Coconut Oil: What It Is and What To Do With It

coconut-oil Coconut oil is a fat with many talents. It has amazing benefits for your body, both inside and out.

Coconut oil has spent a lot of time in the media recently and of course the food and beauty industry have jumped on the bandwagon. They are creating products with tiny traces of coconut oil in the ingredients so you’ll spend money. The good news is that coconut oil all by its lonesome is relatively inexpensive, muti-talented, easy to use, and contains all the benefits you want without the added junk or extra money.

What is Coconut Oil?

Coconut oil is extracted from the flesh of coconuts. You might have heard that it's filled with saturated fat and isn't good for you, but it's not exactly the same as the saturated fat that's found elsewhere. Coconut oil is mostly made of medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) which are broken down by the liver into efficient energy. It is very difficult for our bodies to convert MCTs into stored fat.

There's a specific MCT called lauric acid that increases HDL, the good cholesterol, in your blood, which in turn helps keep LDL, the bad cholesterol, low. It also helps regulate your hormones by encouraging the conversion of cholesterol into precursor hormones, which go on to become specific hormones as your body needs them.

Coconut oil is one of the most stable oils to cook with and isn’t prone to oxidation. It has up to a two year shelf life. The melting point of coconut oil is 76°F, so depending on the air temperature, it might be in a liquid or solid state. Coconut oil does not have to be refrigerated and is better left at room temperature so it’s soft when you want to use it.

Benefits of Coconut Oil

1. Digestion

Since coconut oil is made up of MCTs it doesn't require very many enzymes to be broken down and absorbed in the digestive tract. It puts minimal digestive “stress” on the body. This is beneficial for so many people. It's great for young children and the elderly, and particularly those with gallbladder issues, diabetes, pancreatitis, and some forms of cancer because it provides a huge dose of fast absorbing nutrients without stressing the organs. When it is used as a cooking oil it enhances the absorption of many important vitamins in foods including fat soluble vitamins like Vitamin A, D, E and K.

2. Fat Loss

A study in 2009 showed that coconut oil not only helped increase HDL, but also decreased abdominal fat in women compared to soybean oil. Coconut oil has also been shown to heal bacterial skin infections and defend against fungus and candida. There is also some evidence that it might improve the response of the body to insulin and help regulate blood sugar levels.

This same study compared equal supplementation with soybean oil. The group that supplemented with soybean oil showed no decrease in belly fat, and an increase in LDL cholesterol. Other studies have shown that even when eaten in excess above necessary caloric levels, eating coconut oil does not result in fat accumulation!

3. Diabetes

There are numerous studies showing that  coconut oil improves metabolic issues like Type II Diabetes. Coconut oil improves insulin sensitivity, reduces the high-carb and sugar cravings, and increases satiation. Traditional Indian cultures that are accustomed to eating natural saturated fats have seen a massive increase in diseases like diabetes since switching to “heart healthy” unsaturated fats like vegetable oils.

4. Energy & Athletic Performance

Coconut oil is far superior to coffee for a 3pm pick me up. Researchers have found that MCTs are unique because they go straight to the liver to be burned as energy and aren’t circulated or stored like other fats. This means they provide a sustainable energy boost which also stimulates metabolism, creating a greater energy burn throughout the day. For athletes studies are showing that MCTs increases endurance and performance when consumed regularly.

5. Brain Health

Even though diseases like Alzheimer’s, dementia, and Parkinson’s disease have no known cure, there are ways to improve the condition of who have been diagnosed. The human brain runs off glucose. When it comes to diseases of the brain like Alzheimer’s, the brain becomes insulin resistant and no longer takes in glucose as a fuel source. When this happens, parts of the brain essentially starve and begin to deteriorate. The brain can also burn ketone bodies, (what is made when your body converts fat into energy). Usually, the only time ketone bodies are produced is when someone is consuming a very low carbohydrate, high fat diet. But MCTs are unique in that when they go to the liver they are converted into energy in the form of ketones. Since coconut oil is 2/3rds MCTs it’s food that the brain can consume and utilize instead of glucose. Coconut oil has been show to greatly improve the cognitive function of those suffering from Alzheimer’s.

6. Immune Support

As previously mentioned one of the MCTs found in coconut oil is called lauric acid. Lauric acid is unique in that the only other place it can be found in such high amounts is human breast milk. When broken down in the body lauric acid has antimicrobial properties, and is shown to be antifungal, antibacterial, and antiviral. So when you ingest it, it combats harmful bacteria, fungi and viruses in the body.

What Can I Use Coconut Oil For?

Just like any other food, not all coconut oils are created equal. Partially hydrogenated coconut oil is just as bad as any other partially hydrogenated oil. You'll want to make sure that you get good stuff, organic (preferably) virgin coconut oil.

Here are some brands you can get through Amazon. I buy Nutiva brand at my local Costco.

Food

1. Cooking. Coconut oil is a saturated fat and is very stable. It can be used for medium and high heat cooking (pan frying or baking) and it isn’t prone to damage or oxidation.

2. By the Spoonful. Coconut oil is tasty and provides a delicious boost of energy. It helps to turn off hunger cues that may lead to overeating. If I'm feeling hungry before a run, I'll eat a spoonful of coconut oil before I head out.

3. Baking. Coconut oil can be used in pie crusts or any other baked goods. Replace the vegetable oil with coconut oil (you can melt it if needed), and suddenly your baked goods are super delicious and full of energy.

4. As a substitute for butter. Anywhere you use butter, you can use coconut oil instead.

5. In coffee or tea. Use a tablespoon of coconut oil in your coffee or tea to make a creamy, delicious drink with tons of usable energy.

6. Creating a non-stick surface. Use coconut oil instead of non-stick spray. You can use it on baking sheets or glass dishes. I even used coconut oil to season (grease) my cast iron pan.

Beauty, Skin & Hair

7. Moisturizer. Coconut oil is an incredible moisturizer. Not only does it help restore moisture to the skin, it also is great for conditions like acne, eczema, athlete’s foot, and more due to it’s antifungal and antiviral properties. Start with just a little, it goes a long way!

8. Deodorant. Coconut oil is great for making a deodorant that is both moisturizing and aluminum-free. Use a homemade recipe that includes baking soda and essential oils like tea tree oil or lavender oil for if you want a light scent. I haven't made the switch to homemade deodorant yet...I'm working on that.

9. Scar/stretch mark reducer. Coconut oil is a powerful moisturizer that absorbs quickly and gets deeper into pores over other conventional moisturizers. Many women have found speedy results when using coconut oil to reduce scars and stretch-marks. They have also reported that it tightened their skin and reduced redness.

10. Massage Oil. This requires no explanation. Use as much as you want!

11. Lube. Yep, I'm going there...I'm a nurse I'll talk about almost anything in public. I cannot speak from personal experience but a Google search tells me that it is the best lubricant you can find. Positives are that it's soft, has a nice scent, and doesn’t dry out or get “sticky” with friction. Similar to not eating junk, it has the added benefit that you aren't putting gross chemicals on your lady (or man) parts. Please note that no solid scientific research shows that it does or does not work with latex condoms. Soooo...if you don’t want babies use another natural lubricant with condoms!

12. Hair and scalp repair. Coconut oil is a powerful deep conditioner that can be used to heal issues like dandruff or damaged, frizzy hair. Apply to the ends of your hair at night for an over-night conditioner, or massage into your scalp and leave on for at least 20 minutes before rinsing. Use only a small amount and be prepared to shampoo multiple times to get it out. It can even be used on the heads of the babies you made because you didn't take my advice in #11 to alleviate cradle cap.

13. Toothpaste. Coconut oil makes a great toothpaste base. Search Google for a recipe that suits your fancy!

14. Butt balm. Use as a diaper rash cream for your kiddo. It's antibacterial and antifungal properties will help keep your baby's bum bump free!

What's your favorite use for coconut oil?