(BeWellBuzz) It’s becoming well known that coconut oil offers a variety of health benefits, including fat burning, nourishing skin, scalp and hair, and even feeding the brain for better focus and memory. It might be less obvious how to choose the best coconut oil for the most nutritive value. Here’s a list of the most commonly used terms on packaging, and what they mean.
Extra-Virgin vs. Virgin
When it comes to coconut oil, the “extra-virgin” designation has no distinction from “virgin.” A virgin oil is also termed “unrefined.” It indicates that the oil was mechanically pressed out from the raw coconut meat without high heat processing, called “cold-pressed.” You should know that there are no stringent regulations on cold-pressing, so raw-ness may vary. The best way to determine if the product is truly raw is by flavor and scent. The higher the temperature during extraction, the more potent the coconuttyness. You might even pick up notes of toasting or smoke if you have a sensitive nose. Truly raw, cold-pressed virgin coconut oil will have a delicate flavor and mild fragrance. There are many brands of coconut oil on the market and some brands preserve more nutrients than others, but even the poorest coconut oil is more nourishing than many of the most popular vegetable oils on the market.
Refined or Regular vs. Unrefined
Coconut oil has a high smoke point, able to withstand temperatures up to 375°F. This makes it a great choice for cooking, baking and even frying. Chefs around the world use it both for its quality in recipes and nutritive value. But cooks don’t always want their recipes to taste like coconut. The refining process removes the fragrance and flavor, making it neutral for food preparation. It also makes for a cheaper product, but be careful about shopping for price. With this product, cheap can be bad.
What does “regular” mean?
The “regular” designation marks a significant difference from the raw, unrefined virgin oil. Regular also means refined. The manufacturer first dries out the coconut meat, resulting in a product called “copra.” The copra often contains mold and rancid oil by the time it’s processed. The copra is then expeller pressed, using high enough heat both to sterilize the molds, but also to diminish nutrient value. Expeller pressing is not the most efficient way of extracting oils. So, many manufacturers then apply chemical solvents to squeeze out the remaining oil.
At this point, the extraction is full bodied with fragrance and all. It’s often labeled as “RBD,” meaning refined, bleached and deodorized. The kind you don’t want is “cleaned” using harmful chemicals, essentially diminishing its health value and making it toxic.
However, you can find brands that use a chemical-free refining process.
If the package doesn’t specify otherwise, assume that it contains harmful chemicals, and don’t buy it. Wilderness Family Naturals makes a refined version that is heated above 200°F, but is never exposed to chemical solvents (such as hexane, a poisonous substance). This would be a good option if you wanted the coconut oil without the coconut flavor. Otherwise, stick to pure, unrefined, raw.
Expeller-Pressed, Cold-Pressed, and Centrifuge Extracted
Expeller-pressing uses weight and repeated pressure to squeeze out the oil. Two heavy plates will press into the coconut repeatedly and with increasing pressure. Whereas chemical processing yields about 99% of oil content, this process yields about 65%-70. The higher the temperature, the higher the oil yield, but the more nutrient content is diminished. Unfortunately, this process can heat the oil up to 400°F, thus refining it. Your best bet is to find a reputable brand that is transparent about their processing, and stick with them.
There are a number of methods used to cold-press coconut oil. In one method, the meat is shaved into flakes and dried at low temperatures, then centrifuged (spun rapidly) to separate out proteins or other particles and clarify the oil. Another method presses out a milk from the raw coconut. It’s then left for a couple of days during which time the cream separates from protein and water. The cream is then a pure, virgin (raw) coconut oil. There are yet other processes existing and emerging. As mentioned earlier, cold-pressing is not strictly regulated in the US. Buy a trusted brand, or use your nose.
The most pure, quality extraction is centrifuge. It preserves maximum nutrient, quality and flavor of the raw coconut oil. Coconut flesh is cut into pieces. A machine then uses centrifugal force, spinning at a high speed to extract first the milk, then separate out the oil, and then separate the oil from water and other particles such as proteins. Wilderness Family Naturals promises that their centrifuged oil stays below 104°F. Centrifuge extracted is the purest and usually the most expensive coconut oil available.
How Much to Eat?
In all, coconut oil is delicious and nutritious. There is no official dosage amount, but proponents recommend consuming 3 tablespoons per day for optimal health benefits. Lots of athletes and dieters use it to lose weight, and there are scientific studies to back this up, as long as it’s included with regular exercise. Use it as a spread, add it to coffee or tea for an energy boost, use it in cooking, baking and frying, and melted on salads or popcorn. Or, you can enjoy it straight from the spoon.