How To Select & Use Coconut Oil

By now, you've probably come across coconut oil in some capacity. You certainly have if you've been reading my blog within the past year! But it's starting to show up on more and more healthy foods lists, ingredients labels, and magazine articles. This is for a very good reason! Coconut oil is quite the little miracle - I'm not sure how I'd live without it.

Over the last 6 months or so, I've had a lot of questions about it. How do you use it? Where do you buy it? What's so great about it? Isn't it a saturated fat? How can it benefit you and your awesome body?

My aim here is to answer all of these questions and more. So prepare yourself to learn more than you ever wanted to know about coconut oil!

First, let's tackle the health facts of coconut oil, so you know exactly why I love it so much and why you should too!

Health Benefits of Coconut Oil

The healing properties and health benefits you receive from using coconut oil are far too numerous to offer a complete list here. Have a look at just a few of the main reasons why it's such a wonderful product to have:

  1. Heart Health. Coconut oil is a naturally occurring saturated fat, rather than a hydrogenated and processed one, like margarine and shortening. It is comprised of about 50% Medium Chain Fatty Acids (rather than the Long Chain Fats found in vegetable or seed oils) and 50% Lauric Acid (more on this later). Instead of contributing to heart disease and hypertension, as many hydrogenated and processed fats do, coconut oil can actually help you balance your cholesterol and improve your heart health.
  2. Anti-Bacterial, Anti-Viral, Anti-Fungal, Anti-Microbial. That lauric acid I mentioned in the first point is the reason behind all of these powerful properties. What does this mean for you? A plethora of coconut oil uses! It fights off viruses as fierce as HIV and HPV, it challenges the fungus responsible for athlete's foot and candida , and it protects your pores against breakouts and acne.
  3. Digestibility. Those MCFAs are easily digested by the body, making it (and all coconut-derived foods) a great alternative to butter and other dairy products. Not only that, the anti-microbial nature of coconut oil helps to fight off viruses and bacteria in the digestive system, helping you absorb your food's nutrients and keeping your body in healthy working order.
  4. Energy & Weight Loss. The easily digestible coconut oil is quickly metabolized by the body - in fact, over time, consuming moderate quantities of coconut oil can boost your metabolism! We have spent many years believing that fat makes us fat - this is not the case when we choose the right fats. Having coconut oil can actually help us to burn fat more effectively.
  5. Immunity Boosting. What is the result of all of the above? A properly functioning immune system and a reduced risk of infection, as well as a step forward in kicking chronic illnesses, such as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Crohn's Disease.
For more information and insight into the many health benefits of coconut oil, I'd highly recommend the following:

Where To Buy Coconut Oil

Now that you know how great it is for you, I'm sure you're ready to pick up a jar! Finding it and choosing the right brand can be tricky though. There are some very cheaply made coconut oils that won't provide you with that great lauric acid content, which is a complete waste of time and money (and will offer you virtually no health benefits!).

Check out your nearest health & natural foods store, Whole Foods, or Trader Joe's. If you live nowhere near a place like this, the internet is a wonderful resource! sells many good brands of coconut oil (for my recommendations, see below) or search for the brands on google to find out where to purchase them.

If you'd like to explore the many options besides what I've recommended below, make sure you choose a great coconut oil by looking for the following words on the packaging (which should always be made of glass and not plastic):

  • Organic
  • Virgin or Extra Virgin
  • Unrefined
  • Cold-Pressed

Recommended Coconut Oil Brands

How to Store Coconut Oil

This is important, because many healthy oils and seeds, like flax and hemp, are meant to be kept refrigerated. However, coconut oil should be kept at room temperature, in a cool dry place. It melts at about 76°F - however, unless you're living on the sun, don't worry if your jar turns to liquid. This won't damage the oil - even if it melts and solidifies many many times over! (I researched this because I brought a little jar with me on a vacation to the Caribbean last year where it was either inside an air conditioned room or melted in the tropical heat!) You may find tiny little lumps and bumps in a re-solidified jar of coconut oil due to the natural crystallization process, however it is still perfectly healthy and safe to use.

How To Use Coconut Oil

There are two general uses for coconut oil: in food and on your body! Most of the time, if you're cooking with coconut oil, you'll want to melt it. Never melt coconut oil in the microwave or over direct heat (unless you are using it to fry or sauté). This will damage the healthful properties and destroy the good fats it contains.

Instead, I prefer using either a double boiler or a bain-marie. Make your own version with a small saucepan and glass or Pyrex bowl. Add an inch or two of water to the saucepan and set the bowl on top (if the bottom of the bowl touches the water, that's okay - just make sure it doesn't touch the bottom of the pan, but instead rests on the lip of the pan). Heat the water to a gentle simmer. Add the coconut oil to the bowl and allow it to melt gradually over a low heat.

If it's the middle of winter, this might take a few minutes! If it's the middle of summer, you can probably skip this process and pour it straight out of the jar!

Coconut oil is extremely versatile in both sweet and savory dishes.

Coconut Oil In Food

  • Baking. It is a wonderful alternative to butter and other oils in cakes, cookies, and crusts. Try my Banana Bread recipe or my Particular Granola - both rely on coconut oil for texture as well as flavor.
  • Frying and Sautéing. Because of its ability to tolerate a high heat without becoming oxidized, coconut oil is a much better choice than olive oil for your frying pan. The flavor can limit its uses, however. Coconut oil does (and should) smell and taste like coconut. Therefore, it works really well in Asian, Indian, and Caribbean dishes, where coconut is a common ingredient. Check out my Spicy Coconut Salmon recipe for a delicious dinner idea, or my Thai Noodle Stir-Fry. Any curry dish can be started off with some onion, garlic, chili & ginger cooked in a little coconut oil and plenty of aromatic spices!
  • Raw Foods. Perhaps the most interesting use of coconut oil in the kitchen is in raw dessert recipes. When gently melted (so as not to destroy any of its active enzymes or other key nutrient values) and then re-solidified in the fridge or freezer, you can create some truly delectable desserts! Try these Raw Nutella Brownies for a great treat, or this Raw Cashew Cheesecake to impress your friends. For a simple raw chocolate recipe, melt some coconut oil and mix in a bit of raw cacao powder and your favorite liquid natural sweetener (I mostly use raw honey or maple syrup). Refrigerate until solid - experiment with different silicone moulds!
Besides being delicious to eat, coconut oil can also be used in a number of ways on your body. I've been using coconut oil as a natural facial moisturizer for a couple of years now. Where I used to suffer from acne most days, now I only get the occasional breakout (not even miraculous coconut oil can tackle lady hormones!). I'll never buy another bottled moisturizer or lotion again! This little jar that I brought back to the States with me from London sits happily in my bathroom cabinet and is well loved!

Coconut Oil On The Body

  • Skin. Moisturize, treat eczema, manage athlete's foot, soothe rough and raw patches of skin. It can be used all over the body, and can even help to heal wounds faster!
  • Hair. If you have dry and brittle hair like me, applying a small amount of coconut oil to the ends of either damp or dry hair can make all the difference in the world. It adds shine, moisture, and a wonderful scent!
  • Nails. Get rid of dry cuticles with a tiny dab of coconut oil. Done!
  • Makeup Removal. Instead of spending loads of extra cash on a bottle of makeup remover, use the coconut oil you already have to get rid of your mascara before bed. It's safe to use near your eyes and sweeps off even waterproof products.
  • Lube. Yep, I'm going there. Coconut oil is a healthy and safe alternative to other lubes and may even do some extra good for your lady parts! It can help to treat and clear up yeast infections like nobody's business. A lot of my fellow holistic health therapists say you should keep 3 jars of coconut oil in your home: one in the kitchen, one in the bathroom, and one in the bedroom! Just be aware that coconut oil should never be used with condoms as it will cause them to lose their elasticity and break.
And that's probably a good note to end on!
Do you use coconut oil? What are you favorite recipes or uses for it? Your favorite brands? Do you have any other questions about it that I didn't answer?