Coconut oil has been used for centuries in tropical countries as a cooking ingredient, but it’s only recently that its health benefits have been recognised.
Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer explains why it deserves prime position in your store cupboard – and not just for cooking with.
Coconut oil comes from the seed of the coconut palm tree, Cocos nucifera, which is grown all over the tropics and has been the primary source of fat in the diets of millions of people for generations. Research shows that people living in the Philippines have some of the lowest incidence of heart disease, partially attributed to their high intake of coconut.
IT’S VERY VERSATILE
It’s so versatile in recipes and is a store cupboard essential for raw foodies. It can be used in curries, stir fries, cookies, smoothies, ice cream, cereal bars, to name just a few dishes. It is also fantastic for roasting potatoes!
IT’S HEALTHIER THAN OTHER FATS
Although it’s high in fat, coconut oil is actually high in a type of saturated fat called medium chain fatty acids. These types of fats are not stored by the body but are instead metabolised and can quickly help to produce energy. This makes coconut oil a great choice for everyday cooking, especially if you are an avid exerciser or trying to lose weight.
IT’S ONE OF THE SAFEST OILS TO COOK WITH
Coconut oil is one of the safest oils for cooking. Certain oils that we regularly use for cooking, particularly polyunsaturated oils such as sunflower, are chemically unstable, meaning that they produce free radicals when heated.
Heating unstable oils produces hydrogenated and trans fats, both of which are chemically altered and unrecognisable to the body; they actually stop the body from metabolising the healthy omega 3 fatty acids.
Coconut oil has a much higher melting point, making it more stable when used at high temperatures. It is even safer than olive oil.
IT’S A USEFUL ANTI-FUNGAL
Either taken internally or used topically, coconut oil has strong anti-fungal properties. This means that it can help to kill any fungal infections (such as candida) that occur on the skin or in the gut. Candida can cause some unpleasant digestive symptoms, but research indicates that the lauric acid in coconut helps to fight off the fungus. Eat it daily or apply to your skin if you‘re suffering with candida.
IT’S A GREAT BEAUTY AID
Coconut butter (semi-solid coconut oil) is as useful in the bathroom as it is in the kitchen and makes a fantastic beauty aid! You can use it as a body exfoliator, as well as a moisturiser, which leaves your skin feeling soft and supple. Plus you’ll smell divine!
It also makes a great hair conditioner: coconut oil is best applied and left for 20 minutes to really penetrate the hair and scalp. After washing and drying in the usual way, your hair will be luxuriant and shiny.