Coconut oil: From zero to hero in cooking, beauty and beyond
Every now and then, a villain turns out to be a hero. And not long ago, in a land not far away at all—in fact, right here in this land—that very story unfolded.
Until recently, coconut oil was held in as much contempt as lard or margarine. It is, after all, a saturated fat, known to do all sorts of bad things to our arteries.
But though not all research is clear, it would seem that the particular blend of fatty acids in coconut oil may provide health benefits. Suddenly, coconut oil is showing up in everything from health food stores to the beauty aisles of department stores. We’re so in love with the stuff, we’re smoothing it on our face, shampooing our hair with it and frying our French toast in it.
And while questions may linger for some researchers, Jeanne Mackay, owner of the Tasteful Olive in Overland Park, Kan., is convinced of its health benefits.
In fact, while her store is filled with rows of infused and fresh olive oils, she added coconut oil to her shelves after reading promising studies indicating it may help in everything from heart disease to diabetes.
“It was the processing of it that was problematic,” Mackay says. “You want coconut oil that has been cold pressed and cold processed. If you see a package that says ANH (absolutely no heat), that has the highest health benefits.”
While she still favors olive oil, which is known more broadly for its health benefits, she notes that coconut oil stands up better to cooking over high heat.
“Below 75 degrees it will start to solidify; warmer it will liquefy,” says Mackay, who spreads it on her toast in the morning.
What all researchers will point out, however, is that it’s still an oil, and if you consume too much, you’ll pack on pounds. A tablespoon is around 117 calories, and 14 grams of fat, after all.
The pros at Beauty Brands have a low-calorie suggestion if you want to dip into the vat of goodness that is coconut oil: Find a product containing it on their shelves.
Jamie Reed is prestige retail educator of Beauty Brands—which means she’s in charge of the higher-end products in the 56 stores across the nation.
“Oils are the biggest trend in hair care right now,” she says. “Coconut oil is really up there. In hair products, it hydrates your hair.”
She points to the store’s Sexy Hair shampoo, $15.98, as one that’s rich in coconut oil.
While a serum coats the outside of your hair, it doesn’t treat the problem, she says. “An oil seeps into the hair and truly moisturizes.”
It will do the same for your skin, or even your nails, she says, and if you have oily hair, or an oily face, use it to treat only the ends of your hair, or keep it off your face and slather it on your arms and legs. Yes to Coconuts Head to Toe Restoring Body Balm, $7.49, and OGX Coconut Oil Weightless Hydrating Oil Body Mist, $6.99, both at Ulta, are two to try.
“If you color your hair, it will help you hold that color longer,” she says. “It can really promote healthy hair growth.”
There you have it. What a wonderful plot twist for a once villainous oil.