Coconut oil is extracted from the solid flesh of raw coconuts. Most retail coconut oil is obtained from adult coconuts, with the extraction taking place by chemical processes and then spun in a centrifuge to separate the oil from the liquid.
Virgin coconut oil is processed using a different method. It is produced by using the milk and flesh of young coconuts, with the flesh being compacted at high pressure to extract the oil. This method is more costly and time consuming, but produces oil with the most nutritional benefits and without fear of chemical contamination. Virgin coconut oil retains a lot of the taste associated with coconut flesh, whereas regular coconut oil has no taste.
Once produced, coconut oil has an extremely long shelf life. It remains fresh for up to 6 months at 24 degrees Celsius (75 f) before spoiling.
Virgin coconut oil is supplied in glass jars or liquid containers as it has a very low melting point of 24 degrees Celsius (75 f). Regular supermarket style coconut oil however contains high amounts of lauric acid, which allows it to be refined in a manner which provides a higher melting point, often around 37 degrees Celsius (98.6 f). This is why regular coconut oil is often sold in solid form from an exposed mild refrigeration unit within the supermarket, alongside other solid oils, butters and margarines.
When cooking or working with coconut oil, temperatures must be kept low as the oil begins to produce smoke at around 177 degrees Celsius (350f).
Coconut oil is an extremely good source of medium chain fatty acids, more so than almost every other available oil on the market. Most of you will probably recognise this type of fat as it is commonly called today, MCT oil (with MCT meaning medium-chain triglycerides).
Although on paper the MCT oil content of coconut oil is counted directly as saturated fat without any further distinction, MCT’s actually provide the main health benefits of coconut oil.
MCT’s are the main constituent of coconut oil, and have seen a strong following recently in terms of health and supplementation. Most specific MCT oil products are extracted from coconut oil, however coconut oil itself can also be used for the same health benefits at a much lower cost.
The majority of MCT oil on the market is derived from Palm oil, due to the lower cost in production. Palm oil is however extremely detrimental to the environment, growing in tropical conditions such as those found in natural jungles and rainforests in order to produce a profitable amount of oil.
Because of this much of the rainforests and jungles of both Asia and South America have been cleared to make way for palm oil plantations. This not only destroys the natural environment, but also significantly impacts on animal species, of which orangutans are one such species endangered because of palm oil farming.
Using Coconut oil as the main source of MCT oil production is much more environmentally friendly, as coconut trees grow in most warm coastal regions of which there is plenty of available land. Coconut trees will also grow in most soil conditions, making the environmental impact of growing Coconut trees minimal.
The MCT content of coconut oil has a number of health benefits. The most basic of which is promoting a feeling of fullness. A little coconut oil added to each meal means your body will be less likely to send hunger signals for significantly longer than if the oil was excluded. Coconut oil however has a fairly high saturated fat content, even when excluding MCT’s, so the amount you use in a meal for four can be as small as one or two level teaspoons. Some people prefer to substitute the butter or margarine on their bread with coconut oil.
Coconut oil can also be taken directly in between meals to starve off hunger. Take one level teaspoon between one and four times per day.. If using more than one teaspoon a day however, this will have to be limited to a maximum of one teaspoon every six hours, as excess consumption can cause a laxative type effect.
MCT’s are rarely converted into stored fat within the body. The body recognises the fat content of MCT’s immediately, sending them direct to the ATP cycle where they are burnt immediately for energy. This effect kick starts further fat metabolism within the body, leading to increased fat being converted and burnt as energy, hence providing a higher metabolic rate after consumption.
The dosage of one to four level teaspoons per day is also the dose for thermogenic effects, and can be taken between meals, after meals or added to meals directly.
Clinically, coconut oil and MCT’s are used for a variety of disorders. Recent studies have even shown the possibility of MCT’s assisting to prevent and fight Alzheimer’s disease.
Currently proven clinical uses include treatment for food absorption disorders, fat indigestion, celiac disease and liver disease.