by Doug DiPasquale
that’s fit

It can be confusing when you’re in a health food store looking at all the different types of coconut oil. How do you know which one’s for you? With a little bit of knowledge, it’s actually fairly easy to navigate.

All the coconut oils are named according to their level of refinement. The following is a list of what these designations mean.

Virgin Coconut Oil: If it says “virgin” on the label it means the product has been expeller-pressed from fresh coconut meat (as opposed to coconut meat that has undergone some processing). It can be either quick-dried (most common) or wet-milled (the same method used for extracting coconut milk). The oil is usually lightly heated to remove moisture and then filtered. The end product is coconut oil that still has the smell and taste of coconut.

Extra-Virgin Coconut Oil: This label is actually a bit of a misnomer. There is no industry standard for coconut oil as to what the terms “virgin” and “extra-virgin” mean, unlike with olive oil. Therefore, a coconut oil labelled “extra-virgin” is probably the same as one labelled “virgin.”

Raw Coconut Oil: In the health food community, we’re a bit predisposed to think “raw” is better. In many cases this makes sense, since the less processing a food has gone through, the more of its natural compounds remain intact. With some things, however, raw isn’t necessarily better. This is the case with coconut oil. Because coconut is almost entirely saturated fat (a good thing), it’s completely stable when heated to cooking temperatures. Keeping coconut oil raw offers no advantages over heating it.

Raw foodists may emphasize raw coconut oil for its enzyme content, enzymes being protein molecules that help with digestion. Coconut oil has no enzymes, however. Enzymes work to break down food, so if there were any left in your coconut oil, it would have an extremely short shelf life, deteriorating in quality from the day it was packaged. You don’t want enzymes in any oil product.

Refined Coconut Oil: If it doesn’t say “virgin” or any other designation, the coconut oil is probably refined. Refined coconut oil can be some pretty nasty stuff, so you need to make sure you’re getting a quality product. This is one of many situations where the extra cash put out for organic is essential.

Non-organic coconut oil is often extracted using chemical solvents on kiln-dried or smoked coconut meat. It’s often referred to as RBD coconut oil, standing for “refined, bleached and deoderized.” And, as if this weren’t enough, sometimes coconut oil is hydrogenated, a process that turns what little omega-3 and -6 fats are present in the oil into trans fats.

Since all of these practices are forbidden under organic practices, an organic refined coconut oil is essential. Organic refined coconut oil is usually expeller pressed, heat distilled and then filtered. The final product is a stable cooking oil with a very neutral flavour and smell (not reminiscent of coconut at all).

The Healthy Foodie is Doug DiPasquale, Holistic Nutritionist and trained chef, living in Toronto.

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Virgin Coconut Oil:
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