Coconut Oil

Coconut oil is one of my favorite things ever.  I feel like it is a gift from the gods to me personally.  It's probably the most versatile thing in my kitchen, and also one of the things that I reach for the most when I am cooking.  It has a light coconut flavor that adds depth to any recipe but is not so strong as to overpower more savory ingredients.  It melts quickly and is great for frying or sauteing vegetable and meats.

This is the brand that I use.  They actually don't sell this one in the regular grocery store so I buy it at Mom's Organic Market in Jessup, Maryland.  Any health food store like Earth Fare or Whole Foods will have it.  Any brand will do, but make sure that it is unrefined.  A jar like this costs about $9.  Now you all know that I like simplicity when it comes to my kitchen and try not to purchase fancy ingredients that you can't get at a regular grocery store.  This is one exception, and it is worth it.  

I keep two jars in the house, one is for my kitchen and one is for my bathroom.  Awesome boyfriend and I have had huge problems with dry, itchy skin since we moved to Maryland, and coconut oil is a wonderful remedy for this.  We slather it all over our bodies, especially on really dry places like feet, elbows, and shoulders.  Because coconut oil is a solid at room temperature, it is easier to work with than other body oils. It works great as a makeup remover, and I've also used it as a hair mask, especially after bleaching.  It smells awesome, and because it is an oil, it offers way more staying power than a lotion type moisturizer is able to.  

Now, on to the good stuff.  I use coconut oil in my kitchen every day.  Anywhere that you would use butter or vegetable oil, you can substitute this stuff.  I cook my eggs in it, I use it to pan fry steaks, I use it in muffin batter, I use it to saute veggies- there is literally an endless list of what you can do with it.  

Coconut oil has lots of health benefits, making it a power food.  Power foods work harder for you than regular foods and include things like almonds, salmon, and flax.  Coconut oil has been linked to everything from weight loss to strengthening the immune system, and there is lots of research on the internet about all that it can do.  

Coconut oil is a highly saturated fat, with one Tbsp containing about 12 fat grams.  If you're having trouble getting enough fats into your diet, adding a Tablespoon of coconut oil to meals can help with this.  Coconut oil is cholesterol free and this makes if vastly superior to animal based fats like butter or lard.  There are lots of varying opinions out there regarding hydrogenated vegetable oils and their health risks, but because coconut oil is a solid in its natural state, it does not go through the hydrogenation process, and some believe that this makes it superior to other plant based oils.  Let me add a disclaimer here that I am not a doctor, and you should always talk to your health care provider before undergoing any dietary changes.  If you suffer from heart disease, high cholesterol, or high blood pressure, talk to your doctor before adding fats, of any kind, to your diet.  

I try to ingest at least a Tablespoon or coconut oil a day.  If I can't achieve this through cooking, I just stick a spoon in the stuff and manage to get it down, although eating a Tablespoon of oil isn't a pleasant experience.  As with anything, this ingredient should be used in moderation.  My low carb diet consists of a variety of fats, proteins, and vegetables, and all of those things should be taken in balance.  While saturated fats are no longer viewed as the food devil that they once were, huge amounts of them are still linked to scary things like heart disease.  

I have two parting thoughts for what I consider to be a miracle product.  First, go to the health food store, pick up a jar, and give it a try.  If you don't like to cook with it you can use it in your bathroom.  And if you don't like it there, you only spent $9 so not a huge loss.  Second, if you're curious, do some more research on this topic.  I could write pages about all of the information out there, but instead I'm going to leave you some helpful links to get you started.  

Update 8/10/12: Many thanks to a reader in North Carolina for passing along this bit of information.  New research shows that consuming 18-24 grams a day of coconut oil will yield significant results in terms of weight loss, boosting metabolism, and increasing energy.  1 Tablespoon of coconut oil is around 13 grams, according to Coconut Oil Online, so try to use 1-2 Tbsp each day in place of regular cooking oil or butter.

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