(NaturalNews) Many people in the natural health community have been well aware of the health benefits of coconut oil and other coconut products for decades. More recently, "clean eaters" and people following an ancestral diet have been replacing canola oil and other cooking oils with coconut oil. Unfortunately, some people do not realize that certain brands of coconut oil pose serious health risks. Innocent health seekers may be consuming a product that makes them sick.
Not all coconut oil is "created equal"
Any coconut oil producer can market a product labeled "coconut oil." The product on the shelf will, indeed, be coconut oil. However, shoppers may see a big difference in price between brands of coconut oil. Most likely, the less expensive coconut oil has been refined.
Coconut oil is produced in several ways. To extract the oil from a coconut, the manufacturer may dry the coconut meat, called copra, by either smoking it, drying it in the sun, or kiln-drying it. Copra is dried in unsanitary conditions, and cannot be consumed.
The impurities in the copra are released into the coconut oil. Copra-derived coconut oil must be purified, or refined. Once the coconut oil has been refined, it is bleached to remove any remaining impurities and to "improve" the color of the product. Then it is "deodorized" under high heat to remove the coconut fragrance. Sodium hydroxide (NaOH), better known as lye, is used to break down the fatty acids so the coconut oil will have a longer shelf life. Some coconut oil producers extract the coconut oil from the copra with toxic chemicals.
Some refined coconut oil manufacturers take the refining process one step further by either hydrogenating or partially hydrogenating the coconut oil in order to keep the product from melting in temperatures above 76 degrees Fahrenheit. This process turns coconut oil, naturally a very healthy saturated fat, into a trans fat.
Select "virgin" coconut oil to get the most health benefits
"Virgin" and "extra virgin" coconut oils are expressed either by quick drying the copra and then pressing the oil out with a machine, or by "wet-milling" the coconut milk. With wet-milling, the oil rises to the top of the coconut milk and is separated through various means.
There is no difference between "virgin" and "extra virgin" coconut oils. In general, the difference in price reflects the intensity of the labor involved in creating a truly natural coconut oil product.
Coconut oil has many health benefits over other cooking oils
The Journal of Cosmetic Science published a study in 2003 comparing plant oils for hair damage, and stated that coconut oil was the best treatment to keep hair from breaking during combing.
In 2004, wet-milled virgin coconut oil was found to do a better job of lowering "bad" cholesterol levels than refined coconut oil. The study, reported in Clinical Biochemistry, stated that the polyphenols in virgin coconut oil not only reduced fat cells in the bloodstream, but showed anti-oxidant activity as well.
Virgin coconut oil has been clinically proven to be 100 percent effective against Candida albicans and other strains of fungus, according to a 2007 clinical study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food.
A 2009 study published in Lipids compared soybean oil to coconut oil as part of a weight loss program for obese women ages 20-40. Combined with a low calorie diet and walking 50 minutes a day for 12 weeks, women in the coconut oil group lost more weight than those in the soybean oil group.
Pubmed.gov, "Effect of mineral oil, sunflower oil, and coconut oil on prevention of hair damage," by A.S. Rele and R.B. Mohile. Journal of Cosmetic Science. 2003 Mar-Apr;54(2):175-92. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12715094
Pubmed.gov, "Beneficial effects of virgin coconut oil on lipid parameters and in vitro LDL oxidation," K.G. Nevin and T. Rajamohan. Clinical Biochemistry. 2004 Sep;37(9):830-5. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15329324
Pubmed.gov, "In vitro antimicrobial properties of coconut oil on Candida species in Ibadan, Nigeria," by D.O. Ogbolu, et al. Journal of Medicinal Foods. 2007 Jun;10(2):384-7 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17651080
Pubmed.gov, "Effects of dietary coconut oil on the biochemical and anthropometric profiles of women presenting abdominal obesity," by M.L. Assuncao, et al. Lipids. 2009 Jul;44(7):593-601. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19437058