The Health Benefits of Coconut Oil
The coconut is a versatile and widely respected food that is native to tropical regions. The coconut is an important economic and nutrition resource for the countries that cultivate it. One product that is gaining global popularity is coconut oil.
WHY Should I Eat Coconut Oil?
Fat Soluble Vitamins
Many of the wonderful vitamins in our favorite healthy vegetables—like the vitamin A in spinach, vitamin E in broccoli, or vitamin K in parsley—are fat-soluble vitamins. This means we need to consume those foods with fat in order to make the nutrients available to our bodies. Have you ever wondered why vegetables with butter or a salad topped with bacon taste so good? The answer is simple: Mother Nature is an excellent meal planner! A bowl of plain steamed vegetables won’t have the same health benefits as its butter topped counterpart. The beta-carotene in a pound of carrots does us no good if we don’t have the fat to convert it to useable vitamin A. Dietary fat is also necessary for mineral absorption. Fat, particularly saturated fat, is required for calcium to be properly utilized in our skeletal structure (3, 4).
But Isn’t Saturated Fat Bad?
The short answer is “no”. Saturated fat is found predominantly in animal products and tropical oils. But we must remember, not all fats are the same and the quality of the source counts! To simplify a very important nutrition principal, saturated fats that come from organic/non-GMO and grass-fed sources will nourish your body at the cellular level. Saturated fat makes up half of our cell membranes. It gives cells structural integrity and allows them to function correctly. Persistent avoidance of high-quality saturated fat will result in weaker cell membranes that allow toxins into the cell.
Not All Fats Are Created Equal
Vegetable oils and seed oils are composed of long chain fatty acids (LCFAs). These types of fat molecules are difficult for our bodies to metabolize and are stored as fat in the body.
In contrast, approximately fifty-percent of the fat in coconut oil is lauric acid. Lauric acid is a medium chain fatty acid (MCFA), which is digested easily by our bodies and utilized quickly by the liver for energy. Since the fat in coconut oil is used immediately, rather than stored as fat in your body, the result is actually a boost to your metabolism. This means coconut oil, if substituted for vegetable/seed oils in your diet, will leave your waistline slightly leaner with minimal effort. How’s that for magical?
When “Anti” is a GOOD thing: Anti-Oomph!
In addition to boosting our metabolism, the lauric acid in coconut oil is converted to monolaurin in our bodies. Monolaurin destroys certain viruses and bacteria and makes coconut oil a truly healing food. It is antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, antimicrobial, and is an antioxidant. This means coconut oil inhibits the ability of germs and “bad bugs” to get you sick. It also prevents and repairs free-radical damage, making coconut oil an anti-carcinogenic as well!
True story: I’ll never forget the day my son ate a piece of salami he had hidden in his room…3 days earlier! Worried about food poisoning, I ran to the pantry and gave him a big spoonful of coconut oil! He never got sick and I now take a spoonful of coconut oil if I eat out at a restaurant or party. I think of coconut oil as my quiet arsenal in the war against pathogens! (1, 2)
Types of Coconut Oil
When buying coconut oil, you will see a variety of labels and health info plastered on the jars of different brands. What it really comes down to is a basic question: Do I buy unrefined or refined coconut oil?
Unrefined– This type of coconut oil is usually labeled as “virgin” or “extra-virgin.” It is typically the product that results from the first pressing of raw, fresh coconut and should be a chemical-free process. Some people I’ve recommended coconut oil to complain about a “strong” coconut oil flavor. This is likely an indication of high heat that was used to extract the coconut oil. Raw, virgin, coconut oil will offer the most health benefits with a mild coconut flavor that enhance the flavor of many dishes. If your coconut oil has a strong flavor, consider switching brands.
Refined– This type of coconut oil has appeal because it is often flavorless and odorless. Some people don’t like the coconut taste in “unrefined” coconut oil , or it doesn’t mesh with the flavors of the dish they want to use it in. Refined coconut oil loses some of the “Anti-oopmh!” discussed earlier, but the good news is that the metabolic boosting medium chain fatty acids are still present, making it a good product to use when necessary. The bad news? Many of the “refined” coconut oils on the market are produced using harsh chemicals, are bleached, and may even contain hydrogenated fat!
Uses for Coconut Oil
In addition to the numerous health benefits of eating coconut oil, it is a truly versatile health resource. The easier question could be, “What can’t I use coconut oil for?”
Cooking with Coconut Oil
- I use it to cook with–sauteeing, pour melted oil over vegetables to be baked
- Reheating leftovers! Coconut oil and a little salt transform leftover spaghetti into a masterpiece!
- You can use coconut oil butter for butter in recipes
- Add a little to soups for a delicious mild flavor boost!
- Feel a cold coming on?
- Try my “Cold-be-Gone” snack: ½ tablespoon of coconut oil, ½ tablespoon of raw honey, healthy sprinkle of organic cinnamon 2-3x/day for 2 days. It’s also tasty as a snack and works as a preventative for flu/colds
Favorite External Uses For Coconut Oil
- First aid—forget antiseptic creams with their additive, coconut oil works beautifully!
- Burn ointment
- Moisturizer for skin/hair
- Cradle cap—I rubbed it into my son’s scalp when he was a baby(let sit for 15 minutes) and used a stiff comb to gently remove it. The next day, his daycare was amazed at the results!
- Make-up remover
- Breastfeeding—as a nipple moisturizer/prevent infection!
- Use instead of diaper rash cream
- Treat wood cutting boards (from affiliate partner)
- I seek out products made with coconut oil to avoid toxic chemicals and additives. You can also find DIY recipes!
The bottom line? Coconut oil is definitely a food your body will thank you for!