Coconut oil, once a product only found in specialty shops or at twice-monthly farmers’ markets, has now become a staple product in every grocery store. You’ll see it on shelves right next to old standards such as olive oil, vegetable oil, canola oil, etc.
And, in the past few years, coconut oil has come to the fore as a potential solution to everything from thicker waistlines to flaky elbows and knees. With all this great press, it’s no surprise that more and more people are heading out to the grocery store to try coconut oil for themselves.
But if you are getting ready to take the plunge, here are four things you need to know beforehand.
1: Coconut Oil Is a Solid
Some people are surprised to find that coconut oil is typically sold in a wide-mouth jar – a setup that would never work for olive oil, or any other traditional cooking oil. This is because coconut oil is a solid.
When you pop the lid off of that jar, you will be greeted with a white, somewhat waxy substance which melts upon contact with heat. When it melts, it turns into a clear liquid and behaves like any other cooking oil. But you do have to be prepared to scoop out and measure coconut oil the same way you would measure out shortening or softened butter.
Now, you can buy Coconut oil in liquid form, but if you are looking for the real deal you definitely want to stick with the solid version. More on that in a minute…
2: Read Your Labels
Coconut oil is often praised for its purity, or for being “all-natural” in a world full of processed food – but just like any other food, coconut oil is susceptible to overprocessing.
What you are looking for is some mention of “cold pressed,” “unrefined,” or “extra-virgin.” These describe the manner in which the coconut oil was extracted. The best-case scenario is that the oil was taken from fresh coconuts without the use of heat or chemicals.
Why does this matter? When coconut is heated, chemically altered, rehydrated, “deodorized” or steamed, it has been processed. The more processed a food is, the further you get from “all-natural.”
Processing can be harmful in two ways – first, your body does not have to work as hard to break it down, so more of the calories get stored as body fat, and second, processing can begin to prematurely break down the very nutrients and antioxidants, which you bought the oil for in the first place!
3: Organic and Non-Organic: Are Both Okay?
Coconuts reside inside extremely thick and tough husks. As a result, extensive testing has shown that there is not much of a difference between the chemical exposure of organic and non-organic coconuts. Pesticides, fertilizers, and other treatments do not affect the meat of the coconut much at all, and therefore do not affect the coconut oil.
In other words, if the organic jar costs five dollars more than the non-organic jar, go ahead and save that five dollars for something else.
4: It’s Good, but it’s Not Magical
You probably saw a study recently saying that coconut oil turned out to be no better for you than the fats found in, say, a T-bone steak. This is true. Beef fat is a saturated fat, and so is coconut oil. The source doesn’t matter much once it is inside your body and being broken down.
Coconut oil can also be used as a moisturizer for skin, lips, or even hair, but it is not shown to be significantly better than other types of moisturizers. In fact, putting coconut oil on your face could clog pores and lead to breakouts. There are other products out there with more engineering that will get you better results.
Coconut oil does have its positives. It is vegan, just like olive oil, sunflower oil, and peanut oil. It has a much higher smoke point than some other cooking oils, meaning that it may be easier to work with on the stove top. Also, it does have some nutritional value in terms of antioxidants, but not necessarily more than other types of oil – in fact, olive oil ranks much higher on the antioxidant scale.
So, if you are curious, definitely give coconut oil a try. Just do so with the knowledge that it is simply an alternative to other saturated fat cooking oils, and not a panacea.