Recently named a super food of 2014 by many health enthusiasts, coconut oil seems to be a remedy for just about anything. Dewy skin? Check. Shiny Hair? Check. A boost in brain health? Check. Whiter teeth? Check. You mean you haven’t heard of “oil pulling” – a process that requires you to swish oil in your mouth for 20 minutes? I can’t say this didn’t intrigue me for a split second. But are all of these claimed benefits of coconut oil too good to be true?
Let’s look at the nutrient breakdown of coconut oil.
Natural coconut oil is made up of more than 90 percent saturated fat, with butter coming in second at about 65 percent. According to health experts, however, the kind of saturated fat is just as important as the amount. Coconut oil contains a decent amount of medium-chain fatty acids or triglycerides, which means the oil is harder to be stored as fat molecules and easier to burn as energy.
Refined vs. unrefined coconut oil – which is better?Common creative source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Coconut_Oil_(4404443713).jpg
Chances are, you will see both refined and unrefined (natural) coconut oil in the aisle of your local grocery store or health food store. But which one is the healthier option? Unrefined coconut oil and here’s why. Refined coconut oil is extracted from chemically bleached and deodorized coconut meat, whereas unrefined coconut oil is extracted from the fruit of fresh, mature coconuts without using high temperatures and chemicals. By choosing unrefined coconut oil, you can ensure that you are consuming the oil as close to its natural state as possible.
According to The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, unrefined coconut oil has potential antioxidant properties and may offer these specific health benefits: prevention of heart disease and diabetes, as well as aid in weight loss.
The Bottom Line
Is coconut oil a cure all? No, and there have not been enough research done to prove its potential health benefits, either. Most of the studies published on unrefined coconut oil are based on the health properties of medium-chain fatty acids, and there have been no long-term health studies done. Nutrition experts advise that if you are going to consume coconut oil, opt for the unrefined kind and use it in moderation. Avoid any food products containing partially hydrogenated coconut oil.
Unrefined coconut oil has a slight nutty flavor and is best when used for baking or medium-heat sautéing (up to 350 degrees). My favorite way to use coconut oil is when I make stir-fry. It adds a rich flavor otherwise achieved by dumping a whole bottle of stir fry sauce in the pan.