I hadn’t given coconut oil much thought until last Memorial Day weekend when I was visiting family and was surprised to find an enormous jar of coconut oil in their cupboard–and they were using it! That probably doesn’t sound strange to you, especially if you are already a coconut oil convert, but in my family, it’s usually my mom and I that are in on the latest green and healthy trends first (my mother is a Pediatrician and has been doing the organic thing long before it was cool). So to see coconut oil being used in a household that has lovingly joked about our use of wooden spoons and farm-delivered vegetables, I began to suspect there was something here worth looking into.
That weekend my cousin and I made some amazing brownies with coconut oil. Since then, it’s been on my to-do list to learn more about what makes coconut oil so healthy and handy, and to try out some of the numerous ways people say you can use the stuff (there are literally hundreds).
So here’s the skinny on why coconut oil is so good for you and some standout ideas for how to incorporate this natural yet dynamic product into your life.
Let’s start at the beginning: what exactly is coconut oil?
Understanding the active chemical compounds in coconut oil is the key to understanding its health benefits. If you look at the nutrition label on a coconut oil jar you might be pleased by the low number of calories, but then cringe at the high percentage of saturated fats. If you’re like me, you may be under the impression that saturated fats should be avoided because they lead to heart problems. But most of the saturated fats in coconut oil are actually medium chain triglycerides, so they assimilate well into the body and are easily converted into energy. Lauric acid, a rare but naturally occurring compound, accounts for approximately 40% of coconut oil’s composition, and it’s the key to coconut oil’s health benefits.
Lauric acid is a saturated fat that does not contribute to LDL level increases (bad cholesterol). Instead, it actually works to prevent high cholesterol and high blood pressure. So coconut oil consumption is actually good for your heart, and it’s good for other parts of your body too.
Coconut oil promotes liver, kidney, bone and dental health. It has been known to provide relief from pancreatitis and diabetes, and even stress (one can’t overlook the aromatherapy). Its anti-viral, anti-fungal, and anti-bacterial properties are great for immune system health and easing digestion problems, too. But coconut oil is not just beneficial for one’s insides. As it turns out, coconut oil is an amazing addition to your kitchen, shower, and even your bedroom. Below are some ideas for how to use coconut oil – I’ve tried 90% of them out myself. Needless to say there are a few I hope to never try (see instructions for treating head lice!).
- Grease a pan for a perfect panini- Borealis Italian bread, pesto, roasted red peppers, mozzarella and chicken. It was delicious!
- Fry an egg- Again a touch of oil to grease the pan, this time to make a perfect breakfast sandwich (everything bagel, cage-free eggs, cream cheese)
- An energy boost in your smoothie- Coconut oil would go great in a smoothie with fruits like pineapple or mango.
- To pop popcorn- Healthy cooking connoisseur (and my cousin!) Lindsey Bos always puts coconut oil on her popcorn to make a tasty snack.
- On your baked veggies- Out of olive oil? Lindsey says to toss them in some coconut oil before putting them in the oven and they taste just as good!
- On the grill- Coat your grill with coconut oil to prevent your food from sticking to the grate- I tried it and made some delicious grilled shrimp with a coconut lime marinade.
- As an alternative to vegetable oil in baking- 90% of vegetable oils on the market today are genetically modified and form trans fats when used in cooking- substitute coconut oil (which doesn’t produce trans fats at high heat) in your recipes or try making healthy peanut butter fudge that requires no baking at all! (I’m quickly becoming addicted to it)
- Makeup Remover- Dabbing a cotton swab in coconut oil and then rubbing gently on your eyelids removes stubborn mascara stains without any burn of alcohol.
- Shaving Cream- Left my legs smooth, hydrated, and razor-burn free—what more could a girl ask for? Tip: I’ve started keeping a small bottle in my shower so the oil softens in the steam and pours out easily into my hand when I need it
- Moisturizer and aftershave treatment- The coconut oil did take a while to soak in, but once it did my legs were silky smooth.
- Cheekbone highlighter- This could be great in the winter when your skin craves moisture and you’re looking for that extra bit of glow.
- Sweet orange sugar scrub- Who knew making your own sugar scrub could be so easy? Combine ½ cup of coconut oil, ¼ cup of sugar, and about 15 drops of essential oil and you can have a moisturizing, exfoliating, and delightfully aromatic new way to wash your body.
- Deep conditioning foot cream- Daily use will leave even the most ragged feet feeling soft; I like to put some on before my socks at night.
- Deep conditioning hair treatment- Apply to your ends and wrap in a bun, leaving anywhere from 30 minutes to overnight (if you choose the latter you might want to dig out an old pillowcase too).
- At home face mask- Mix raw honey with coconut oil and leave on for 15 minutes…then wash away to reveal super soft skin.
- Makeup Brush Cleaner- Cleaning your make-up brushes on a routine basis is important for maintaining clear skin. Mix two parts anti-bacterial soap with one part coconut oil and use the mixture on your brushes in warm water. I was amazed at how easily my makeup washed out of my brushes.
- Scar and stretch mark reducer- Last spring I gashed myself shaving and now have a pesky scar on my knee…can’t wait to see if coconut oil can get it to fade!
- Mosquito bite itch reducer- If you’re like me, and consistently being bit by Maine’s state bird, there’s no time like the present to try out this natural source of itch relief.
- As a natural treatment for head lice- Rinse your hair with apple cider vinegar and let vinegar dry in hair. Then coat your head with coconut oil and cover with a shower cap; leave for the entire day. Finish by combing out lice and eggs and rinse with water.
- Soothe a sunburn- Even if you’re from Maine, no one wants to look or feel like a lobster.Let coconut oil ease your pain.
- Alleviate allergy symptoms- Summer in Maine brings higher pollen counts and stuffy noses for allergy sufferers- rubbing a little coconut oil in the inside of your nostrils can help!
- As a massage oil- Coconut oil can soothe your muscles and your senses
- Toxin-free mood lighting- Light some coconut oil candles and transport yourself somewhere tropical (Made with a 3:1 ratio of pure beeswax to coconut oil, some of your favorite essential oil for fragrance, a jar, and a cotton wick)
- Turn up the tub- Mix into your bath water for a hydrating soak that is rich in aromatherapy
Tell me, what are your favorite uses for coconut oil?
Ruthie Hawley is the SunriseGuide’s 2014 summer intern through the Blackstone Accelerates Growth Program. She is passionate about all things related to sustainability, girl power, and fostering peace. She will graduate from Colby College in May 2015. Want to read more of Ruthie’s writing? Check out her blog, “Trees and Women.”