Coconut oil is linked to a number of wonderful beauty and health benefits with its high vitamin E content making it great for beautifying the skin and the antibacterial, antioxidant and antifungal properties (due to its high lauric acid content) meaning that it is ideal for skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis, and dandruff. Coconut oil has also proven to have benefits relating to cardiovascular and digestive health, weight loss, blood pressure and normalizing cholesterol levels. There is even some evidence to suggest that it is effective as a brain food, but the jury is still out on that one. Whether you apply it to your skin and hair to improve the appearance and texture of them or digest it for health reasons; there is no denying that the health benefits are vast. You can use it in cooking, swallow it neat or add it to beverages. In fact, some people add it to their bulletproof coffee as it is high in MCTs (medium-chain triglycerides) which are high in fatty acids.
Coconut oil is definitely a healthy addition to your diet as well as your beauty routine, but does the oil need to be organic to get the most benefits? Does it really make much difference?
What are the advantages of organic food?
Just ask anyone who has tried both organic carrots and non-organic within a relatively short space of time. There is no denying how much better the organic variety taste. They are more full of flavour, often a richer colour and according to a 2008 study, organic food has more nutritional superiority than non-organic.
The World Health Organization states that “pesticides are also potentially toxic to humans” citing the potential risks as cancer and effects on the reproductive, immune and nervous systems. It is very clear that consuming pesticides are going to have an adverse effect on our health.
What are the advantages of organic skincare products?
Applying a substance to your skin is very different to ingesting it. Very few products have molecules small enough to get into our bloodstream, certain drugs, chemicals and essential oils are an exception and like these substances, pesticides can be absorbed through the skin. As well as being absorbed into the bloodstream and potentially causing toxic effects, chemicals (such as pesticides) can cause a reaction on the surface of the skin. Many people forget that our skin is an organ (and the largest one we have), soaking in a bath full of chemicals and pesticides or lathering on a body lotion with similar nasty ingredients means that in effect you are soaking one of your bodily organs in potentially toxic chemicals. As coconut oil is from a natural source, it can be easy to assume that it contains no chemicals or harmful ingredients. Could the pesticides used in non-organic farming still be present in coconut oil?
Do some foods retain more pesticides?
Every year the Environmental Working Group (EWG) releases a list of the most contaminated foods and vegetables. This can be very helpful for all of us when we are deciding whether to buy organic or non-organic versions of certain foods. We all understand the potentially harmful effects of pesticides, but we also need to consider budgeting and organic fruit and vegetables can prove to be very costly. For most people, eating exclusively organic food is not an option. According to the last ‘dirty dozen’ list published by the EWG, the following foods are the most contaminated: apples, peaches, nectarines, strawberries, grapes, celery, spinach, sweet bell peppers, cucumbers, cherries, tomatoes and cherry tomatoes.
99% of all apples tested positive for pesticide residue of some sort. Just one grape tested positive for 15 different types of pesticide. Potatoes had more pesticides by weight than any other produce.
Looking at these foods we can determine that the foods most affected by pesticides tend to have thin skins that are often consumed, or (in the case of spinach) are leaves that are eaten whole. Does the husk of the coconut offer any protection from pesticides? Coconuts are not in the EWG’s ‘dirty dozen’ list but are they still dangerous?
Do pesticides remain in coconut oil?
Coconut oil comes from the flesh of the coconut, that is safely enclosed behind the tough shell. Any pesticides that are in the soil will be taken up by the tree’s roots but with the coconuts being so far from the roots it is thought that it is unlikely that pesticides will reach the coconuts. Interestingly enough, there are certain organic foods out there that are not certified organic because the process is too expensive. However, they are grown without the use of pesticides. When it comes to coconuts, there are literally hundreds of pesticides that can be used. It all depends on the environment that the coconut is grown in.
One study examined 15 different samples of coconut water and was unable to detect any of the 11 pesticides that they were looking for, despite using two established methods of pesticide detection. As coconut water is also derived from the flesh of the coconut, this data can be used to inform us about the pesticides present in coconut oil.
According to FEDIOL (the federation representing the European Vegetable Oil and Proteinmeal Industry in Europe), “no residues of pesticides have been detected in coconut oil.”
Do pesticides affect nutritional value?
Coconut oil is purely made from fat, there is no vitamin or mineral content. Although there is little evidence to suggest that organic coconut oil has more health benefits than the non-organic kind, the fact that processing is more gentle and there are no pesticides, chemical or additives in the finished product means that more people are drawn to the organic variety.
What else should I consider when buying coconut oil?
If you are interested in an ethical trade, then this is something to be vigilant of when buying coconuts. In some areas, they even use monkeys to gather the nuts which are something that vegans and vegetarians will especially want to consider.
Another important aspect of buying coconut oil is whether to opt for virgin, extra virgin or standard coconut oil. Copra is the name given to basic coconut oil. The high heat used during the extraction and refining process means that the oil loses a great deal of its nutritional value. The coconut is dried out and then sent to a large industrial oilseed mill for processing. This mill may even be overseas, meaning the coconut is often rancid by the time it arrives. This coconut is then RBD (Refined, Bleached, Deodorized) to make it fit for human consumption. The by-product of this process is then fed to animals.
Keep a look out for anything labelled hydrogenated coconut oil as it has been chemically altered and comes from RBD oil. Fractionated coconut oil will have less nutritional benefits as the medium-chain fatty acids have been separated and the lauric acid is often removed.
The evidence seems to suggest that the pesticides used when farming coconuts do not reach the flesh of the coconut or affect the oil in any way. However, the processing methods associated with extracting coconut oil could rob it of its nutritional benefits. As organic farming is associated with more gentle processing methods, it would be safe to assume that organic coconut oil is a better choice. Your best bet is virgin coconut oil or extra virgin as no heat or chemicals are used during the pressing process. This means that the nutrients remain and you are not subjected to potentially toxic chemicals. Although these oils are superior they need to be kept away from direct heat and light, as they are fragile.
Ideally, you’ll opt for an organic extra-virgin coconut oil. However, if finance is an issue then you might like to save your pennies and opt for a virgin oil that is not necessarily organic. When it comes to organic produce, the best way to make it affordable is to observe the EWG’s ‘dirty dozen’ and there is no chance of coconuts appearing on that list anytime soon.