Confused about Coconut Oil?

Coconut-imageYou are not alone! It has reaped all sorts of accolades over the past 10 years or so and has now, justifiably earned itself some hefty respect in diet and wellness circles thanks to its richness in health-enhancing medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) and protective antioxidants. At present it has not merited quite the same volume of research as olive oil but it’s not far behind and there is valuable proof that ingesting it as part of our diet plus using it topically may make very positive inroads into not only our heart, brain, kidney, bladder and thyroid health but also promote better blood sugar management, more efficient mineral absorption, a stronger immune system and healthier skin, hair and nails.

One question I am often asked is “which coconut oil should I buy?” so I am going to cover the most important things to look at to ensure you reap the maximum benefits from this ‘tasty and healthy fat from the tropics’.

Firstly: How was it made?

Coconut-image2Look for ‘virgin’ and ‘unrefined’ on the label. The less processing a food undergoes, the higher the nutrient content. The ‘non-virgin’ varieties have often (but not always) been refined, bleached and deodorised and have been subjected to a lot of heat during the extraction process which destroys many of the health-enhancing nutrients. ‘Organic’ is not necessarily the golden ticket as many small producers use very ethical inorganic methods but if you are in doubt about the source and can afford it, you may feel more confident about an organic product. The other label I encourage you to look for is ‘Fair Trade’ for all the reasons we are now very familiar with.

Secondly: How does it look?

Top quality virgin coconut oil should be brilliant white in colour when solid and as clear as water when melted. Any flecks of grey or yellow indicate impurities or smoke residue from too much heat used during the extraction process. It should behave much like butter – solid when kept in the refrigerator, spreadable but still solid when left out for a short while and if it’s a warm day, will melt. It is also important to remember that it has a high melting point (76°F/25°C) which makes it excellent for sautéing or frying but as with butter or olive oil, should not be heated to ‘smoking’ point as this will damage the ‘good’ fats.

Thirdly: How does it taste and smell?

Coconut-image3Virgin coconut oils should always have a fresh coconut taste and smell. Some are light and fresh, others have a toasted coconut edge – both are fine and it really is a matter of which you prefer. What to watch out for however, is a very strong flavour and a slightly ‘smokey’ or rancid smell which indicates that the oil has either been extracted from ‘old’ coconuts or has been contaminated during the heat process.

Fourthly: How much does it cost?

As with all of nature’s oils, you get what you pay for. Extracting the oil from the ‘meat’ of the coconut requires care, attention and a sympathetic approach which takes time and time means money. In a bid to reap the aforementioned health benefits of including coconut oil in your diet and using it topically, go for the best you can afford. Even a small pot lasts a long time and once you find one you really like you can often buy bigger pots or buy in bulk to reduce the price. It’s a no-brainer here – ‘cheap is not cheerful’.

Lastly: Which brands do I recommend?

First thing I recommend you do is take time to visit your local health shop and ask the advice of the staff. Not only do they have the required knowledge about their products but they can also tell you which brands get top marks from their more exacting customers. They generally sell reasonably small pots so you can try a couple out (some may even let you have a taste before you buy if you ask nicely!) I am particularly partial to PinkSun, Biona and Tiana but there are plenty of others – just make sure you follow the guidelines to ensure you get the max from whichever you decide works for you.