Coconut oil made from the coconut (Cocos nucifera) is a staple in our pantry, medicine cabinet and cosmetics. An incredibly diverse and powerful oil for your health, coconut oil is amazing to eat, apply to your skin, use on your teeth and so much more. Although it looks like a solid fat, it quickly melts at body temperature and becomes a liquid.
Humans have cultivated coconuts for thousands of years throughout South East Asia and India (1), and the coconut palm is called the ‘all giving tree’ in old Indian texts because of its huge number of uses. Ayurvedic medicine describes coconut oil as cooling, strengthening for hair and improving its quality and growth. Old texts describe coconut oil as deeply nourishing and good for debility, weakness, after illness and for respiratory (lung) conditions like asthma. They also believe it helps urinary conditions, diabetes and is a skin moisturiser and softener that can help wounds heal (2).
Research shows it is very safe
Coconut oil is widely consumed as a food and cooking oil and therefore considered to be very safe.
It does not increase the risk of heart disease or increase weight. Small studies actually show it increases HDL (good cholesterol)
The outdated view that saturated fat causes heart disease and increases our weight is finally changing, it is sugar and carbohydrate that we need to look at, healthy fats like coconut oil should be part of our diet. In fact in patients with heart disease adding extra virgin coconut oil to their diet for 3 months significantly decreased their waist circumference (they lost weight!) and saw a significant improvement in HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol that protects us against heart disease and stroke) (3). It is also shown to increase HDL levels in healthy people (4) improving their risk of developing heart disease.
Coconut oil may help weight loss and appetite control
Coconut oil is anecdotally recommended as a weight loss aid – many recommend taking a spoonful in between meals to help weight loss and stave off hunger. A recent study shows that when adding coconut oil to a weight loss program, it can significantly help improve weight loss in obese women (5) and waist circumference in obese men (6). However, coconut oil may better be described as aiding weight maintenance and regulation. True to its use in Ayurvedic medicine as a nourishing oil, when used to massage underweight pre-term babies it helped them gain weight more effectively than any other oil (7). It also reduced their risk of serious infections and death (8).
It is high in MCTs which support a healthy gut
Coconut oil contains a high proportion of beneficial Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCTs) (9), these are healthy fats that have been shown to positively improve the health of your gut, influencing and lowering the risk of many diseases including diabetes (10).
Coconut oil can improve mouth bacteria, gum and teeth health
Coconut oil teeth pulling is a traditional Ayurvedic technique for keeping the mouth healthy. It is basically using coconut oil as a mouthwash (pulling it through the teeth, see below) and is a natural, safe and effective way of preventing mouth infections (11).
It can help skin problems and is a good anti-fungal
It has been shown to improve mild to moderate eczema in children more than other moisturisers (12) and is an effective moisturiser for dry skin (13). In adults with eczema, coconut oil has been shown to be effective at stopping infection with bacteria or fungal.
- Coconut oil may help protect nerve cells from damage in diseases like Alzheimer’s, early research is promising (14)
- Coconut oil has anti-inflammatory properties (15)
- Eating foods deep-fried with coconut oil is much safer than other cooking oils which breakdown into toxic and potentially carcinogenic chemicals (16)
- Animal studies show eating coconut oil may protect you against chemotherapy side effects, specifically kidney damage (17).
Dr Jess says: Quality of coconut oil is important, you want it to be organic (keeping chemical toxins to a minimum) and as unprocessed as possible, preferably raw and extra virgin. I have seen spectacular results in patients – from eczema in children to preventing recurrent tooth abscesses in adults. Coconut oil should be a superstar natural medicine and food in every home. I use it every day to cook with and also after brushing my teeth to keep them healthy.
HOW TO USE COCONUT OIL
Coconut oil teeth pulling – An ancient Ayurvedic and proven technique for oral (teeth and gums) health. Take a dessertspoon to tablespoon of coconut oil and swish it round your mouth and pull (suck it) through your teeth for up to 5 minutes daily, then spit it out. This practice maintains your teeth and gums, and is a healthy bacterial balance in your mouth.
Cook with it – Coconut oil is great to cook with as it has a high smoke point (i.e. it remains very stable at moderately high temperatures) and adds a pleasant taste to foods. It can be used for baking, roasting and frying.
Make coconut oil popcorn – Add 1-2tbsp coconut oil to a large pan on a medium-high heat, once heated add 1/2 cup of popcorn kernels and place lid over. Once it starts to pop, shake every 10-15 seconds until fully popped. Add good quality Himalayan crystal salt or sea salt to taste, delicious!
Use it on your skin – A great moisturiser, although coconut oil is solid, as soon as it comes in contact with your skin it melts and is easily absorbed without leaving an oily residue. Its antimicrobial properties make it great for skin health. It also makes an excellent make-up remover, even with waterproof makeup – use it with a cotton pad over eyes and other areas.
Chocolate coconut almond butter cups – Fill a tray with mini cupcake cases and place a thin layer (5mm) of cocoa mix (3/4 cup melted coconut oil, 1/2 cup cocoa powder, 1tsp vanilla essence, optional almond essence and maple syrup or honey to taste) in the bottom of each one. Add a teaspoon of organic almond nut butter (or cashew nut butter or macadamia nut butter!) to each one, then cover with more melted cocoa mix until you can’t see the nut butter. Sprinkle sea salt on top and put in the fridge (or the freezer for speed) to set then eat and enjoy! Great snack for kids too that is low sugar and nutritious.