In a July 2016 survey, 72 percent of people in the United States stated they believed that coconut was healthful. Only 37 percent of nutritionists agreed.
The problem, according to health experts, is that coconut oil contains over 80 percent saturated fat—more than butter or lard. Studies have linked a high intake of saturated fat with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, artery narrowing, heart attack, and stroke.
Some recent studies, however, have contradicted these findings. In a 2015 Cochrane review, for instance, researchers found that saturated fats may be less harmful than previously believed. They didn’t suggest, however, that people should eat more of them.
Indeed, major organizations like the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommend limiting the consumption of coconut oil because of the potential link to heart disease.
Coconut oil may have health benefits, though. In 2018, researchers suggested that extra virgin coconut oil may help improve cholesterol levels similar to the way olive oil might. Other studies showed mixed results.
The truth is probably somewhere in between: like most foods, coconut oil is likely healthy in moderate amounts. If you’re interested in incorporating this oil more often in your diet, we have some ideas for you below.
What is Coconut Oil?
Coconut oil is an edible oil that’s extracted from the kernel or meat of mature coconuts. (Both “kernel” and “meat” mean the same thing when it comes to coconuts.) As mentioned, it’s high in saturated fat, which means that it can be stored on the shelf—resisting rancidification—for up to six months.
Coconut oil can be pulled from the kernel in two main ways:
- Dry Processing: In this process, the meat of the coconut is extracted from the shell and dried. The dried meat, which is called “copra,” is then pressed or dissolved with solvents, producing the oil and mash. The oil is separated from the mash, and the mash is often fed to animals.
- Wet Processing: In this process, the coconut milk is extracted from the coconut, and that milk consists of an emulsion of oil and water. A variety of processing methods involving centrifuges and pre-treatments separates the oil from the water. This process yields less oil than dry processing.
Depending on the process used, there are two main types of oil produced:
- Refined: Refined oils are produced from dried copra and undergo various levels of processing, including being deodorized and bleached. These have no coconut flavor or aroma. The oil is typically processed using expeller-pressed processes, which extract the oil using high pressure and heat.
- Unrefined: These are normally considered virgin oils and have a light to strong coconut taste and aroma. In the U.S., there is no legal definition or standard for the terms “virgin” or “extra-virgin.” Typically, these are made by pressing the fresh, raw coconut and avoiding the addition of chemicals. The oil is typically processed using cold-pressed processes, which means it is not exposed to high heat. Unrefined oils may also be processed via centrifuge, which spins the contents to separate the meat from the oil. The resulting oil is typically the most expensive.
You may also notice these terms on product labels:
- Whole kernel: Whole kernel oil is made from the coconut kernel (or meat) with the inside skin left on, and is thought to be more nutritious with a nuttier flavor than white kernel oil.
- White kernel: This is made from coconuts whose brown inner skins have been removed. It has a milder, more delicate aroma.
Both of these types of oils are typically unrefined.
When choosing your coconut oil, focus on products that are virgin, organic, or minimally processed to enjoy the highest levels of nutrients. Keep in mind, however, that products will vary as to their aroma and flavor, so choose accordingly depending on how much or how little coconut flavor you want.
Why “Smoke Point” Matters
One of the good things about coconut oil when it comes to cooking is that it has a fairly high “smoke point.” This is the temperature at which the oil starts to burn and smoke.
You don’t want this to happen when cooking because when an oil is heated past its smoke point, it not only burns foods and ruins the flavor, it destroys the beneficial phytochemicals in the oil. In other words, the healthy components that you’re hoping to enjoy in the coconut oil will no longer be there.
Even worse, once oil starts to smoke and burn, it can create harmful free radicals in the oil and the food. These can damage the DNA in your cells and are associated with an increased risk of various diseases, including heart disease and cancer.
The smoke point of coconut oil depends on whether it is refined or unrefined:
- Refined oil: 450 degrees Fahrenheit
- Unrefined oil: 350 degrees Fahrenheit
10 Ways to Use Coconut Oil in the Kitchen
1. Use as a Substitute for Solid Fats in Baking
When the recipe calls for butter or shortening, you can typically substitute coconut oil using a 1:1 ratio. If the recipe calls for solid butter, use solid coconut oil and try using about 25 percent less oil. For melted butter or liquid fat, melt the coconut oil before using it.
2. Top Your Popcorn and Other Foods
Instead of using butter on your popcorn, drizzle some melted coconut oil over the top instead. Do the same with chicken breasts, seafood, and veggies—simply drizzle a little coconut oil on top for flavor and moisture.
3. Use as a Dairy Substitute
If you can’t digest dairy well or if you’re lactose intolerant, you can use coconut oil in place of butter on your bread, when frying an egg, or when making a grilled cheese sandwich. You can also add it to your coffee in place of dairy creamer.
4. Use it to Fry Foods
Because of its saturated fats, coconut oil is a stable oil, which makes it a good choice for frying foods. It has a high “smoke content,” so as long as you’re careful not to fry in temperatures higher than those listed above, you’ll avoid exposure to free radicals and still enjoy the healthful components of the oil.
5. Add it to Your Smoothie
If you’re making a fruit smoothie, you can add a little coconut oil for its health benefits, as well as its ability to keep you satisfied. Remember that one tablespoon gives you about 120 calories.
6. Add it to Your Salad Dressings
If you’d like a little coconut flavor in your salad dressing, you can mix about 1/3-cup coconut oil with 1/3-cup sesame oil and 1/3-cup olive oil. Add spices as you like to enhance the flavor—parsley, thyme, basil, oregano, sea salt, and garlic all work well. To create a balsamic dressing, add some mustard and balsamic vinegar.
7. Make a Vegan Frosting
Coconut oil can be used to make a delicious coconut cream frosting. Simply mix a cup of coconut milk with 1-1/4 cups coconut oil, then add in a cup of sweetener (honey or agave nectar), a tablespoon of water, a pinch of salt, and 5 teaspoons of arrowroot powder.
Simmer the coconut milk, sweetener, and salt for about 10 minutes, then add the arrowroot and water (mixed previously) and bring it to a boil. Remove and blend in the coconut oil, then allow to cool. Refrigerate for a couple of hours, then blend again and spread over cake or cupcakes.
8. Make Mayonnaise or Dips
Most mayonnaise products on the market these days are made with soybean oil. If you’d like to avoid that, make your own with coconut oil. Try this: Blend together 1 whole egg, 2 egg yolks, 1 tablespoon mustard, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 1/2-teaspoon salt, 1/4-teaspoon pepper, 1/2-cup coconut oil, and 1/2-cup virgin olive oil. Start with the eggs and mustard, then gradually add in the other ingredients.
9. Add it to Homemade Soups
Make your soups richer and more satisfying by adding in a tablespoon or two of coconut oil.
10. Use it in Pie Crust, Biscuit, and Tortilla Recipes
Anytime you need to “cut” in fat with a pastry blender, you can substitute coconut oil for the fat in the recipe. It works well and may add a nice flavor to your pastries.
10 Other Ways to Use Coconut Oil
Coconut oil can also be beneficial outside of the kitchen. Here are some ideas:
- Oil Pulling: If you’re a fan of oil pulling to reduce bacteria in the mouth, try coconut oil. Studies have found that it helps to reduce bacteria and inflammation.
- Moisturize Dry Skin: If you have super dry skin or skin conditions like dermatitis and eczema, try applying coconut oil as a moisturizer. It can help soothe and soften skin.
- Revive Your Hair: If your hair is looking dry, dull, and lifeless these days, try a coconut-oil treatment. It can help repair damage and leave your hair looking smooth and shiny. Apply the oil after cleansing, leave on for about 10 minutes, and rinse.
- Remove Stains: Mix one part coconut oil with one part baking soda. Apply the paste to the stain on your carpet or furniture, wait a few minutes, and wipe away.
- Shine Wood Furniture: Coconut oil works well as a wood polishing oil. Simply apply some to a rag and wipe down your favorite wood pieces.
- Remove Eye Makeup: Instead of buying separate makeup remover oil, try using coconut oil instead. Apply some to a cotton pad, then use it to wipe away blush, foundation, eye shadow, eyeliner, and more.
- Soothe Chapped Lips: Lips are always the first to get dry and chapped. Coconut oil glides on smoothly and helps penetrate the skin to moisturize deep down.
- Clean Makeup Brushes: Makeup brushes should be cleaned at least once a month to prevent them from depositing bacteria onto your skin. Mix one part of coconut oil with two parts dish soap and soak your brushes in the mixture to get them clean while keeping them soft and pliable.
- Make Your Own Body Scrub: Mix half-cup coconut oil with a handful of coarse salt or sugar, then apply to a washcloth or loofah to use as a body scrub. The mixture will help slough off dead skin cells while moisturizing at the same time. You can use the same scrub on your lips to scrub away dead skin.
- Use as a Luxurious Massage Oil: Warm the coconut oil in the microwave, add in a few drops of your favorite essential oil, then use the mixture as a moisturizing and soothing massage oil.
Eliminating your digestive issues just became simple. Check out our 14 Day Quick Start Program below.