Last week, I discussed the health benefits of coconut water, but that's only half of the story. Coconut oil has its own variety of uses and benefits.
Now, you may be skeptical at first: Oil is fat, right?
The terms "fats" and "oils" are often used interchangeably, but fat is solid at room temperature, while oils are liquid. Coconut oil will be liquid above 80ºF or so, and will be more solid at cooler temperatures.
That said, coconut oil can even be an alternative to olive oil. You may heat it slightly if you need a liquid oil for a recipe, but coconut oil is just as good, and maybe even better that its Mediterranean relative.
To get into the details, all fats are not equal — what's really important is the structure. Coconut oil is comprised of medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs), also called medium-chain triglycerides or MCTs. MCFAs are sent directly to your liver, where they are immediately converted into energy rather than being stored as fat.
The predominant type of MCFA found in coconut oil is lauric acid, a key component of mother’s milk, which makes coconut products usable as a baby formula. In fact, coconut oil has been proven to help boost the immune system.
As a “tropical oil” we thought it to be unhealthy for years, but that was a hydrogenated form, where the chemical structure altered to be used in production of cosmetics and packaged foods.
The study of the natural structure of coconut oil has revealed that the basic components of the fat within the seed itself are highly nutritious. It is an excellent form of fat with surprising health benefits, containing vitamins E, K, and Iron.
Coconut oil consists of more than ninety percent of saturated fats, but don’t worry, it’s not as bad as you think. There is a misconception that coconut oil is not good for the heart because it contains a large quantity of saturated fats. However, coconut oil is just the opposite — it's good for the heart.
Coconut oil contains about 50 percent lauric acid, which helps in preventing various heart problems including high cholesterol levels and high blood pressure. The saturated fats present in coconut oil are not harmful as it happens in case of other vegetables oils.
It does not lead to increase in low-density lipoprotein (LDL) levels and also reduces the incidence of injury to arteries and therefore helps in preventing atherosclerosis, or the hardening of the arteries.
A 2008 study by the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health projected that 86 percent of American adults could be obese by 2030 if current trends continue, and obesity comes with serious challenges.
Obesity affects your quality of life and is linked to many health concerns. Coconut oil’s short and medium-chain fatty acids are one way to help take off excessive weight.
Coconut oil is also easy for the body to digest and it helps in healthy functioning of the thyroid and enzymes systems. It increases the metabolism and it should be noted that people living in tropical coastal areas, who eat coconut oil daily as their primary cooking oil, have fewer people who are fat, obese, or overweight.
Filipino residents in Diamond Bar have told me that they used coconut oil exclusively back home. After WWII, they would extract their own coconut oil from coconuts that grew on their property.
They know it is a very healthy oil with many benefits, and agreed that its use has been underestimated here in the U.S.
Indian cultures have also known the medicinal and cosmetic uses of coconut oil for the skin and hair for years.
Hair And Skin
Coconut oil is one of the best natural nutrients for hair. It helps in healthy growth of hair by moisturizing the scalp and conditioning the hair.
It is excellent massage oil for the skin as well. With natural vitamin E, coconut oil has excellent anti-aging benefits. It acts as an effective moisturizer on all types of skin including dry skin and can be used as a natural anti-inflammatory cream for humans and pets. The latest research on pet health has shown coconut oil to help with skin allergies.
As a Cooking Oil
You may have already read about not using olive oil for cooking or frying, especially the extra virgin “green” oil. While being great for salads, the chemical structure of the oil makes it susceptible to oxidative damage when heated.
Frying destroys the antioxidants in the oil. Therefore, high quality extra virgin olive oil is expensive to use for frying, and does not make your food any healthier, and some have been using light olive oil or canola, but these oils have the same negative chemical reactions when heated for cooking.
In general, frying is not a healthy choice for cooking, but whenever you need to use an oil for cooking, coconut oil is the smartest choice. It maintains its essential chemical structure and the body handles its digestion in the same way as if it were raw, which makes coconut oil nutritionally superior when heated.
Now, you're surely asking, "Does it taste like coconut?" Yes, it does, so you might have to get used to it a bit. Start with a stir fry with veggies, or a chocolate cake recipe, or use coconut oil in a rice cooker the next time you make jasmine rice.
If you are concerned about the unhealthful effects of heated oil in your diet, making the switch can make a difference.
The Bottom Line
According to a recent Huffington Post article by Dr. Joseph Mercola, there is only one oil that is chemically stable enough to resist heat induced damage, while helping to promote heart health, maintain normal cholesterol levels, and support weight loss: coconut oil.
As with your extra virgin olive oil, try to buy wild, extra virgin coconut oil. It has not been treated, heated, processed in any way, and can be used directly from the jar to your hair, bath, body, pet, pop corn, salad, or in some stir fry.
Sprout’s carries Hope’s Harvest organic, wild, extra virgin coconut oil. market also carries coconut oil in the International Foods section.
I have also spotted it at in Walnut, and Henry’s in Chino Hills.