Yesterday I needed coconut oil while I was out driving, as my bare shoulder got sunburnt through the car window. A layer of coconut oil, which has an SPF of 4 would have probably been just enough to stop the burn. The smell of coconut oil always brings back the memory of childhood beach holidays for me, but it’s use went out of favour when the ‘slip, slop, slap’ campaign began. It’s only recently come back into favour.
Right now, the biggest buzz word in natural health is coconut, and the amazing therapeutic benefits of this humble food, particularly the oil, have been loudly touted of late.
In fact coconuts are not nuts at all, and unlike nuts they are a relatively low-allergenic food, although in spite of this some people may have an allergy to coconut. The flesh and milk of the fruit are nutrient rich, particularly potassium, magnesium, iron and zinc, so it’s no surprise that coconuts were traditionally considered a good tonic food. In addition to the minerals the extra-virgin coconut oil also has high levels of antioxidants, which help to mop up free radicals in the body and slow down the aging process. Cold-pressed extra-virgin coconut oil has the most therapeutic value and is the one to use.
But, as I mentioned, it is the coconut oil that makes this fruit such a treasure. For years coconuts sat at the top of the ‘bad fats’ list and were shunned because their oil is a saturated fat. But, recently it was recognised that unlike the long-chain saturated fats of animal origin, coconut oil works very differently in the body, and is highly beneficial.
Coconut oil is one of the very few dietary sources of medium-chain fatty acids (MCFA) which are absorbed, transported and metabolized in your body very differently from other fats. It is a rich source of lauric acid which stimulates metabolism, helps with energy production and speeds up the rate that your body burns fat. If you are trying to lose a few kilos then make coconut oil your friend – even though you usually gain weight when you consume animal fats and some vegetable fats, it is actually possible to lose weight when you eat coconut oil. Importantly, unlike saturated animal fats it does not have a negative effect on cholesterol and actually protects heart function and cardiac tissue, reducing the risk of heart disease and atherosclerosis.
Studies have shown that coconut is useful to the body in many ways. It can help balance blood sugar levels in diabetics and reduce sugar cravings; improve thyroid function: improve digestive function by reducing or relieving the symptoms of pancreatitis, gallbladder disease, Chrohn’s Disease, ulcerative colitis, malabsorption syndrome and stomach ulcers; reduce or relieve epileptic seizures: reduce prostate enlargement; relieve symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and chronic fatigue syndrome. It is also thought to strengthen the immune system and stop the spread of cancer cells, especially breast and colon.
It has also long been recognised that coconut oil will kill the bacteria that cause throat infections, gum diseases as well as other bacterial infections, and coconut oil pulling can reduce tooth decay and improve oral health. More recently coconut has also been found to be antifungal and can be helpful treating candida and athletes foot.
There has always been a problem with many of the oils used for cooking as many oils, including olive oil, are damaged when they are heated even at relatively low temperatures, turning rancid and oxidising, resulting in higher levels of free radicals being produced in your body. Coconut oil has stepped in to fill the much needed role of an oil that is suitable for cooking at high temperatures. It can be heated to 120ْ C before it is damaged so is perfect for frying and baking and in addition it does not turn rancid and oxidize when heated.
Try out these cooking ideas for yourself.
Roll vegetables in a mix of liquefied coconut oil and cumin in equal quantities before baking them for a yummy healthy treat. Or roll cut potatoes (organic) in straight coconut oil and bake for delicious crunchy home-made wedges.
Coconut oil has long been revered throughout Asia and the island nations for its wonderful moisturizing effects on the skin. According to nutrition author Christine Cronau, who regards coconut oil as a great youth elixir, coconut oil benefits the skin when it is consumed as well as when it is applied externally. She says that when quality fats like coconut oil are used on the skin they plump up the cells and keep them hydrated. When we remove fat, especially saturated fat from our diet our skin starts to shrivel up. Consuming vegetable oils ages your skin faster than consuming saturated fats like coconut oil and in recent years the trend has been to eat more vegetable oils and fewer saturated fats, so our skin is suffering as a result.
During a recent massage the practitioner told me she was trialing coconut oil as her massage oil base and finding it fantastic to work with. It certainly glided on and my skin felt amazing afterwards. It would make a great whole body moisturizer or add some to your bath for a lovely all-over soft skin.
Recently I tried coconut oil on my hair to tame the ‘natural dry frizz’ and the result was great. I left it on my hair for an hour before washing it and the oil left it silky smooth. You could also rub some between your palms and then just work it through your hair.
It seems that massaging the oil into your scalp is good for dandruff, although luckily I don’t suffer from that.
BUYING AND STORING COCONUT OIL
Look for organic, unrefined, cold pressed coconut oil. Coconut oil needs to be stored in a glass jar, preferably a dark one, to prevent spoiling. At room temperature it is solid, but over 24ْ C it will liquefy. I use one called Oil 4 Life in an amber bottle.
Coconut oil is generally regarded as having no known side effects other than if you are used to a low-fat diet you may get diarrhoea. Start slowly with a small amount.
Although in countries where coconuts are produced they are considered beneficial to pregnant and lactating women, in the West, where low-fat diets rule the day, it is recommended not to introduce coconut oil into your diet at this time unless you have been consuming coconut regularly with no adverse effects.
Although many nutritionists and other health professionals recommend including coconut oil in your diet, it is worth noting that the Heart foundation does not support eating it because it is a saturated fat, in spite of the fact that the fats are of the healthy MCFA type. It seems that the conservative response to the growing popularity has been to either advise not to eat it or else to use it in moderation. But up against this is the positive experience of many coconut oil devotees as well as the positive findings of the studies that have been conducted.
Have you got any ways that you love using coconut oil? Share them in the comments below.
All information and opinions presented here are for information only and are not intended as a substitute for professional advice offered during a consultation. Please consult with your health care provider before trying any of the treatment suggested on this site.