Coconut oil is here to stay: it is becoming increasingly popular in recipes, magazines, and beauty cabinets alike, and it seems that if you want to keep up with the health movement then you can’t be doing without it. Whilst we might all be aware of it and a lot of us even be using it on a regular basis, I just wanted to write a quick post to give you more information on what makes coconut oil so good for us. Aside from its amazing smell, of course!
Coconut oil is extracted from the meat of coconuts and is one of the best all-round oils for everyday use due to its huge versatility. I’ll discuss how amazing it is as a beauty product later, but first I want to cover why coconut oil is such a beneficial addition to every diet. I know that oil can immediately scare off people trying to lose weight as we have been taught that it’s high in calories and fat, but stick with me here! Yes, coconut oil is rich in the saturated fats we are all advised to cut down on, but in this case the saturated fats are mainly composed of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) that are metabolised differently from other fats. It is believed that the body can’t readily store MCTs, so instead they are used solely for energy. As a result, coconut oil can be consumed by athletes and those looking to stay healthy, as it boosts your energy levels and performance whilst making your body work harder to burn calories rather than sticking to your hips like other fat sources. Coconut oil also raises your HDL levels, the good kind of cholesterol that prevents build up in your arteries and thus avoids heart problems by keeping blood pressure under control.
The saturated fats in coconut oil also allow it to oxidise really slowly, preventing it from going rancid so that you can store it for much longer – usually around two years. Even more importantly, coconut oil has a really high ‘smoking point’ and can be heated to high temperatures, again without going rancid, whereas traditional cooking oils can’t – believe it or not, olive oil and vegetable oils usually have lower smoking points and their beneficial components get destroyed in the frying pan before they get to our plates. Cooking with coconut oil therefore not only gives your food a fresh flavour, but also allows you to keep all of the health benefits for yourself instead of losing them to the pan.
The Mighty Lauric Acid
You might have heard of lauric acid. This fatty acid is one of the MCTs we mentioned earlier, and makes up around half of the fat content of coconut oil. It is lauric acid that is responsible for most of the health benefits provided by this superfood – this is what prevents high blood pressure, but also confers astounding antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral properties too. Lauric acid is converted by the body into a substance called monolaurin, which tackles all sorts of nasty microbes that may cause infections like the flu. When taken into your gut, this clever molecule can therefore also maintain order amongst your gut bacteria, repressing the growth of the bad guys to allow your gut health and digestion to flourish.
Your New Beauty Guru
A lot of these antimicrobial benefits are also reaped when applying the oil topically rather than eating it, so let’s talk now about coconut oil as a beauty miracle product. It is honestly the answer to practically every problem under the sun: I’m hooked!
Antioxidants protect the skin by reducing the damaging effects of free radicals, slowing the aging process and stopping skin from losing its elasticity as you get older. These same particles can also combat the negative effects of sun exposure, making it a great moisturiser choice post-sunbathing. Whilst on the subject of the sun, I have seen a couple of articles that promote coconut oil as a sun lotion as well – whilst it is true that coconut oil does have some SPF properties, this is usually only equivalent to around SPF 5 so isn’t really sufficient for broad spectrum sunburn prevention (especially if you are a translucent ghost like myself!
Moving on, let’s return to that antibacterial lauric acid. When applied to skin conditions such as eczema and cradle cap this can prevent further infections taking hold, and also seal the irritated skin with a moisturising barrier to promote speedy healing and reduce itching. The antifungal properties even make it an effective solution for conditions like athlete’s foot, especially if mixed with other natural ointments like tea tree products. In fact, a lot of prescribed creams can actually dehydrate skin more and lead to a build up of chemicals in the body, so coconut oil is a great alternative for anyone concerned about how to treat their skin issues.
Similarly, applying coconut oil to the scalp is one of the best things I can recommend for anyone, whether you have problems such as dandruff or are simply looking to make your hair super shiny. As before, the oil will soothe any scalp conditions or itching, but also protect hair follicles and shower them in nutrients to stop breakage and hair loss.
What’s more, I highly advocate massaging coconut oil all over your scalp and combing it right through to the ends of your hair, then tying it up over night before washing it in the morning. The massaging will increase blood circulation to your roots to ensure they get sufficient nutrients, which in turn stimulates hair growth. This natural hair mask also seals in moisture down the full length of the hair and reduces swelling or breaking of the fibres, leading to extremely smooth and strong locks! I have started doing this two or three times a week and have definitely noticed a difference in my previously fine and flyaway hair.
Which Kind Do I Buy?
It feels like there is an endless variety of coconut oil on the shelf, so choosing which is the best for you can be really confusing. I’m only going to mention a couple of types here, but there are definitely way more!
Refined coconut oil has been chemically bleached and deodorised to make it thinner, colourless and odourless. This process strips the oil of most of its antioxidants so isn’t as good a choice as pure coconut oil, but it can still be useful as a moisturiser for skin or hair.
Virgin coconut oil is derived from coconut milk rather than the meat as pure coconut oil is, and is extracted using no or as little heat as possible to retain nearly all of the antioxidants and beneficial fatty acids. This type of coconut oil is therefore a great choice for its healing properties as well as its fruity taste and smell, so can be used on your body and food alike.
Regardless of which variety you end up choosing, I urge you to go out and buy some soon! As well as cooking and baking with it (it makes for amazing raw chocolate), I religiously slather this miracle product on my skin and hair, use it as a lip salve, and even take off the most stubborn make up with it. Coconut oil is truly a multitasking miracle – you’ll quickly wonder what you did without it.