Coconut Oil: Double Duty Health and Beauty

Ah, it's time to breathe easy and live light. Summer is right around the corner and my mind is filling with thoughts of sun, sand, and leisure. The smell of seaweed and coconut oil overtake me as I daydream about lazy days on the beach.

Living in NYC, my days are more likely to include picnic blankets, grass, and crowded parks than sunny beaches. Trips to surf and sand come a lot less often. Fortunately, enjoying the smell or the beauty and health benefits of the coconut oil, the oil synonymous with summer, doesn't have to wait until the next excursion to the ocean.

Health

Coconut oil has seen a surge in popularity that coincided with the increased prominence of the paleo diet. It's potential health benefits have received a lot of attention, but not without controversy. In addition to being a source of plant sterols (which have a positive affect on blood lipids,) medium chain triglycerides (thought to have a positive affect on body composition), lauric acid (a type of MCT which has antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties), coconut oil is also high in saturated fat . As you well know, saturated fat and it's role in the development of heart disease has been heavily debated. Some studies have found a connection between saturated fats and heart disease while others have contested this long held nutrition dogma. Berkley Wellness takes on this ongoing debate here.

Heart Disease

Despite having been historically pinned as detrimental to our heart health, science is now suggesting coconut oil might not be so bad after all. In fact, in one study it looked like it might improve lipid profile and decrease waist circumference.

Alzheimer's Disease

A recently published article noted some characteristics of coconut oil might help keep Alzheimer's disease at bay and as well as help treat those who have already developed the disease. The authors made it very clear they are in no way suggesting coconut oil has been proven to prevent or treat the disease, but it does show great potential which warrants further study.

I share this information with some hesitation. I have seen people take the idea that something is beneficial or possibly beneficial to their health to mean they can eat large amounts of it without it having any affect on their weight and health. Coconut oil should still be used in moderation (like many foods and condiments) even it proves to be healthful.

Beauty

Hair

Many Indian hair treatments make use of coconut oil.  Some attribute the long, thick, shiny hair that is often associated with Indian beauty and femininity to the routine use of coconut oil. A 2003 study found coconut oil improves hair's strength by preventing protein loss when used before or after shampooing. A small amount can be added to your hair daily or it can be used as a weekly hot oil treatment. Simply apply a heaping amount (don't be shy) to dry unwashed hair at night before bed. Slather it on from root to tip, then cover your head with a shower or conditioning cap (in a pinch, a plastic shopping bag will do.) Keep it on overnight. When you awake in the morning, wash and condition as normal. Expect stronger, softer, shinier hair.

Skin

Coconut oil also makes a deliciously decadent skin moisturizer. It has been used forever by those living in regions where it grows to lock moisture into their skin. A 2004 study found it was as safe and as effective as man made mineral oil to treat xerosis, a skin condition characterized by dry, scaly, itchy skin. I like to use it after a shower while my  bathroom is still steamy and my skin is still a little damp.

Coconut oil really is a jack of all trades. It has a million and one uses. I have seen people use it to condition and shine leather shoes (steer clear of this one in the winter; coconut oil is solid at low temps and will look incredibly dull) and polish wood furniture. I have used it for baking in place of butter and to add flavor and mouth feel to smoothies. It can also be used to infuse a wonderful aroma into rice dishes and in place of butter for toast. The uses really are endless. Just Google it, you'll see. One of my favorite ways to use it is as my oil of choice when popping a bowl of popcorn.

Healthy Homemade Microwaveable Popcorn

Ever wonder why movie theater popcorn tastes so doggon good? It's the coconut oil. I know they call it butter, but it's not! It's a mixture of hydrogenated oil (trans fat alert! No good for health or fertility,) coconut oil, dye, and flavoring. You can recreate that same yummy taste at home with less salt, questionable ingredients, and no trans fats for a fraction of the price. All you need is popcorn kernels, coconut oil, a brown paper bag, measuring cups and spoons, and a microwave. The perfect snack for your next Netflix binge.

Makes 2-3 servings

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup of unpopped popcorn kernels
  • 1 tablespoon of coconut oil

Directions:

  1. Place kernels and coconut oil into a brown paper bag. Shake to evenly coat popcorn with coconut oil (you may have to melt the oil a bit first.)

  2. Close and fold the opening of the bag over 2 to 3 times, leaving enough spacing for the soon to be popping kernels to spring to life.

  3. Place the paper bag in the microwave; microwave for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes. Listen closely to the time between popping kernels to avoid burning the popcorn.

  4. When you there is a lapse of 2 to 3 seconds between pops, stop the microwave.

  5. Add seasonings of choice (I am currently smitten with dill, garlic powder, and salt)

Other Seasoning Options:

  • Salt
  • Parmesan cheese
  • Cayenne or chilli pepper
  • Sugar (yea, I said it, sugar!)
  • Cinnamon
  • Cocoa powder (I'm thinking this would be amazing with cayenne, cinnamon, and a bit of sugar)
  • Italian Seasoning
  • Adobo