Refined vs. Unrefined Coconut Oil – Which is Better for You?
When you head to the coconut oil section of your local grocery store, you are very likely overwhelmed with options. While there is a lot to pay attention to (virgin, extra virgin, fractionated, etc), the top difference to prioritize when choosing a coconut oil is refined versus unrefined. To sum it up, refined coconut oil has been bleached and deodorized. Unrefined coconut oil is a more pure oil that contains greater health benefits. Typically, choosing unrefined is best, but refined has its place in cooking, as well. Read on to learn more.
For everything you ever wanted to know about coconut oil, check out our comprehensive article, here. However, here is a quick overview of some of the top coconut oil benefits, and why you should be incorporating this oil into your diet:
Coconut Oil Supports Weight Loss
Coconut oil contains medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) that have been shown to increase your energy expenditure and help you burn fat. One study found that 15-30 grams of MCTs per day can actually burn an extra 120 calories (1), which is definitely significant if you’re trying to lose weight.
Coconut Oil is a Powerful Antibacterial
The lauric acid in coconut oil makes up just about 50% of its fatty acid content, and is a powerful anti-microbial and anti-bacterial agent. It can effectively work to kill harmful fungi, bacteria and viruses, and can also help to fight candida (yeast) infections. Feel free to use coconut oil as a topical ointment for fungal infections, or consume it to treat internal yeast overgrowths.
Coconut Oil Makes you Feel Full
Most fats have a higher satiety index than other foods, meaning they will fill you up for longer. Coconut is no exception, and can dramatically help to reduce your hunger, control cravings and (consequentially) lose weight.
Coconut Oil Improves Cholesterol Levels
Contrary to popular belief, certain saturated fats (like those found in coconut) can actually work to raise HDL (“good”) cholesterol without having a major effect on LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. This means that coconut oil can help to prevent heart disease (2).
Use Coconut Oil as an All-Natural Skin Cream
Avoiding potentially harmful chemicals used in commercial skin care and beauty products is important, especially for babies and children. Instead, use coconut oil as a nighttime moisturizer for you, and a general, anytime moisturizer for kids (it works well for diaper rash, too). It can also help to prevent and treat cracked or irritated nipples in breast feeding women.
Refined Coconut Oil
Now, let’s get down to the differences between unrefined and refined coconut oil. Refined coconut oil comes from the dried, white meat of the coconut, and is then put through a bleaching and deoderizing process to purify the oil and avoid contaminants. In order to remove coconut oil’s (sometimes) strong odor and flavor, high heat is used in this process and sodium hydroxide is usually added to increase its shelf life.
While not all, some manufacturers of refined coconut oil use chemicals to extract as much of the oil as possible (to obtain the maximum amount possible), which can partially hydrogenate the oil, which means it will end up containing trans fats in the end. Trans fats are known to increase our LDL cholesterol and are a risk factor for heart disease (3). If using refined coconut oil, make sure you choose a brand that is not partially hydrogenated.
Unrefined Coconut Oil
Unrefined coconut oil, on the other hand, is considered a much more “pure” version of coconut oil. It is often called “virgin” coconut oil, and is extracted from fresh coconut meat rather than dried (as is the case with refined oil).
Unrefined oil is extracted using two common methods: quick drying or wet milling. Quick drying (the most common) is when the meat is rapidly dried and the oil is expressed mechanically. Wet milling refers to when the oil is extracted directly from the fresh meat and then is fermented, boiled and separated from the coconut milk using enzymes. Both processes are relatively fast, so no bleaching or deoderizing is necessary.
Unrefined coconut oil will usually have a stronger flavor and odor than refined.
Which Should I Choose?
Both unrefined and refined coconut oil contain the same amount of lauric acid (the fatty acid in coconut oil largely responsible for many of its health benefits), but unrefined is much higher in phytonutrients, such as polyphenols, which act as antioxidants.
For general, medium or medium-high heat cooking or consuming raw (in a smoothie, mixed in with tea, etc), unrefined coconut oil is definitely your best bet. If you will be cooking on extremely high heat; however, go for refined coconut oil. Refined coconut oil has a smoke point of 450 degrees, while unrefined coconut oil smokes at about 350 degrees (4).
Choosing either type of coconut oil will be worlds better than opting for a rancid vegetable oil such as canola, soy, corn or grapeseed (these should be avoided). But in order to reap the maximum benefit from your already nutrient-dense coconut oil, look for unrefined whenever possible.