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Few other products have the versatility of coconut oil, from health and beauty aids to practical uses in the kitchen. New studies warn against the classification and use of coconut oil as a "health food," but there still are beneficial uses from taming frizzy hair to greasing muffin pans.

Cosmetic

Apply coconut oil liberally to shampooed hair and let sit for at least five minutes before rinsing for added moisture and shine.

Apply a small amount of coconut oil to the skin after bathing for a lightweight moisturizer. It also works on lips and cuticles.

Spread a small amount of coconut oil through clean, dry hair to help tame frizz. It can also add shine and softness. 

Swishing coconut oil for 10 to 20 minutes a day, a practice called oil pulling, can potentially help kill bad breath and boost the immune system. Oil pulling should not replace regular tooth brushing, and users should consult with a dentist before starting a regimen.

In the kitchen

Use coconut oil to fry or saute food. Refined coconut oil can withstand cooking temperatures up to 450 degrees, and unfiltered, or virgin, coconut oil can withstand temperatures up to 350 degrees. 

Grease muffin or baking tins with coconut oil instead of vegetable oil or other fats. Season a cast iron skillet with coconut oil for a long-lasting pan.

In moderation, use as a one-to-one replacement for butter. Both butter and coconut oil are high in saturated fats. A tablespoon of coconut oil has about 12 grams of saturated fat, compared to about seven grams of saturated fat per tablespoon in butter. The U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend keeping saturated fats to seven to 10 percent of daily calories or less, or between 16 and 22 grams per day.

Health

Some studies have claimed that virgin coconut oil can promote a healthy liver and kidneys, fight inflammation, boost immunity and prevent bone loss, among other benefits.

Recent students point, however, to a mis-characterization of coconut oil as a "health food." A tablespoon of coconut oil contains about 120 calories, and it is 82 percent saturated fat, higher than any other form of fat, including butter. Studies have also shown that consuming too much coconut oil can cause diarrhea, acne and high cholesterol.

Choosing coconut oil

A variety of commercial versions of coconut oil are available. Most are either refined (generally cheaper and lacks a coconut flavor) and unrefined (often more expensive and contains coconut taste and aroma). 

For optimal results, coconut oil enthusiasts encourage consumers to look for virgin, organic products sold in glass jars. Separate containers should be used for cooking and cosmetic or health uses. Coconut oil, which is a solid at lower temperatures, turns into a liquid at 76 degrees. 

While the health benefits of coconut oil remain contested, it can play a versatile role in the home from beauty to baking in moderation. Before starting a coconut oil regimen, consult a health care provider. 

Jena Sauber can be reached at jena.sauber@newspressnow.com. Follow her on Twitter: @SJNPSauber.

This article originally ran on newspressnow.com.