There is much misinformation about coconut oil. You will read that it’s good for you and you will read that it’s bad for you. So what is the truth about coconut oil? Should you use it on your skin and hair? Does it really help you lose weight? Is it as good as or better to use than olive oil? Is it healthy to use coconut oil in your recipes? This subject will be covered in three posts. This post will discuss the various types of coconut oil and how they are made. The next post will cover the uses of coconut oil for health and weight loss. The final entry will discuss the truth about the use of coconut oil for your skin and hair.
What is coconut oil?
Coconut oil is a combination of oils extracted from coconuts found on the coconut palm (Cocos nucifera). However, it’s important to remember that all coconut oil is not created equal. We’ll get into that in a minute, but for now, let’s take a look at the oils you would get if you were to go out and squeeze a shelled coconut.
- Saturated fat 92%
- Monounsaturated fat 6%
- Polyunsaturated fat 2%
But wait, look at all that saturated fat. Isn’t that supposed to be really bad for you? Yes and no. Our bodies utilize these saturated fats differently depending on the number of carbon atoms they possess. Medium chain triglycerides (fatty acids) range from 6 – 12 carbon atoms. The saturated fats in coconut oil are mainly made up of these medium chain triglycerides mostly lauric acid up to 10%, capric acid up to 8% and caprylic acid up to 53.2%. These medium chain fatty acids are the good guys in the saturated fat crowd.
The long and short of it when it comes to the saturated fats in coconut oil
Butter (a long chain fatty acid) goes over the lips, past the stomach and onto the intestines. Pancreatic enzymes and bile are required to allow this butter to leave the intestine where it travels by way of the lymphatic system. Once in the lymphatic system, the butter is transported into the blood stream where it is then deposited as fat to various parts of the body. From there, the butter is transported to the liver where it is broken down and used as energy.
Coconut oil (mostly medium chain fatty acids) goes to the intestine. Without further ado, the medium chain fatty acids make their way through the intestinal wall and directly into the bloodstream. From there they go directly to the liver where they are used as energy.
Of course, this is a super simplified version of how these fats are metabolized, but it will give you an idea of the most important differences.
The types of coconut oil
The method of extraction and processing produces the various types of coconut oil. This is very important when discussing the benefits and uses.
- Refined coconut oil (RCO) – this oil is refined, bleached and deodorized. That makes it tasteless, odorless and colorless. Refined coconut oil is used in the commercial foods industry and folks who choose to cook and bake with it.
- Virgin coconut oil (VCO) – There is no chemistry involved in obtaining this oil other than sometimes heat is used. The oil is derived from fresh or quick dried coconuts.
- Fractionated coconut oil (FCO) – As the name implies, fractionated coconut oil consists of a fraction of the original oil. The long chain fatty acids are removed including the medium chained lauric acid. The resultant coconut oil is almost immune from oxidation. (The process that turns oils rancid.) Fractionated coconut oil is very light and thus is wonderful when used as a massage oil.
- Hydrogenated coconut oil – This is the bad boy that has given coconut oil much of its bad name. Hydrogenated coconut oil, like any other hydrogenated fat is not something you want to put in your body.
How is coconut oil made?
Refined coconut oil is made by first drying the coconuts. The dried coconut (copra) is expelled by machine. After the oil is expelled, the refining process can vary, however all processes I reviewed used filtration, heat and an acid.
Once processed, the refined coconut oil may be hydrogenated to produce that all unhealthy trans-fat that no one should consume.
Fractionated coconut oil is made by first hydrolysis to separate the oils. Then the oil is steam distilled to remove the fractionated coconut oil.
Virgin coconut oil is the simplest of the processes. The meat of the coconuts may be quick dried in kilns and expelled to produce the oil. The coconut oil may also be expelled from the fresh coconut meat.
Coconut oil is growing in popularity across the globe. It is for this reason that I thought our beautiful goddesses and handsome gods should know the facts about coconut oil. What I have been able to determine from the research is that there appears to be possible changes in the structure of the oils in coconut oil when high heat is used to produce refined coconut oil. Whether these changes are significant from a health perspective is unknown. For this reason, I would suggest purchasing virgin coconut oil at least until more studies can verify the safety of using the refined product. Fractionated coconut oil has had the lauric acid removed and lauric acid has numerous health benefits and is one of the main constituents in human breast milk. For this reason, I would choose a coconut oil that contained this constituent. As for the nutritional value of the various types of oils, there appears to be little difference with only 1% concentration of vitamin E and 1% of vitamin K. Bottom line is I recommend using virgin coconut oil except possibly when you are using it as massage oil. For massage oil, I recommend fractionated coconut oil.
Be sure and watch for the post on the uses of coconut oil for health and weight loss. When it’s up and running, we’ll put a link below so you won’t miss it.
Now go have fun and relax.