But coconut oil's explosion in popularity has come with one major downside: Now grocery store shelves are packed with countless varieties of the stuff, all bearing a confusing carousel of label claims. So which type should you buy for max nutrition and taste? We've got you covered. Here, four things you need to know before picking up your next jar:
Stick with a solid.
Most grocery stores carry coconut oil in both solid and liquid states—and even though they're both labeled as coconut oil, they're not exactly the same thing. All saturated fats (butter, lard, coconut oil) should be solid at room temperature. Those bottles of liquefied coconut oil have undergone extra processing, eliminating some of the fatty acids that are responsible for keeping it solid in the first place. That's a big no-no, since the health benefits of coconut oil are linked to those fatty acids. Buy solid coconut oil for the same reason you buy whole apples instead of applesauce: It's one step closer to its most natural state.
Don't stress about organic.
Good news for the budget-conscious coconut addict: Coconuts aren't shown to have significant pesticide residues, so it's not essential to buy organic. The same goes for non-GMO label claims. There are currently no known genetically modified varieties of coconut, so don't pay extra for a brand flaunting non-GMO status.
One exception: If you're buying refined coconut oil, you might want to spring for organic, since organic production prohibits the use of an oil-extracting chemical called hexane. Try using this 100% organic, cold-pressed coconut oil to help create smooth, soft, happy skin.
Look out for these label terms.
Whenever possible, buy coconut oil that's labeled as "unrefined," "extra virgin," and/or "cold pressed," but avoid coconut oil that's labeled as "deodorized." Sticking to these guidelines ensures that you'll get oil subjected to the least amount of processing. Unrefined coconut oil, also called extra virgin, is extracted from the fruit of fresh mature coconuts without the use of chemicals or high temperatures. This means it retains some nutrients that act as antioxidants.
Most refined coconut oil, on the other hand, is chemically extracted from dried coconut meat that's been deodorized and bleached, so its antioxidant levels are depleted. (Though this isn't true of all brands: Some refined oils, especially organic ones, are actually extracted using steam. Check the manufacturer's website to be sure.) Refined coconut has its place in the kitchen—it's got a higher smoke point than unrefined, so it's more versatile for cooking—but our experts still recommend unrefined, cold-pressed oil for most purposes.
Don't go crazy.
Plenty of online sources wax poetic about the supposed health benefits of coconut oil—but don't get too excited. Preliminary research does suggest that coconut oil's medium chain fatty acids could benefit our waistlines, because they're burned for energy, rather than stored as body fat. They've been shown to raise "good" HDL cholesterol, too. Then again, they've also been shown to raise "bad" LDL cholesterol, Newgent explains. And those medium chain fatty acids are a still a type of saturated fat—the kind most nutrition pros say we should limit.
It's not that coconut oil is some kind of unforgivable, disease-causing dietary evil—it's just that we don't know enough about it yet to say it should be the number one fat source in our diets.
Your best bet? Keep loading up on those proven healthy fat sources (salmon, avocado, nuts, olive oil) and use coconut oil less frequently. (As Levinson puts it: "Just don't eat it by the spoonful.") There's no need to eliminate coconut oil—instead, just remember it's not a magical health panacea.
Source: Eat Clean
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