Coconut Oil: Benefits and Cooking With it

Coconut Oil: Benefits and Cooking With it

Healthy Eating

Coconut oil has benefitted from a recent resurgence in popularity. Its benefits for the skin and hair have become increasingly widespread, with products as varied as shampoos to diaper creams now considering this oil as an essential ingredient for healthy skin and hair. Although much is known about its beauty benefits, there is a slightly more ambiguous view when it comes to adding coconut oil to the kitchen cupboard. This article explains some of the benefits of this tropical oil – both internally and externally.

How is it made?

Whilst it is fair to say that not all coconut oils are created equal, all of them are created from the fruit or “flesh” of the coconut. The process by which the oil is extracted from the flesh determines the quality of the oil—as with many natural products, using heat during the extraction process can significantly and detrimentally impact the quality of the end product. This is one instance where you want to look for “cold-pressed” and “unrefined” on the label as this means that heat was not used to extract the oil from the flesh, ensuring that as much of the coconut’s health benefits remain present in the product you purchase. 

What are some of the benefits?

Without getting overly technical, the fatty acids naturally found in coconut oil are the “good” kind. They can help reduce heart disease, improve the levels of “good” cholesterol in your body, and help your body to burn fat. Historically, coconut oil was deemed unhealthy because of its high saturated fat content but thankfully, as our understanding of fatty acids has increased, it is recognised that not all saturated fats are bad for us. 

The way the body metabolizes coconut oil means that it turns it into ketones, which research has shown can assist with many health conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease. Its naturally high levels of lauric acid mean it can help fight against viruses and kill harmful bacteria in the body.

As well as an excellent skin moisturiser, coconut oil has anti-inflammatory properties that can assist with skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis. Its antibacterial properties mean it can assist with acne too. Its high lauric acid content also means that it can be more readily absorbed by your hair, increasing its strength, length, and overall appearance.

How should I use it on my body?

Coconut oil can be applied directly to the skin and hair. As with most new products introduced into your daily skin and hair regimen, it is best to start off small to see how your body reacts and how much you need to use. Organic, cold-pressed, and unrefined coconut oil is usually solid but will melt very easily from the sheer warmth of your skin. If you live in warmer climates, consider keeping it in your fridge or a cool cupboard away from direct sunlight. 

How to use coconut oil in cooking?

Coconut oil can be used in everyday cooking and baking recipes, often as a replacement for butter or vegetable oils. It has a higher smoke point than, say, olive oil, so it probably won’t work as well in a salad dressing. Sweet treats such as brownies and cookies have all been able to readily accommodate the use of coconut oil within the recipe without leading to a compromise on taste. Banana pancakes and flapjacks are two of my favourite sweet treats to make using coconut oil.

Turning to the savoury, roasted vegetables tossed in coconut oil and fresh rosemary are an easy and delicious twist, which I make at least weekly. (I ordinarily heat the oil for a few minutes in the roasting pan with the fresh rosemary before throwing in the vegetables and baking for around 25-45 mins depending on the vegetable selection).

But remember…

Cold-pressed, unrefined, and organic are all labels, which will mean that the quality of the oil can be used for your skin as well as for cooking. Without meaning to state the obvious, it is an oil, so it should be used in moderation, whether that be in or on your body. However, its significant health benefits and delicate taste means it’s definitely worth considering adding it to both your dressing table and your kitchen cupboard.

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