Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
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. I just purchased some coconut oil and noticed the it had expired last month, should I throw it away?

    Sylvia wrote on May 11th, 2009
    • You can say if it has spoilt from the smell. Natural coconut oil leaves a very unpleasant rancid smell if it has gone bad. If it smells just fine, you may continue to use it. Regular user of CO oil.

      Sai. wrote on July 16th, 2009
  2. 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
  3. 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
  4. 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
  5. 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
  6. 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
  7. 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
  8. I have always believed coconut oil to be healthy but just today I came across this statement:

    http://www.texasgrassfedbeef.com/id84.htm#q__i_was_surprised_to_find_out

    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
  9. 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
  10. 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
  11. 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
  12. 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
  13. 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
  14. 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
  15. @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
  16. Interesting article about coconut-oil

    Michael wrote on June 29th, 2010
  17. The best place to get coconut oil that I have found is from Wilderness Family naturals. http://www.wildernessfamilynaturals.com/
    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
  18. 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
  19. 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
  20. 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
  21. 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
  22. 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
  23. 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

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