Marks Daily Apple
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1 May

Smart Fuel: Coconut Oil

We’ve written about the nutritional benefits of coconut, shared recipes that include coconut milk, and discussed the merits of coconut flour, but we’ve never actually fully covered one of the best coconut products out there: coconut oil.

Coconut oil consists of about 92 percent saturated fat and is therefore nearly solid at room temperature. It can be used in cooking, but is also a common ingredient in home remedies and skin care products.

Although it gets a bad rap in some circles for its high saturated fat content, we know that such fats can offer many health benefits. For example, coconut oil has been found to help normalize blood lipids and protect against damage to the liver by alcohol and other toxins, can play a role in preventing kidney and gall bladder diseases, and is associated with improved blood sugar and insulin control and therefore the prevention and management of diabetes. In addition, coconut oil has antiviral, antibacterial and anti-fungal properties. On a more superficial level, meanwhile, coconut oil is thought to help strengthen mineral absorption, which is important for healthy teeth and bones, and can also help improve the condition and appearance of the scalp, hair and skin when ingested or topically applied.

So how is this veritable miracle food manufactured? In brief, coconuts are collected, broken open and then the flesh is allowed to dry. To extract the oil, the dried flesh is then heated at a low temperature until any moisture is evaporated, leaving you with an oil residue. Now, the thing to note here is that in most coconut oil manufacturing processes chemicals are used to expedite drying as well as to speed the heating process. However, if you select an organic coconut oil, no chemicals will have been used during processing and the original coconut itself will have been grown without the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Regular coconut oil production, however, often subjects the coconut meat to chemical solvents in order to maximize extraction. If you want to avoid any chemical residues, stick to organic coconut oil. This shouldn’t be difficult, since most coconut oil available in stores seems to be organic.

One other thing to note is that with coconut oils there are many different grades, or values of refinement. According to the Asian and Pacific Coconut Community Standards for virgin coconut oil, coconut oil can only be sold as such when it is “obtained from the fresh and mature kernel of coconut by mechanical or natural means with or without the application of heat, which does not lead to alteration of the oil.”

Refined coconut oil – which is generally what you’ll see in stores – is made from copra, the dried meat of the coconut. However, because the process of drying the coconut is somewhat unsanitary – it includes laying them out in the sun, putting them in a kiln, or smoking them  – the oil is inedible, and is therefore required to undergo a refinement process that includes some combination of using high heat to deodorize the oil, filtering the oil through bleaching clays, adding sodium hydroxide to remove impurities and prolong shelf-life, or performing some kind of hydrogenation or partial-hydrogenation process. In industry terms refined coconut oil is RBD – refined, bleached, deodorized.

The choice is clear – steer clear of the refined stuff and stick with organic virgin coconut oil.

A word of warning about coconut oils labeled as extra virgin. Experts note that there is no other – or more virginal – process of extracting oil from coconuts and the concept of the “extra” is nothing more than a marketing ploy.

Coconut oil is less sensitive to heat than other oils (won’t oxidize as easily) so it’s great for stir-frys and sauteeing. You can substitute it in baking (when making Primal energy bars, for example) and in recipes that call for butter, lard or any other high-saturated fats. It is fairly similar in consistency to butter so it can be used as a spread for vegetables. It makes an excellent addition to a smoothie and can also be used in place of a creamer in coffee or tea.

Our verdict? This is one seriously tropical way to get some more healthy fat in your diet.

What do you use coconut oil for? Share your thoughts in the comment board!

Further Reading:

10 Steps to “Primalize” Your Pantry

Choose Your Own Stir-Fry Adventure

Guest Post by Modern Forager: Tropical Oils

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. Another yummy chicken recipe. I love chickens. It’s delicious and easy to prepare. Thanks for sharing the recipe.

    Eat Smart Age Smart wrote on May 21st, 2009
  2. How do you use this instead of creamer for tea or coffee? I tried and the oil just rose to the top, making just about every sip pure oil…and I don’t love the taste straight. Am I missing something here?

    Joel wrote on May 22nd, 2009
  3. Hi,

    I recently saw organic coconut oil in a jar that was totally liquid and clear at room temperature – I shunned it because it was £10 for 500g!

    I ended up buying a non organic jar from an Indian store for £1.59 for 500g. But this was solid and white at room temperature.

    can anyone explain the why one was clear/liquid and the other was opaque/solid?

    alex wrote on June 4th, 2009
    • Alex: virgin coconut oil changes from a solid to a clear liquid right around a warm room temperature (it’s about 77 or 78 degrees F if my memory serves). So it’s possible that it was just warmer in one store than the other.

      Tommy Williams wrote on June 16th, 2009
  4. Another good source for both virgin and expeller/pressed coconut oil is Tropical Traditions; they also carry coconut cream concentrate and many other products they make from coconut oil. The owner’s wife is from the Phillipines and they use only coconuts grown by the local small farmers. Mary Enig, Phd, lipid expert suggests 3-4 tablespoons daily which contains the same amount of lauric acid as mother’s breast milk – it’s what keeps new babies from getting sick. And saturated fat is what your brain, heart and other organs use for energy. You need it!

    Jenny wrote on June 24th, 2009
  5. On Virgin vs Extra Virgin- I have noticed a significant taste difference. The extra virgin CC oil tasting much more “coconutty” than the virgin (both being organic).

    Dream wrote on July 14th, 2009
  6. Mark, I am really surprised that you reported the supposed medical benefits of coconut oil. Most of your stuff is well researched and documented, but the coconut oil supposed benefits have never been proven scientifically.

    There is a lot of crap on the internet and in magazines, and the rave reviews of coconut oil are crap. Just like the supposed benefits of acai berries.

    Pure junk science.

    Diane wrote on July 24th, 2009
    • Have you actually tried VCO and are speaking from from experience? Or are you believing what you read?

      If you haven’t ACTUALLY TRIED IT, I dare you to try Virgin Coconut Oil for 21 days and see what happens. You may be surprised. Go ahead, I dare ya!

      If you HAVE actually tried it and nothing at all happened of value or worth from a health persprective, then I extend my humblest apology for my post and ask for you forgiveness.

      Rachael wrote on May 20th, 2010
    • Actually, there are some really good studies out there on the lauric acid that comprises about 57%, on average, of coconut oil. The first one I saw was done by the CDC, and then one by Stanford; both at least 5 years ago now. And one in Japan. Their results all agreed: It kills 29 classes of enveloped viruses by destroying their protein envelope, leaving what passes for the nucleus of the virus unprotected so the body’s defenses can more easily take it down. It does nearly the same thing to gram negative and positive bacteria both, and to many of the fungi that are unfriendly to humans.

      Tracey wrote on June 12th, 2010
  7. I have always believed coconut oil to be healthy but just today I came across this statement:

    Do you have any comments on this, Mark? You’re knowledge on this topic would be much appreciated.

    JustinKN wrote on August 11th, 2009
    • I read that statement just now and it sounds like they are trying to sell some of their own products by dissing coconut oil. What I’d like to know is have they ACTUALLY tried virgin coconut oil? I’ve been using it for about 15 days (consuming as food and using as a body lotion) and I have noticed an amazing amount of energy from it and a lessening in spring allergies. I took hardly any yesterday and noticed I was extremely lethargic. To test the theory that it was indeed the VCO helping me, I took my usual amount and in about 20-30 minutes, my normal energetic self was back.

      I encourage you to do some experimentation for yourself. Only you know what your body can benefit from. You might also want to check out “Eat Fat Look Thin” by Bruce Fife. You can read most of it for free online on Google Books. I am on page 78.

      Rachael wrote on May 20th, 2010
  8. The gold label Tropical Traditions CO tastes so good that I eat a spoonful by itself sometimes. There isn’t anything else like it that I’ve discovered. The extraction process they use is unique.

    Diane, there are lots of scientific studies *proving* the benefits of coconut oil. Like all scientific studies it’s up to you to decide if you think they are valid or not.

    bruce b.

    Bruce Boysen wrote on August 12th, 2009
  9. I use VCO for some cooking and I put it on toast with peanut butter and it’s D’lish. I also use it as an anit frizz serum for my hair and a straightening balm for my hair when I want to go straight. I use it sparingly since it is an oil and you can over do it. If you do overdo it, get some corn starch and go through your hair. I am also using it as a body moisturizer, I feel alot less dry all over BUT my hands are seeming to dry out quickly…maybe cause I am washing them all of the time. Great massage oil and I put it on my feet and throw socks on and go to bed and wake up with soft feet.

    Rose wrote on November 23rd, 2009
  10. I cook with coconut oil and only coconut oil – I love it to death and it is the best stuff out there. How about that!

    Todd wrote on April 14th, 2010
  11. Egad! I’m sooo confused. Mark (or someone), clarify something for me, please! The more accessible/affordable grocery store coconut oil (eg Louana) is NOT what I should use? The sources mentioned in the replies here are very pricey. What to do?

    Tiki Jane wrote on April 17th, 2010
  12. I tried organic, expeller pressed virgin coconut oil by Spectrum organics for the first time today. I was absolutely floored at how yummy it was just by the spoonful…. omg…. sinfully good.

    I have been reading about it for a while. I’m trying to lose this last 4 pounds of bodyfat and decided to change my diet radically and increase my good fat intake – I lift weights and have heard around the community that this is something I should try out.

    I fell in love at first taste. I am interested to try it on my skin and in my hair. It was exceptionally decadent and yummy. I’m hooked after three spoonfuls.

    Theresa wrote on April 28th, 2010
  13. I have a tub of unopened “pure, unrefined coconut oil”. There’s zero starch, yeast, gluten, milk, soya, wheat, sugar, etc etc. But: the allergy advice warns “Contains (or contains an ingredient/s derived from) nuts” Where on earth are the nuts coming from??
    I also don’t see the words Cold Pressed, Organic, or Virgin on it anywhere. So, I’m thinking of bringing it back.

    Jay wrote on May 12th, 2010
    • Of course it contains nuts, Coconut is a nut. Coco-nut

      Shannon wrote on May 18th, 2010
  14. @JustinKN–Ted Slanker jabbers a lot. I met a small, independent farmer here in Texas who has actually personally met Ted Slanker and doesn’t like him. Now, while that may not mean much, I just want you to consider that trusting Slanker is maybe not such a good idea. I trust Mary Enig–a lipid biochemist–and HER opinions about coconut oil over Slanker’s any day. He’s great at making money and selling his products. Use your own judgment: coconut oil which has been used for literally thousands (if not hundreds of thousands) of years…or canola oil which is a genetically modified rapeseed oil? I think I know which one Grok would prefer.

    Katie wrote on June 7th, 2010
  15. Interesting article about coconut-oil

    Michael wrote on June 29th, 2010
  16. The best place to get coconut oil that I have found is from Wilderness Family naturals.
    They have 3 types of coconut oil but my all time favorite in the organic centrifuge pressed virgin coconut oil. Wow, it smells and tastes wonderful. I use it for massage oil, since I am a massage therapist. I guess you could call me an aficionado of coconut oil. Did you you know that coconut oil is the only water soluble oil? So it washes easily out of clothes and linens.

    Dana Zia wrote on June 30th, 2010
  17. A bit late to the party, but if folks out there are concerned about the price I’d suggest having a look at your local farmers market. Here in Atlanta the Dekalb Farmers Market sells “Phillipines Organic Extra Virgin Coconut Oil” in 16oz plastic tubs for $3.49.

    Kyle wrote on August 30th, 2010
  18. I had a monster skin tag which the dermatologist wouldn’t remove, but it bothered the heck out of me. It was like a pet parrot on my shoulder LOL. I rubbed organic, virgin coconut oil on it three times a day and in a week it was shrunk by half, and in a month was COMPLETELY gone. You would never know it was there, even if I showed you where it was. I read later than I could have soaked a band-aid pad in the oil and put it on there. Absolutely amazing.

    susan wrote on October 18th, 2010
  19. So let me get this right; The clear-yellow coconut oil that I have been using is refined in unfavourable ways, and isn’t recommended for health and longevity? And I should run for the hills, and even refined palm oil is better than refined coconut oil? I’m very confused here please help.

    The bottle says ingredients are: Coconut oil. So misleading!

    Suhendra wrote on January 18th, 2011
    • The correct one to use is Unrefined, unbleached, unprocessed Organic Virgin Coconut Oil. I swear by this item. In 2008, I took 2 tablespoons everyday and lost 20 pounds in 3 weeks. Effortlessly. It is good for your overall health.

      Ashley wrote on August 3rd, 2012
  20. I buy most of my things from this store where they package their own bulk whole foods. They have coconut oil. All that’s written on the label is “coconut oil- Kosher, tropical, all-purpose” Do you think it’s refined with chemicals?

    gif wrote on March 18th, 2011
  21. There is an excellent article from Dr. Mercola on thyroid dysfunction and some ways to manage it naturally with coconut oil of all things. There was feature about that in Womens Day in 2003 as well but there are plenty of resources and testimonials about it online.

    Nomad Foods wrote on May 4th, 2011
  22. i find coconut oil to be work wonders i have changed my eating habits i stopped eating bread and sugar and drink one table spoon of coconut oil in the morning and one in the evening and i loss 8 pound in a month without no exercise coconut oil get rid of unwanted fat in the body it has worked for me so try it ..

    ladyhawk wrote on May 9th, 2011
  23. I started experimenting with the Shangri La diet recently. As part of the diet I took 2 Tbsp of coconut oil on an empty stomach and had a severe (debilitating) stomach ache and diarrhea for the next couple of hours. I had taken 2 Tbsp of canola oil the day before with no problem, so it wasn’t just the amount of fat. The next day I took just 1 Tbsp coconut oil and had very mild stomach upset. After that I was able to take the 2 Tbsp daily with no problem whatsoever. I’ve since read that this is extremely common when people take it in significant amounts on an empty stomach. Some claim it is yeast “die off.” I have no idea, but it’s interesting that it was so severe, and now it has no negative effect. Anyone have any idea as to what that’s all about?

    Robin wrote on December 4th, 2011
    • Well I am no expert about coconut oil but know that aloe vera has the same effect. The reason is that it is purging your system of toxins and that is the reason for the upset. It calms doen as the rubbish is expelled from the body

      janet wrote on March 23rd, 2012
  24. I have recently switched to Coconut Oil from Canola Oil after reading a lot of stuff on lipid peroxidation. I believe this is a primary cause of premature hair loss and early onset of MPB.

    What a lot of people don’t know is that you should ease into coconut oil specially if you are coming from a diet of PUFAs. This is necessary to allow time for your body to adjust to saturated fat. I have myself suffered from slight nausea, upset stomach and heartburn after consuming coconut oil. Perhaps this is caused by allergens in virgin coconut oil and maybe I need to make use of refined coconut oil.

    I am considering dropping coconut oil till my side effects subside and slowly add it back in. Nausea is not fun at all.

    Glacier wrote on January 14th, 2012
  25. We get ours for USD 6 a gallon(India). Let me know if you want some!
    The coconuts are definitely organic, but they may use some chemicals in the extraction,I dunno.

    viraj wrote on January 17th, 2012
    • Hi, I would like to say about my experiences after 3 days coconut oil detox. It worked very well, I had no bad symptoms mentioned about it, and my hunger amazingly is cut by half. I made instant coffee and …. couldn’t drink it , it tasted so bad. Anyway home made latte was amazing. My meals are much smaller now, and I have coconut oil only for breakfast, whenever I’m hungry I take it. It really works wonders with my fat loss. Got to add, that I eat primal/paleo with most calories from coconut oil.

      Mike wrote on January 25th, 2012
  26. I take 3-4 tablespoons of Coconut Oil and enjoy many benefits from this wonderful oil.
    Sustained energy, positive mood, great skin + its superb for dressing and cooking.
    Its an integral part of my primal/paleo inspired wellness lifestyle

    Luke Brennan wrote on February 1st, 2012
  27. Hi everyone. Here’s a couple of interesting articles about the benefits of coconut oil, with some anthropological data from the Phillipines. Apologies if these have been referred to in an earlier thread or other article (however I don’t think they have) but I figure if it makes more people realise the huge health benefits then that’s good:

    Steve P wrote on February 5th, 2012
  28. plaintains fried in coconut oil with sea salt. Yummy!

    michael f wrote on February 6th, 2012
  29. I am trying to convert my mother to the primal ways and today she sent me this clip. Thought it was interesting.

    Rich wrote on February 29th, 2012
  30. I’m now using coconut oil on my toast instead of butter! Then I add the wonderful combination of honey and cinnamon and a bit of peanut butter and its delish!

    karen wrote on March 8th, 2012
  31. My in-laws are 70ish and not hip to the way the Medium Chain Triglycerides in coconut oil benefit the body and especially the brain. In fact, they were a bit horrified to see us using it. Soo… I made them a hefty leftover smoked chicken, asparagus, oregano, cilantro and cheddar cheese frittata loaded in a whole wheat pita for the drive from Ky to Florida. The sandwiches easily weighed 1/2 pound each. Between the browning of the chicken and asparagus and the oil to cook the actual omelet, I would wager that each stuffed pita sandwich contained at least 2 Tablespoons of Coconut oil.

    They left here at 6:30am, they ate their sandwiches a couple of hours later and drove straight through – 930 miles. They can’t understand how they were able to do this. They said they felt so alert after driving for 10 hours that they decided to push on.

    Anecdotal to be sure, but they haven’t driven straight through in a decade.

    Haus wrote on May 3rd, 2012
  32. Does anybody know about roasted coconut oil ? A friend brought me some from India and it is a yellowish color with a distinctive roasted flavour.

    The package mentioned double filtration. The coconut oil is from one of the biggest coconut producers in India, the Kerafed Co-op. From the little I can find they seem to produce both virgin and roasted coconut oil with good quality control. But, I’m unsure of the health benefits of roasted coconut oil vs the virgin oil (if there are differences).

    tobias wrote on May 8th, 2012
  33. I have two kinds of coconut oil, both from Spectrum. One is unrefined, and has a distinct coconut flavor. The other is “refined, organic, expeller-pressed” and relatively flavorless. I prefer to use the latter for cooking unless I want the coconut flavor. Is it really not a good idea? The unrefined version is great, but I don’t want my omelets tasting like coconut.

    jimmyk wrote on May 16th, 2012
  34. Someone else asked this but I saw no answer. What do you know about Louana coconut oil? I looked on their website but it didn’t give any info. Has it been hydrogenated? It says “all natural” and “pure coconut oil” on the label. “Ingredients: coconut oil”. I will ask the company, too, but has anyone already asked and gotten an answer?

    Olivia wrote on May 30th, 2012
  35. Thanks for the explanation on types and debunking the ‘extra virgin’ label. The food co-op got me for triple the price on organic ‘extra’ virgin coconut oil when I can buy organic virgin at the supplement store instead. Now I’m an educated primal consumer.

    Mark, your work (passion?) is appreciated.


    Kenny wrote on June 1st, 2012
  36. I am trying to put on quite a bit of lean weight. I am currently adding a couple glasses of organic whole milk to my diet with a 2 eggs in the morning. I am eager to add coconut products but am not sure that the fat in the milk, eggs, and coconut oil will be too much saturated fat. How many TBSP of coconut should I be including per day? Suggestions are more than welcom

    Doug wrote on June 2nd, 2012
    • Good question; I dont see any comments, have you found out anything?

      chuck wrote on September 4th, 2012
  37. I use organic virgin UNREFINED coconut oil as a substitute for mct oil when I make bulletproof coffee.

    Rob D wrote on June 8th, 2012
  38. Unless one is doing a shangri-la style method, it is odd to me that anyone would take coconut oil from a spoon as a supplement. Why not enjoy it as a delicious food? Also, I wonder why people don’t use full fat coconut milk more often when they want to supplement coconut oil/MCT. The milk is mostly just coconut fat and water anyway.

    Last night I made a tall glass of chocolate milk using a big spoonful of organic cocoa powder (dissolved in a very small amount of hot water), a few drops of stevia, a touch of cinnamon, a dash of vanilla extract, a good dose of sea salt, and about a third cup of full-fat coconut milk. I filled the rest of the large glass with water and ice and stirred. OH MY was it delicious!

    Robin H wrote on July 22nd, 2012
  39. I like to put a tablespoon in my morning oatmeal. I also enjoy a tablespoon with my protein drink after a workout. Plus it’s the best oil for sex lubricant.

    Kenneth Mac wrote on August 6th, 2012
  40. Love to use it in curries and as a hair oil.Thanks for sharing this article.

    jik wrote on August 7th, 2012

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