Imagine if there was a product you could use for everything - reduce your blemishes, cook up a storm or even care for your pets. Enter coconut oil, the ingredient that, despite recently receiving a bad wrap, still provides evidence-based treatment for a range of conditions.
In the beauty market, coconut oil has quickly become a revelation, predominantly due to its anti-inflammatory characteristics. Outside of the kitchen, coconut oil can be used for hair masks, as a make-up remover, moisturiser, bath oil, oil 'pulling' and even for helping your precious pets.
Meanwhile, If you’re looking to use coconut oil in the kitchen, you'll need to be cautious of the nutritional figures – sadly, they don’t stack up. Previous research has found that coconut oil isn’t all its cracked up to be while a Harvard professor recently described it as ‘pure poison.’ However, despite its nutritional pitfalls, the oil is still used by cooks to add flavour a dish.
6 Uses Of Coconut Oil Outside Of The Kitchen
1. Hair Mask
Research published in the Journal of Cosmetic Science found that applying coconut oil to your hair can help reduce hair breakage. Meanwhile, later studies confirmed that coconut oil penetrates hair follicles better than common hair products.
2. Make up remover
Speaking to bebeautiful, skin expert and dermatologist Dr. Aparna Santhanam says using coconut oil as a makeup remover is “extremely safe”. “The only caveat is to wipe your face with a dry tissue to remove oil traces. Wash with a mild cleanser and use a skin type appropriate moisturiser post removal," says Santhanam.
Findings in a 2008 paper showed that coconut oil can improve atopic dermatitis, an inflammatory itchy skin condition, by acting as an effective moisturiser.
4. Bath Oil
Using coconut oil during a bath has similar benefits to its skincare uses. The anti-inflammatory and moisturising effects make it a great option to bath in.
5. Oil pulling
A somewhat uncommon practice, coconut oil 'pulling' involves using the oil as a mouthwash. Research has found that 'pulling' coconut oil for at least seven days could "significantly reduce levels of plaque and gingivitis." Although you gargle the substance in your mouth, the benefits aren't just dental. Experts have suggested that it can help and alleviate long term condition such as asthma.
According to The Drake Centre, coconut oil can help with itchiness and inflammatory bowel disease in pets. However, it's important to consult with the veterinarian because over-consuming coconut oil has also been linked to several life-threatening conditions.
Using Coconut Oil In The Kitchen
Are there nutritional benefits?
Although some health influencers are coconut oil enthusiasts, the experts don't quite agree.
"To be honest, there's only really one benefit I can think of and that's flavour. It would add certain flavours to things like curries and laksa. Unfortunately, if we're talking about the health benefits or the alleged health benefits - I know recently, it was called 'pure poison' by a Harvard professor - I certainly wouldn't go as far as calling it 'pure poison' but at the same time I wouldn't call it a magic bullet either," says Joel Feren, Accredited Practising Dietitian and Spokesperson for the Dietitians Association of Australia.
"In terms of specific fats found in coconut oil, we know that it's mostly the saturated fat - it actually contains about 92 per cent saturated fat. If we compare that to butter, butter has about 63 per cent. Saturated fats have been shown to increase risk of heart disease by increasing LDL cholesterol - the bad cholesterol.
"We know that there are definitely healthier oils. When I think about the uses in the kitchen, I would want to use a particular oil for it's flavour characteristics. If i'm preparing something like a curry and I want that coconut flavour, that's where something like coconut oil would be an acceptable option."
Does it work for weight loss?
"This is a real difficult one to answer in a nutshell, but the problem with coconut oil is it's alleged to speed metabolism, improve or help with whiteness of teeth, potentially cure or reverse things like diabetes and heart disease," continues Feren.
"We definitely know it's very high in fat, like most other oils. It also has a little bit of a different mode of absorption or uptake in the body. At the end of the day, being so high in energy/calories, it's not necessarily going to help you burn extra fat. On the contrary, it may actually make you store extra fat if you over-consume and you're not burning the calories associated with the coconut oils."
Should you use coconut oil as a substitute for olive oil?
"Absolutely not. When we're talking about olive oil, extra virgin olive oil really is the tick of the bunch. There are countless studies that show olive oil's ability to cut heart disease, reducing fats in our system, as well as manipulating the cholesterol in our body as well - we're talking about LDL cholesterol - the bad type - as well as increasing the ADL cholesterol - the good kind," adds Feren.
"It's (olive oil) packed with anti-oxidants, so you can't go past extra virgin olive oil. The only time i've ever used coconut oil is if the recipe calls for it. Unfortunately, at the moment, people paint it as some sort of panacea that we should be using in the kitchen always as the primary fat source or oil source. "
What's the difference between coconut oil and virgin coconut oil?
According to the nest, the difference between the two products is the extraction process.
"Regular coconut oil is made from copra, which is dried coconut kernel. The copra is pressed and then the extracted oil is refined, bleached and deodorised to make it suitable for consumption. Virgin coconut oil is extracted from the fresh milk of the coconut and is left unrefined," says the publication.
When do you use coconut oil for cooking?
As mentioned before, coconut oil doesn't have strong nutritional benefits and should only be used for flavour or dietary requirements. If your looking to cook with coconut oil, you can use it through sautéing or baking, as a butter or oil replacement. Coconut oil in cooking is especially popular among vegans because it's dairy-free substitute for butter. Coconut oil is also a 1:1 replacement so you don't have to change your measurements either. It also has a high smoking point which means it's extremely helpful for cooking.