With over 90% of health problems related to diet and nutrition, the importance of eating clean for the best nutrition potential cannot be stressed enough. However, even health conscious individuals can fall prey to low quality food products that are packaged and marketed in clever ways. Savvy consumers wanting to maximize the potential health benefits of coconut oil need to be educated on the different coconut oil products available, the various methods to produce them, and the value of some production techniques over others.
Uses & Benefits
Coconut oil is getting a lot of coverage in the press today. It is a hot seller for more reasons than just being a part of a healthy diet regimen with positive effects on cholesterol levels. People are cleansing their skin with coconut oil, brushing their teeth with it and even washing their hair in coconut oil. Indeed, coconut oil does have many incredible health benefits. The key, however, is in selecting the right brand. Key words to understand labeling for coconut oil:
- Refined – The process of extracting oil from a raw coconut.
- Virgin – Least refined coconut oil.
- Extra virgin – Virtually no refinement difference from “virgin”, generally used as a marketing method to create a higher priced product.
- RBD – Refined, bleached and deodorized through a filter process to remove impurities and produce a final product that is bland tasting and odorless. Bleaching clay is used rather than chemicals. Oil is deodorized through a steaming process.
- Expeller-pressed – RBD oils physically refined further through a press type machine.
- Liquid – Highly refined coconut oil typically used in skin care products or diet supplements for the antimicrobial properties present in the oil’s lauric acid.
- Hydrogenated – Primarily used in baked goods, margarines and candies because the hydrogenation process keeps the oil solid in higher temperatures.
- Organic – Certification means that the product is 95% free of artificial additives such as chemical fertilizers, dyes, pesticides, etc.
Since coconut oil does not grow on trees but the coconut does, all coconut oil has been refined to some degree in order to be produced. The extraction process itself is a form of refining. The process of refining is what then determines the quality and form of the final product. Once the coconut meat has been removed from the shell, refining can be performed by different methods:
- Kiln drying
- Smoke drying
- Sun drying
The dried coconut, called copra, is then sold commercially for further refinement such as expeller-pressed, RBD, hydrogenation, etc. The most important nutritional benefit of coconut oil is in its medium chain fatty acids. The majority of dietary coconut oil that is widely available has been refined through the RBD method which preserves these critical fatty acids. Unless otherwise labeled, a typical container of coconut oil is most likely an RBD produced oil. However, RBD processed coconut oil will have its antioxidant properties stripped away. That is the reason why virgin coconut oil is considered the healthier option.
Ideally a virgin coconut oil would be defined as an oil product that is derived from a fresh coconut rather than from a copra product. Unfortunately, there is no industry standard requiring certification of this condition. It is important to be an investigative consumer when shopping for virgin coconut oil and determine if the label is reflecting a truly virgin product or if it is just marketing hype.
To produce virgin coconut oil the meat is usually treated one of two ways:
- Dried and pressed to extract the oil which produces a better quality oil than the RBD method.
- Wet milled by processing fresh, non-dried coconut meat through a press in order to express the milk and then separating the water through boiling, centrifuge, enzymes, fermenting, or refrigeration. This method preserves the integrity of the antioxidants within the oil.
The type of coconut oil to stay away from is hydrogenated coconut oil. As an edible oil it contains hydrogenated unsaturated fatty acids that create an unhealthy trans fat situation. The good news is that hydrogenated coconut oil is not common on market shelves as an edible oil. However, don’t let that inspire you to skip reading labels carefully.
Selecting The Best
When choosing the healthiest coconut oil, look for organic virgin coconut oil. Currently there are no genetically modified coconut varieties so if a label contains “non GMO” on the label, it is most likely for marketing reasons or to comply with GMO labeling standards. The key is to understand the product, its manufacture process and the label.