Coconut oil is a highly versatile product, with many potential beauty and health benefits. It can also be used cleverly around the house. Different uses for coconut oil include food, lip balm, leather conditioning, and many others.
Tropical cooking oils like coconut oil have a rich history and tradition of being used in the United States. Did you know that, until the 1940s, coconut oil was one of the major sources of dietary fats in the United States, along with dairy and animal fats?1 This was before vegetable oil became popular.
What Are The Health Benefits Of Coconut Oil And How Many Ways Can You Use It?
The coconut has been cultivated, harvested, and consumed in tropical cultures for thousands of years. It is also one of nature’s most versatile fruits. From a single coconut, humans derive the raw materials to produce coconut sugar, coconut flour, coconut yogurt, coconut milk, coconut water, and coconut oil, in addition to many non-edible coconut products.2
What Is In Coconut Oil?
Coconut oil is the fat extracted from the flesh of the mature coconut.3 Why all the fuss about this natural and exotic oil?
Well, coconut oil contains numerous fatty acids and proteins. It’s a rich source of medium chain fatty acids such as caproic acid, caprylic acid, capric acid, and lauric acid.4 The lauric acid makes up about 50% of the fatty acid content of coconut oil. The effects of this medium chain fatty acid supports a wide range of bodily functions including nerve cell health.5
Coconut oil is over 82% saturated fat. By contrast, olive oil contains less than 14% saturated fat. Unlike unsaturated fats such as olive oil, coconut oil’s high saturated fat content makes it solid at room temperature and provides it with many useful benefits and properties.6,7,8
Coconut oil has no cholesterol, which makes it a useful substitute for recipes that require animal-based fats. It is also an excellent replacement for hydrogenated shortenings because it’s solid at room temperature. On the flip side, coconut oil has no fiber and only trace amounts of vitamins, minerals, and plant sterols, which may help promote healthy cholesterol.9
Uses Of Coconut Oil
The myriad of ways in which coconut oil can be used are almost endless. Coconut oil can be used:
- As an ingredient in prepared foods and baked goods
- In products for hair, skin, and nails, including as skin moisturizer, makeup remover, lip balm, and in hair masks
- As a household product for removing sticky messes or as a leather conditioner
Potential Health Benefits of Coconut Oil
Coconut oil’s purported health benefits include supporting:
- Higher energy levels
- Metabolic health
- Healthy cholesterol levels
- Skin health
- Weight loss
- Dental health
- Hair health10
Cooking With Organic Coconut Oil: Healthy Fatty Acids Like Lauric Acid And Other Nutrients
Forms Of Coconut Oil
Coconut oil comes in two main forms: virgin coconut oil and copra oil. Although their fatty acid profiles are similar, virgin coconut oil indexes higher with many nutrients like vitamin E and polyphenols.11
Typically, the healthiest versions of cooking oils are extra virgin. To qualify as “extra virgin,” an oil must meet certain standards: it must have no defects in its flavor or odor and it should be extracted without using chemicals or extreme heat.12 Unlike olive oil, for which extra virgin olive oil is always the better choice, virgin coconut oil is the highest standard for a pure and unrefined coconut oil product. There is no such thing as “extra virgin coconut oil.”13
Coconut milk is both nutrient-rich and calorie-rich. It is also low in cholesterol and sodium.14 There are two options: raw, canned coconut milk and a sweetened coconut milk beverage. Per cup, the canned version is typically much higher in calories and fat, but it’s also much higher in potassium.15,16
As an ingredient in coconut milk, coconut oil has been shown to help support cholesterol health.17
Coconut milk has many different uses. Bottled coconut milk beverages are useful for cereals, coffee, and smoothies. Canned coconut milk is higher in fat, which makes it ideal for baking cakes and pastries, and for cooking dishes like chicken curry.18
Other Uses In The Kitchen
Coconut oil is often used as a frying oil in a skillet. Unlike olive oil, it can be used safely at reasonably high temperatures of 350-400°F. The range is determined by how refined the oil is. A more refined oil will have a higher smoke point, while a less refined oil will have a lower smoke point.19
There is a special category of coconut oil-derived saturated fats called MCT oil. MCT stands for “medium chain triglycerides” (the fatty acids that are attached to a glycerol molecule). These include, to varying degrees, caproic acid, caprylic acid, capric acid, and lauric acid (which makes up about 50% of the fatty acid content of coconut oil). MCT oils are used in salad oils and other aspects of cooking.20 The medium chain fatty acid compounds are extracted out of the coconut oil via a process known as fractionation.21
One of the advantages of medium chain fatty acids is that they have a shorter half-life than longer fatty acids. As a result, they are less likely to get stored in the body as fat.22 In some cases, a diet containing MCT oil has been shown to help promote weight loss.23
MCT oils are not generally useful for cooking; however, those that are high in lauric acid tend to have a higher smoke point than those without. As such, they can be used in home pan frying and sautéing – but not deep frying.24
Another popular use for MCT oil is as a coconut oil coffee. This is coffee with coconut oil and MCT oil added to it. Proponents believe the combination of caffeine and coconut-derived oils may help support energy and metabolic health.25 The idea behind this coffee is that MCTs are metabolized differently from other fat types, making them more available to be used as energy.26
Coconut Oil For Hair, Skin, And Face: Makeup Remover, Lip Balm, Hair Masks, And More
Coconut oil has many culinary and nutritional uses. But did you know that it also plays a role in numerous hair, skin, and nail products?
Among the many uses of coconut oil is as a natural and simple makeup remover. Coconut oil has gained a reputation for cleansing and hydrating the skin, particularly when it is in liquid form. To use, just gently rub it onto dry skin, then rinse well with warm water and pat dry. Given the possibility that coconut oil could clog your pores, it is best to use an organic coconut oil that has been purified and cold-pressed but minimally processed. This is to prevent any contamination or toxins from causing a skin breakout.27
Coconut oil has been used in tropical countries for centuries to help soften, moisturize, and protect dry skin. Nowadays, some lip balms contain coconut oil as a moisturizing ingredient. Rather than choosing lip balm that contains mineral oil or petroleum, some consumers are choosing balms with coconut oil in them.28
Hair Care And Hair Mask
Coconut oil may play a role in helping to protect hair from damage. The lauric acid, a fatty acid present in the coconut oil, is able to get deep inside the hair shaft to support the natural growth cycle and help moisturize areas of dryness. It also acts to replenish proteins lost in the bleaching or coloring process.29,30
As with hair, coconut oil has demonstrated potential to hydrate the skin. As such, it may help to reduce the appearance of reducing wrinkles and fine lines on the skin while counteracting certain aspects of skin aging. This may occur because of the natural antioxidant properties of polyphenols present in the oil.31,32
Dental Hygiene: Oil Pulling
In traditional Indian Vedic medicine, coconut oil has been used for maintenance of good oral hygiene. The procedure involves rinsing the oil or swishing it around the mouth. This edible oil may help reduce plaque and promote good breath, among other things. Virgin coconut oil may be more beneficial than refined coconut oil because the latter may lack certain nutrients and components to support dental health.33
You can also combine coconut oil and baking soda to create a homemade toothpaste. Together, coconut oil and baking soda make an excellent natural cleanser. The combination makes a toothpaste that lowers mouth pH and may aid in whitening teeth, cleansing the mouth of bacteria and supporting fresh breath. A simple recipe is to combine the two ingredients in an equal ratio and add a few drops of edible essential oil, like peppermint or cinnamon.34,35
So Many Different Uses For Coconut Oil: From Kitchen, To Body, To Hygiene
Despite garnering a lot of bad press starting in the mid-20th century, coconut oil has made a huge comeback. The potential health benefits of coconut oil make it incredibly multifaceted. Coconut oil has a myriad of uses in the kitchen, on the body, and in personal hygiene. What are you waiting for? Grab some coconut oil and prepare to be amazed at its versatility.
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