Health Foods: Should we be eating coconut oil?

Coconut oil has exploded in recent years as a healthy alternative to cooking oils such as olive oil, vegetable oil, or butter. But is it really good for the body? I always get curious and do my own research before falling for another marketing hoax. The questions I ask; is coconut oil really that good for you, or can too much of it cause damage in any way? What are the different types of coconut oil? What nutritioun can it provide for me? Should we be consuming it? 

What is coconut oil made of? 

To answer this we must first clarify the different types of coconut oil, as they are not all the same. Refined coconut oil is the most commercial grade of coconut oil, made from copra. Copra is basically the dried kernel (meat) of the coconut. If standard copra is used as a starting material, the unrefined coconut oil extracted from copra is not suitable for consumption and must be purified, which is refined. This is done as dried copra is not sanitary. The standard end product made from copra is RBD coconut oil. RBD stands for refined, bleached, and deodorized. High heat is used to deodorize the oil, and the oil is typically filtered through (bleaching) clays to remove impurities. Sodium hydroxide is generally used to remove free fatty acids and prolong shelf life. This is the most common way to mass-produce coconut oil.

Virgin Coconut Oil can only be achieved by using fresh coconut meat or what is called non-copra. Chemicals and high heating are not used in further refining, since the natural, pure coconut oil is very stable with a shelf life of several years.

Coconut oils labelled “Extra Virgin Coconut Oil”  are no different to “Virgin Coconut Oil” as there are no additional processes the oil can go through. There is no official classification or difference between “virgin” and “extra virgin” as there is in the olive oil industry, since the two oils are completely different in fatty acid composition, harvesting procedures, and terminology.

The quality of coconut oil is hugely important when it comes to its potential health benefits. Refined coconut oil that has been heavily processed, bleached, and deodorized is not going to provide the desirable nutritional fatty acids as virgin coconut oil.

What are the nutritional properties of Virgin Coconut Oil?

Looking at the nutritional content of coconut oil, its made up of 100% fat. It contains no carbohydrates or proteins. It contains very little polyunsaturated fat (about 2%) and also very little monounsaturated fat (about 6%). The vast majority of the fatty acids contained in coconut oil is saturated fatty acids, and they account for about 85% of all the fat in coconut oil. An important note however is that although it is high in saturated fat, it contains no cholesterol unlike butter which you can see in the comparison image below.

Too much saturated fat in the diet is unhealthy because it raises “bad” LDL cholesterol levels, which increases the risk of heart disease.

However the main type of saturated fat, Lauric Acid, that Virgin Coconut oil contains, numerous studies show that the high lauric acid content can be very beneficial in attacking viruses, bacteria, and other pathogens, and that it builds the body’s immune system. One study showed that Virgin Coconut Oil significantly lowered levels of total cholesterol, LDL+ VLDL cholesterol (the bad type of cholesterol) compared to the other group eating Copra oil, Olive oil, and Sunflower oil. Results from another study showed that animals fed a Virgin Coconut Oil diet had only 17 % increase in blood glucose level compared to Copra oil fed animals (46 %).

Take home points:

Choose Virgin Coconut Oil over refined Coconut Oil, and get organic if possible for the best quality.

“Extra” Virgin Oil provides no additional benefits or enhanced quality to Virgin Coconut Oil.

Virgin Coconut Oil contains low amounts of polyunsaturated fat and monounsaturated fat and is primarily made up of saturated fat. However the type of saturated fat in coconut oil is Lauric Acid (C12) which studies have shown can provide many benefits to your health.

Everything in moderation. Virgin Coconut Oil contains 100% fat contents. So, I wouldn’t recommend eating high amounts of Virgin Coconut Oil daily. Sticking to around 1-2 teaspoons every other day is suffficient healthy amount to consume.



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