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. 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
  2. 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
  3. 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
  4. 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
  5. 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
  6. plaintains fried in coconut oil with sea salt. Yummy!

    michael f wrote on February 6th, 2012
  7. 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
  8. 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
  9. 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
  10. 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
  11. 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

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