Note: This article is not meant as a substitute for proper medical advice. Please consult with your medical practitioner before using any type of remedy, herbal or otherwise.
You’ve probably noticed coconut’s meteoric rise in popularity over the past couple of years. The use of coconut oil increased 780% between 2008 and 2012 and coconut water consumption increased 168% between 2010 and 2013. So what’s the big deal?
Coconut oil is different from other cooking oils in that it is solid at room temperature and takes longer to go rancid than most other oils--it can have a shelf life of two years or more due to its natural resistance to oxidation. You can substitute coconut oil for most other oils that a recipe calls for. Depending on the recipe, it might give a slightly nutty flavor or it could be completely masked (especially if baked).
Some of the health benefits that have been noted when coconut is ingested are:
- Helps to regulate blood sugar levels (good for diabetics)
- Kills bacteria and parasites
- Increases HDL (good cholesterol) because coconut oil is high in natural saturated fats
- Aids in proper bowel elimination
- Liver strengthening (medium chained fatty acids in coconut are processed by the liver)
- Supports healthy thyroid functioning (due to the capric acid)
- Provides sustained energy release
- Aids in weight management due to its unique medium chained fatty acids
- Aids in building a healthy immune system (due to the lauric acid content, which is also found in breast milk)
- contains manganese, copper, zinc, vitamin E, selenium, and antioxidants
Coconut oil is also good for skin, hair, and gums. Because it is rich in vitamin E, coconut oil is good for healing abrasions, as an antioxidant, and for anti-aging. It will also help kill any pathogens and bacteria on your skin due to the antimicrobial constituents of capryilic and capric acids.
Due to the unique medium chain fatty acids, the oil can freely pass into the hair shaft where most conditioners can’t penetrate, providing deep hydration and conditioning. Simply massage into the scalp, let sit for 20-30 minutes and then rinse out with shampoo. This will also help relieve dandruff and give your hair extra shine.
Some oral health experts say that coconut oil is more effective than fluoride in preventing cavities. This ancient Ayurvedic practice also known as “oil pulling” can have many modern day benefits. It can strengthen the teeth, freshen the breath, prevent tooth decay, and reduce bleeding gums. Best done before breakfast, oil pulling can help to detoxify the body. It’s a great addition to any detoxifying program or diet. The oil literally pulls bacteria, mucous, puss, etc. out of your teeth, gums and the surrounding areas and can even drain clogged sinuses.
There are many types and varieties of coconut oil. It’s best to stick with an unrefined cold-pressed or “virgin” coconut oil because this process most effectively preserves the quality of the oil’s constituents. Any heating will reduce its health benefits. Refined oils can be cheaper, but they are usually processed at high heat and aren’t as beneficial as the unrefined, cold pressed versions.
It is important to note that since coconut’s rise in popularity, supply has dramatically increased, which has an impact on the environment, as well as farmers’ pay and working conditions. To increase supply, some farmers have started growing coconuts in monocultures, which decreases biodiversity and soil health. And with all these coconuts on the market, farmers are now making just 12 - 25 cents per coconut. To that end, if your budget allows, buying organic and fair trade coconut oil can make a big difference in mitigating at least some of the environmental and economic impacts.
City Market has a variety of coconut oils that can suit any purpose. You can find food grade coconut oil in Aisle 2 and other types of coconut oil in our Wellness Department. City Market also carries other coconut products like coconut cream and manna (basically the flesh plus the oil for a more creamy consistency), coconut water, and coconut milk (from the flesh). Whether it is for cooking, baking, or personal care needs, coconut oil is definitely worth checking out.
This post was adapted and updated from a previous Health Genie article.