by Kathleen Flemming

While I have been living in Nicaragua, I have fallen in love with coconut oil. Coconuts provide us with coconut meat, coconut water, coconut milk and coconut oil, each one of them packed with essential nutrients. Many populations in the world depend on the coconut tree for food and for economic reasons and as a result it is known as the “tree of life.”

Out of all of the coconut products, coconut oil is the most versatile. It is sold either in a liquid or solid form and has so many health benefits and medicinal uses that it has been dubbed the “healthiest oil on earth.” In Nicaragua, coconut oil is abundant and I have learnt about all the amazing ways in which we can use this super oil, including making delicious raw chocolate (more on that below). Here are a few of my fave ways with coconut oil:

Previously coconut oil got a bad rap for being high in saturated fat. During the fat phobic 1980s and 1990s it was considered by many Western populations as a fattening food. However, over time and with more research, it has been shown that the saturated fat contained in coconut oil and other plant based oils may have a neutral or even positive effect on cholesterol compared to animal-based saturated fats such as those found in butter. Studies have also found that apart from breast milk, coconut oil is nature’s most abundant source of lauric acid and medium fatty chain acids. These fatty acids are rapidly metabolised meaning they are more quickly burnt as energy and less likely to be stored as fat.

Coconut oil has the longest shelf life of all other cooking oils. It has an average shelf life of up to 2 years and doesn’t have to be refrigerated. It can be stirred into soups, used to make a stirfry, pan fry fish or used in baking. Coconut oil is often used to replace butter in recipes. Coconut oil is also vegan and those on raw food diets use it to get their essential fats. I use coconut oil to make raw chocolates – just like a Bounty bar but healthy (recipe below). When buying it from the shop, look for unrefined, cold pressed oil.

Skin Care
Lots of people in Central America use coconut oil for skin care. I now slather it all over my body, which helps prevent dry skin and makes me smell like a tropical holiday! The oil really does make your skin feel silky smooth and it is also said to delay wrinkles. Many  people also use it to treat skin problems such as psoriasis,dermatitis and eczema.

Insect Repellant
Another great use of coconut oil is it can be used to make a natural bug repellant. You can make it by mixing it with lavender oil, eucalyptus oil and peppermint oil. It makes you smell delicious and keeps those nasty mosqutios away. Who knew!

Hair care
I use coconut oil as a natural hair conditioning treatment. Wash your hair, leave in the coconut oil for a few minutes/hours and rinse out. It has also been shown to kill head lice and help with dandruff as it has anti-fungal properties.

Dental care
Coconut oil’s anti bacterial properties are said to protect our teeth from decay. Many natural tooth pastes use coconut oil together with bicarbonate soda as their base. Gargling with coconut oil in the morning helps to remove the bacterial build up in our mouths which shows as white coating on the tongue.

Get That Holiday Feeling
As well as all of its amazing uses, coconut oil smells delicious. Your food will smell delicious and you will smell delicious. Using it makes me feel like I am on a permanent tropical holiday. You can buy coconut oil from most good health food stores and many supermarkets are starting to stock it too.

A Coconut Recipe:

Raw Bounty Chocolate Recipe

3/4 cup coconut oil

3/4 raw honey

1 cup raw cacao powder

1/3 tsp vanilla

Place all the ingredients in a blender or food processor. Spoon the blended mix into silicone moulds and place in the fridge or freezer for a few hours. The mix makes about 15-20 chocolates depending on the size of the moulds. Store in a fridge. These taste yummy with a glass of almond milk and are a great pre-workout energy boost! Enjoy!

Image: Teisha Lowry by Peter Coulson