
Coconut oil is extracted from the kernel or meat of a matured coconut, and has been used by many cultures around the world as a staple in their diet for hundreds of years. It is true it is high in saturated fat, however it’s not as black and white as it sounds.
Coconut oil is used extensively in tropical countries, particularly the South Pacific, India, Sri Lanka, Thailand and the Philippines. The health benefits of coconut oil are huge – hair care, skin care, weight loss, digestive aid, memory improver, thought to improve and/or reverse dementia and Alzheimer’s, kills candida fungus, helps hypotroidism, raises body temperature, improves or heals many skin diseases and fungal infections (acne, eczema, keratosis polaris, psoriasis, rosacea), boosts the immune system, provides peak performance energy, longer endurance, can curb your hunger, kills bacteria and viruses, preserves muscle mass and promotes ketosis, maintains cholesterol levels and regulates the metabolism. It also provides relief from kidney problems, epilepsy, high blood pressure, diabetes (type 1 and 2), HIV, cancer and heart diseases while improving dental quality and bone strength.
At one time, the oil became so popular in Western countries such as UK, USA and Canada that the corn and soy oil industries launched a strong propaganda campaign in the 1970s telling people that coconut oil was harmful for the human body due to its high saturated fat content. It wasn’t until the turn of the century that people began to question the claims of that propaganda.
New data now shows that saturated fats are in fact harmless…all those stories about ‘artery-clogging’ and ‘heart attacks’ have been proven to be false. A myriad of studies were conducted that included hundreds of thousands of people and the results showed quite plainly that some saturated fats, like coconut oil, are in fact good for your health.
Despite being demonised for its saturated fat content, coconut oil is one of the richest sources of saturated fat known to man with almost 90% of the oil being made up of saturated fats. Now the tables are turned and consumers are warned away from corn and soy oil whereas coconut oil is the best of the bunch. I call that karma.
Coconut oil is one of the few foods that can be classified as a superfood because of its unique combination of fatty acids. The saturated fat you’ll find in coconut oil isn’t your ‘average’ saturated fat you’d find in vegetable oils, cheese, fries or a juicy hunk of steak. It’s a saturated fat that contains ‘Medium Chain Triglycerides’ which are literally fatty acids of a medium length. Most fatty acids you consume in your regular diet are long-chain fatty acids, but medium-chain fatty acids (those in coconut oil) are metabolised differently.
See, coconut oil is a very unique case! These MCT’s go straight to the liver from the gut where they are used as a quick energy source where the beneficial properties will jump into gear having a therapeutic effect on the brain for disorders such as epilepsy and Alzheimer’s. AND its high saturated fat content means it is slow to oxidize, resistant to rancidification, and can last up to two years without going bad.
Can you see why so many people have been jumping on the coconut oil bandwagon?! I’m such a believer in coconut oil I’d give hard chunks of it to my elderly dog in the hope it would help cure the problems with coordination and standing up in general that he was suffering as a side effect of old age. I don’t know whether they helped him or not but he did manage to hang on a year and a half more than we thought he would. (RIP my pup pup <3)
Many of you will know I’m from New Zealand. We have a high percentage of Polynesians living in New Zealand who have moved over from the islands. Some (rude/racist) people call them coconuts as a nickname. It’s not a nice name to be called BUT it’s because they consume so many coconut products. I watched a study that was documented on one of those ‘newsy-research’ shows last year when I was back living in New Zealand and it talked about the coconut craze. See, coconut oil has blown up in New Zealand. It is the big thing right now so a lot of TV news/health/food shows were jumping on the train.
In parts of the South Pacific many populations whose diet is largely made up of coconut products are absolutely thriving in good health AND there is very little evidence in heart disease. It’s when those populations move to Australia or New Zealand (or other places around the world) and start eating bad saturated fats such as vegetable oils in large quantities that their health starts to deteriorate. When they’re living on a more traditional diet as their ancestors ate, and consuming over 60% of their calorie intake from coconuts they live very healthy lives.
A study was done throughout the 1960s using two South Pacific Island populations (Pukapuka and Tokelau). These populations were examined over a period of time, starting before western foods were prevalent in the diets of either culture. The point of the study was to investigate the effects of saturated fat and dietary cholesterol in determining serum cholesterol levels. In both cultures, coconut and coconut products were a staple in the diets of the participants with up to 60% of their caloric intake coming from the saturated fat of coconut oil. The study discovered very lean and healthy people who were relatively free from modern diseases of the western world including obesity. The conclusion stated that vascular disease was uncommon in both populations and there was no evidence of the high saturated fat intake having a harmful effect.
When the decline of coconut products occurred in the late 70’s, coconut farmers found they could no longer afford to make a living based on coconut harvest. They left their farms, moved to cities that held other employment opportunities and adopted a new way of eating. A way that wasn’t based around coconut products. They were eating cheaper mass-produced industrial foods, particularly meats, which replaced the healthy organic ‘grow your own’ lifestyle they’d previously lived. Along with the change in their diet, they noticed a change in their weight, a change in their health and a change in their overall wellbeing. That brings us to today, the re-rise of the coconut product. Now it’s everywhere you look – coconut oil, coconut meat, coconut water, coconut milk…. And it’s SO good to include in your diet particularly if you have sensitive tummies (though I do recommend monitoring your reactions closely).
You’re likely to see a lot of talk about the pros of virgin coconut oil and that you should avoid refined coconut oil. Well that’s bullcrap. All coconut oil available for purchase is healthy. I can’t even begin to imagine where that myth came from but you don’t need to worry about it – it’s not true. Refined coconut oil is totally fine and healthy for you to eat. Refined coconut oil is usually rather tasteless and odourless, it can withstand slightly higher cooing temperatures before reaching its smoke point and it’s perfect for cooking foods where you need a clean fat without a dominating coconut flavour. It goes through a process called RBD – Refined, Bleached and Deodorized.
It renders a neutral flavour and smell and filters the oil of impurities. Some nutrients are certainly lost in the refining process but it doesn’t make the oil or unhealthy. It’s true it doesn’t have entirely the same health benefits as virgin, completely raw coconut oil, but it’s still much better than any other oil available for purchase. I personally use refined coconut oil because I don’t like the coconut taste of the non-refined stuff, and it’s also much cheaper, but that’s a personal decision. Whether or not you choose refined or non-refined it’s up to you, your preferences, your motivations for using coconut oil and your budget.
HOWEVER I do want to say a quick word about hydrogenated coconut oil. Sometimes coconut oil is hydrogenated to keep it solid at a higher temperature. If you have coconut oil in your cupboard you’ll know how quickly it turns to liquid. In the process of hydrogenating coconut oil it creates a synthetic trans-fat and I’m sure we all know by now by all the media hype all the dangers of trans-fat, yes? To put it simply, hydrogenated oil may cause your cholesterol to rise and could lead to stroke or heart disease. Best to be avoided!
Are you converted yet? Check out 45 awesome things you can use coconut oil for….
- Use it in cooking
- Use it in baking
- Use it as a replacement for butter
- Use it as a lotion on your skin
- Run some through your hair, leave it in overnight and wash out in the morning – a great conditioner
- Use it as make up remover
- Use it as a diaper cream
- Use as a lubricant
- It can lighten age spots if you rub directly into the skin
- When used every day it can soften men’s beard stubble
- Use it to help prevent stretch marks
- Use it in homemade mayo
- Massage oil!
- Use as a night cream
- Mix with sugar to make a body scrub!
- Use as a lip balm
- Use on cuts and scratches to help prevent infection
- To help soothe sore and itchy eczema or psoriasis
- Take 1 T a day as a supplement to help aid digestion, boost brain power or increase your energy levels (you can pop that tablespoon of oil into your smoothies and you’ll barely taste it!)
- Rub some coconut oil up your nose to help soothe seasonal allergies
- Use as a salad dressing along with some herbs and spices
- Oil pulling for good dental health
- Mix into hot lemon and honey tea to aid recovery from cold or flu
- Can help heal sunburn
- Reduce the itch of insect bites
- Use it on your thighs to get rid of cellulite
- To season cast iron fry pans
- Aftershave – even for women on legs and armpits!
- Use on split ends
- Mix it with a little salt and pour over your popcorn instead of butter
- Use it as eyeshadow – even better mix with coloured eye shadow and it’ll give it a shine
- Use as a lubricant on motors, electronics and even guitar strings (handy, as I always play the guitar while covered in coconut oil. No joke)
- Coat your kitty’s paw with coconut oil and it helps keep him/her from coughing up fur balls
- Add a little to your pet’s food to help with their overall health
- Use on (real) leather to soften and condition (makes my cowboy boots look so gooood! But test a small area first to be sure your leather product can handle it)
- Help clear up coldsores
- Mix with baking soda to help whiten your teeth
- Deep fry your food
- To use externally on pets struggling with skin issues
- Use coconut oil to calm those nasty bruises
- Mix with rosermary or mint to create a natural bug repellent (unless you’re in a malaria zone or something similar… in that case lather yourself with deet…)
- Rub over haemorrhoids to help relieve the pain
- Dip a cotton bud in the oil and use as an ear cleaner
- Rub on cuticles for good nail health
- To help aid the healing and reduce scarring of surgery scars
For more information on coconut oil I recommend the book The Coconut Oil Miracle. It’s that book that kick started my coconut oil journey and maybe it’ll help you with yours!