Back in 2009, I wrote an article called Coconut Oil: The Essential Survival Item You Didn’t Know You Needed, and it was published on SurvivalBlog in January of 2010 as part of a non-fiction writing contest that was going on at the time. But since I have my own blog now, and since people still expect me to answer at least 9,000 questions with the words “coconut oil”, I figure I ought to write something here that sings the praises of coconut oil.
Before I go any further though, I need to be clear about something. When I say “coconut oil”, what I mean is “virgin coconut oil” or “unrefined coconut oil”. Unrefined coconut is more expensive, and by definition, it hasn’t been stripped of characteristics that make coconut oil so special and useful. Some folks choose refined coconut oil because it’s cheaper and doesn’t have a strong coconut aroma, but in my experience, you don’t get the same results, and you even risk getting a contaminated product. (I’ll never forget when I bought some cheap, refined coconut oil from Wal-Mart. It was cloudy and yellow and it tasted like the smoke that had been present as part of the refining process. AWFUL!)
I also want to mention that I’ve done a lot of research about coconut oil and its uses. That doesn’t make me an expert. It makes me a fan who’s been convinced by what limited scientific research I could find as well as compelling anecdotal experience. As always, I ask that you not substitute my judgement for your own.
When I think about my food storage items, one of the first thoughts that pops into my head is, “Gotta make sure I have plenty of coconut oil.” It’s a staple that we use every day in this house, and I’d be feeling pretty lost without it.
Depending on who you talk to, you’ll either hear really great stuff about coconut oil or you’ll hear really bad stuff about coconut oil. There aren’t usually any moderates in the debate. The funny thing is though, most of the folks who like to malign coconut oil don’t really understand why coconut oil is different. They’ll tell you, “it’s terrible for you. It’s high in saturated fat so it’ll give you heart disease and make you fat.” While these folks have it partially right, they’re also dead wrong!
Coconut oil is made up primarily of saturated fats, but a fat’s saturation isn’t its only important characteristic. Fats can also be classified based on the length of their carbon chains. Long chain triglycerides make up almost all the fats we consume (whether they’re saturated or unsaturated), but medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) make up coconut oil. This difference actually protects the body from inflammation and free radical damage (which are linked to a number of disease processes) and it promotes fat oxidation (weight loss) in folks like myself who could stand to lose some extra pounds.
MCTs, lauric acid, capryllic acid … I guess I could get on with the meat of the story — why I think everyone should have coconut oil on hand. First of all, it’s calorically dense yet it isn’t going to have the same health effects as something like a hydrogenated oil that one might have sitting on a pantry shelf somewhere. And since it’s made up primarily of saturated fats, it seems to store almost indefinitely. (OK, perhaps I’m stretching it a bit, but I’ve purchased one gallon containers whose contents have lasted well past the two year estimated shelf life. (Yes, I love coconut oil, but a little does go a long way, so it’s possible that some slips by the rotation schedule.)
I prefer to use coconut oil in baked goods instead of shortening. You get the same sort of result that you get with shortening, but my body seems to react a whole lot better to it than it does to something like Crisco. It’s for that reason that I don’t even have shortening in my house. The only problem with coconut oil as “shortening” is that it melts at a couple degrees above room temperature, so if your kitchen stays warm, it’ll be a liquid. Now that I have A/C in my house, it’s not an issue for me, but it definitely has been in the past, so I’ve had to keep it in the fridge or just not worry about the fact that it’s a liquid.
To me though, even more impressive are coconut oil’s topical uses. Did you know that coconut oil is an effective sun block? I have very light skin that burns easily with little sun exposure. Using it as sunscreen in the Midwest is one thing, but in 2007, I had the chance to visit Florida. I took the opportunity to test coconut oil there, and aside from a spot on my shoulder where I hadn’t rubbed it in, I didn’t get burnt. Even more impressive to me was the fact that I was in the mid-day sun for about 2 hours. I spent time on the beach and I swam. Still, no burn except for the spots I’d missed. After that experience, I was convinced, and when I feel the need to use sunscreen, I turn to my coconut oil.
Coconut oil has natural antimicrobial properties, so it makes an excellent skin treatment. I use it on burns after they’ve started to heal, I use it on wounds from injuries like one would use an antibiotic ointment, and I use it to clear up yeast infections, thrush, and severe diaper rash. And interestingly enough, it seems to work for me as a great rosacea treatment. I know that it doesn’t sound like it’d make sense to put an oil on your face to clear up acne or rosacea, but it really does work for me. You just have to blot off the excess oil after you’ve rubbed it into your skin.
During the winter, I’d be lost without my coconut oil. My hands crack, bleed, and break out into hives, and coconut oil helps soothe them better than anything I’ve ever tried before.
I’ve even heard tell of some folks using coconut oil and baking soda as “toothpaste” or coconut oil and cornstarch as “deodorant”. I’ll stick with my toothpaste and deodorant stone, thank you, but if I didn’t have those items, I’d be fine using coconut oil.
I learned about the wonders of coconut oil after reading Dr. Bruce Fife’s book, The Coconut Oil Miracle, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. It talks about all the scientific whys and what-fors, there are all sorts of interesting facts, and there are tasty recipes there too. In my view, Dr. Fife had it right calling it a “miracle”, and it’s one miracle I’ll never be without!