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Different cultures across the earth have used the coconut and its oils as a great source of not only food but medicinal qualities as well. Cooking with coconut oil is now considered a healthier alternative to various other oils and the properties of the oil have also been used in various beauty and natural health alternatives.
The scientific name for the coconut palm is Cocos nucifera. When the Spanish and Portuguese explorers first encountered the large palm trees in the 16th century, they called the nuts “coco,” which translated roughly to mean “monkey head” or “skull” due to the three small holes in the hairy nut resembling eyes and mouth. Nucifera means “nut-bearing.” One of the earliest mentions of coconuts is contained in the “Sinbad the Sailor” story from One Thousand and One Nights, where Sinbad bought and sold the nut during his voyages.
The oldest fossils known of the modern coconut date back from 37 to 55 million years ago and were found in the regions of Australia and India. Some relative palm fossils have also been found in North America so the plant’s origin is the subject of debate. Possibly due to seafaring people traveling from island to island, the coconut has spread across much of the tropics. Another cause of the outgrowth of coconuts throughout the islands is due to them being quite water resistant, buoyant and light. They have been known to be carried across significant distances via marine currents.
The coconut has been a staple in the diet for many generations of islanders. In fact, nearly one-third of the world’s population depends on coconuts for their food and a significant portion of the local economy.
Coconut oil is edible oil that is extracted from the meat of the coconut.There are two different ways to extract the coconut oil: a “dry” process and a “wet” process. Through the dry process the meat is extracted from the shell and dried creating copra. The copra is grated and ground down and then boiled in water to extract the oil.
The wet process uses raw coconut rather than the dried copra. It was originally boiled for a long time, but modern techniques have used different ways to extract the oil including pre-treating the meat. Virgin coconut oil can be produced by putting the fresh coconut meat into a press and extracting the oil.
There are many benefits of coconut oil, both in cooking and foods, as well as in medicinal and beauty usages. One of the most significant constituents of coconut oil is a saturated fat called lauric acid. This acid increases good cholesterol in the blood to help improve the ratio of good cholesterol/bad cholesterol levels. Lauric acid is also a type of medium chain triglyceride (MCT) that when broken down helps in efficiently burning energy and further helps to keep your weight balanced.
Cooking: Coconut oil can be used as a replacement for butter. Since it has a high heat point, many people use it to cook foods like stir-fry or in baking. In fact, any time a recipe calls for vegetable oils or butter, substitute coconut oil into those recipes for a healthier, tastier alternative. Coat your pan to fry some eggs, use it as a popcorn topping, add it as a natural sweetener for drinks. You can even make your own healthy salad dressing.
Natural Energy: Because of its MCT’s, this oil is a great natural energy supplement. Instead of your daily coffee or caffeinated drink, try eating a delicious spoonful of coconut oil each morning to increase your energy without side effects or nasty comedowns. Take two tablespoons a day and it’s proven to boost your metabolism.
Skin Care: Coconut oil can be used in a variety of skin care alternatives. For healthier skin you can use it as a body moisturizer after you step out of the shower or a facial moisturizer after you’ve washed your face. You can also combine coconut oil with natural crystal salt and use it as a facial scrub and makeup remover. Coconut oil can also be used as a great tanning oil and care for sunburns. The healing properties of the oil moisturize and help to rebuild damaged skin.
Mother’s Best Friend: Before, during and after pregnancy, coconut oil has many uses for baby and mother. Help prevent any stretch marks by applying the oil multiple times each day on your stretching skin. Nursing mothers use it as a nipple cream during breastfeeding as it is a safe and natural moisturizer. The oil can also soothe baby as a diaper rash cream.
Hair Care: If you’re looking for a solution to those flyaway’s or split ends, put a tiny amount of coconut oil in your hands and run them through those frizzy areas. You can also use it as a leave-in overnight conditioner by rubbing the oil into the ends of your hair, combing through it and putting it in a loose bun. Then in the morning, just wash any excess out of your hair. Your hair will grow healthier and stronger with this deep conditioning treatment.
Aromatherapy: If you’re not into eating coconut raw, using the aroma of the oil helps ease stress and can make relaxation at the end of the day all that easier. For extra comfort and relief, melt about a ¼ cup in the microwave and mix it into your bath water for a soothing soak.
General Health: Those who consume coconut oil regularly have increased health and energy. Studies have shown that coconut oil supports healthy thyroid function and lessens the time spent recovering from any sicknesses or virus infection because it contains antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral properties. Coconut oil can be used as a 10 minute mouth wash to kill bacteria that cause throat infections, gum disease and cavities. By combining coconut oil with baking soda and stevia sweeteners, you can use it to make homemade toothpaste.
Coconut oil is best consumed in moderation when it is organic, extra virgin and not bleached, hydrogenated, refined or deodorized. When it has gone through any of these refinements, it can be harder for your liver to process. Storing the oil is also easy as it doesn’t require refrigeration. Some people will keep a container next to their bed and on the shelf in their kitchen.
It is best to always check and double check that your coconut oil is truly virgin. While other oils, like olive oil, have industry standards to ensure the pureness of the oil, there is no same standard with coconut oil. The best way to check is the refinement process and whether the oil is truly considered organic. Refined coconut oil can be used for cooking and personal care if you dislike the taste or smell of coconut. When used as a weight-loss, calorie-burning aid, as with everything, it is best used in moderation.