You can’t get away from the craze that is coconut oil. People are baking with it. They’re cooking with it. They’re pouring it in their coffee, slathering it on their toast, and more. They’re smoothing it on their hair and skin, too. In short, it seems there’s nothing coconut oil can’t do!
But just because it’s the latest superfood doesn’t mean you should pack it in your food. One thing to keep in mind when you’re eating coconut oil is its saturated fat can raise total, HDL, and LDL cholesterol, per a review of 21 studies published in the April 2016 issue of Nutrition Reviews. So while it can raise heart-protective cholesterol like HDL, it also bumps up the not-so-good LDL cholesterol linked to heart disease risk.
Remember that if you’re eating coconut oil, it should be one of many oils in your diet, says the integrative medicine and women’s health expert Tieraona Low Dog, MD, the author of Fortify Your Life: Your Guide to Vitamins, Minerals, and More. No need to heap it on everything (it does contain 117 calories per tablespoon, about the same as other oils). Simply include it in a rotation among extra-virgin olive oil, peanut oil, grapeseed oil, and ghee, she says.
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Where coconut oil shines is when it’s applied to your skin. “I’m pretty enamored with using it topically,” says Dr. Low Dog. “Coconut oil is amazing when it comes to irritation, inflammation, or risk for bacterial infections,” she adds. You can truly use coconut oil from head to toe. Here’s how.
1. Dash Sautéed Dishes With Coconut Oil at Certain Temps
When you’re cooking on a higher heat, it’s a misnomer that coconut oil is always a good option. It may be, but you just have to choose the right one. Virgin coconut oil can only tolerate 350 degrees F before breaking down, says Low Dog. For higher-heat cooking, opt for an organic refined coconut oil, which can take temps up to 450 degrees F.
2. Add Coconut Oil to a Smoothie for a Flavor Burst
If you like the way coconut oil tastes and the texture it adds to a smoothie, go ahead and add a small dollop into the blender to give your drink a dose of fats. There are other ways to get fat into your smoothie, like nut butter; make sure you’re adding fat in moderation, as multiple sources can add up quickly in terms of calories.
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3. Use Coconut Oil as a Natural Treatment to Soothe Eczema
If you’re hoping to help tame an eczema flare-up, you may want to give coconut oil a try, says Low Dog. Thanks to itchy skin, scratching can potentially introduce staph bacteria (Staphylococcus aureus, which requires antibiotics). On the other hand, “one study showed that applying it daily on your skin for a month led to a 95 percent reduction in staph on the skin,” says Low Dog. Coconut oil is rife with lauric acid, which has antibacterial and antifungal activity that fights harmful bacteria. As a moisturizer, it also may help repair the skin’s barrier, which is your body’s first line of defense against infection.
4. Use Coconut Oil to Moisturize Your Children’s Skin
If your kiddos are dealing with skin conditions like eczema or are have sensitive skin, coconut oil may be a great natural hydrator that contains no added fragrance or other ingredients that can cause irritation. “The compounds in coconut oil are safe and highly effective for restoring moisture to skin,” says Low Dog. In a study published in December 2015 in the Journal of Tropical Pediatrics, coconut oil was used on preterm infants to help reduce water loss through the skin. To avoid any potential danger, just be sure to talk to your child’s doctor before introducing any new products to his or her skin.
5. Swish Coconut Oil in Your Mouth to Potentially Boost Oral Health
A technique called oil pulling (involving swishing oil around in your mouth) is often done with olive oil, something that has benefited Low Dog’s patients with gum problems or plaque overgrowth. But you may want to try it with coconut oil, too. “There’s some reason to believe that coconut oil would probably be beneficial to the oral microbiome and oral health in general,” she says. Just know that while there’s a wealth of anecdotal evidence for oil pulling, strong scientific research on the practice is limited, and the American Dental Association doesn’t recommend it as a replacement for traditional dental care, according to a January 2017 article in the Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine.
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6. Use Coconut Oil as a Natural Lubricant
To help combat vaginal dryness, try applying a small amount of organic refined coconut oil with a mini pad before bed (emphasis on a small amount — a little goes a long way here!). “It’s very, very moisturizing to the vagina,” she says. “This is something my patients have taught me, and I think it’s helped a lot of women,” she says. But again, be sure to clear the approach with your doc to be sure the method is safe for your individual health.
7. Rub Coconut Oil on Your Feet Post-Gym
If you hit the gym a lot and are worried about the risk of athlete’s foot, Low Dog recommends rubbing coconut oil into your feet before bed. (Cover up with socks because it can be greasy.) Thanks to its antifungal properties, the oil may be able to help prevent fungal infections. Plus, it has the potential to also help take care of dry, cracked skin — things that often plague heels. Remember that the best ways to fight gym fungal infections is to wear shoes or slippers when showering and thoroughly dry the skin before putting on your socks and shoes.
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8. Apply Coconut Oil to Help Detangle Your Hair
When applied before or after washing, coconut oil may help reduce the risk of damage from combing your hair, notes research published in the January–March 2015 issue of the International Journal of Trichology. Turns out, the lauric acid in coconut oil can easily penetrate hair proteins to aid in protecting your locks. Just use the oil sparingly — otherwise you risk looking greasy (even though your mane will be well moisturized). Coconut oil can clog pores and cause acne breakouts on the face. If you are acne prone, be sure to avoid applying coconut oil to the hairs nearest your face and talk with a board-certified dermatologist if coconut oil is right for you.