fractionated vs. coconut oil brands side by side on store shelf

What Is Fractionated Coconut Oil and Is It Dangerous?

[toc]When it comes to the side effects of fats, most people are only concerned about calories and saturated vs. unsaturated.

Those may be the least of your problems.

Why? Because at the end of the day, you can modify other parts of your diet to help balance out those amounts and ratios.

What you can’t offset is when these fats are oxidized and loaded with advanced glycation end products (AGEs).

AGEs cause increased oxidative stress, inflammation, and are linked to cardiovascular and diabetes (1). Even if you don’t care about your body being ugly on the inside, perhaps you at least care about its outside appearance (2):

“AGEs production in skin cells is known to promote stiffness and loss of elasticity through their buildup in connective tissue.”

process of woman agingIn short, your oil being organic or not is irrelevant if it’s loaded with AGEs. Those are much less safe.

Whether it’s butter or olive oil, you can’t avoid AGEs in fats. All contain them. But what can make their levels even higher are the processing and high heat production methods used to make them.

That’s why you need to be skeptical anytime someone is selling highly refined, heated, or other processed oils. Light exposure and longer time since refinement also increase how much AGEs they contain.

The meaning or definition of fractionated coconut oil is virgin coconut oil which has been heated in order to separate the fatty acids and aroma compounds. During this manufacturing process, everything gets discarded except for the short and medium chain fatty acids. The end result is an oil which is liquid.

Regular vs. fractionated coconut oil differences

sizes of MCT vs. LCT lipids

  • Fractionated is always liquid at room temperatures, while virgin is a solid white mass at temperatures below 76° F.
  • Only the regular oil has long chain triglycerides (LCT).
  • Coconut is normally 45-52% lauric acid, which is a medium chain (MCT). The lauric may or may not be removed when manufacturing fractionated.
  • Coconut oil is typically used for cooking, while fractionated is used for hair, skin care, and essential oils because of its excellent comedogenic rating and spreadability.

Usually there is no difference between fractionated coconut oil vs. MCT. It’s just branding. However some MCT oils are not the same thing, because they might be made with unhealthy palm kernel oil instead.

Whether it’s for topical uses or eating, your first impression may be that this processed form is terrible for your health and unsafe to eat.

This is one rare example where the benefits of processing might actually outweigh potential drawbacks.

As you can guess, there’s not a black and white answer to this question. To understand the advantages, you have to consider the following 7 things.

Nutrition and health benefits

1. Less processed than many oils

steps of how MCT oil is madeWith many types of plant oils, in order to break them down and separate the components, you are required to use solvents (often petroleum based) and very high heat.

The melting point of fractionated coconut is around 40° F. Anything above refrigerator temperature and it will be liquid. That’s not too far off though from virgin cold-pressed, which has a 76° F mel point.

Now to be clear, melting it doesn’t separate the triglycerides, but it goes to show you how the first stage of manufacturing (liquefaction) doesn’t require intense heat.

Nutiva’s dry refined is not completed fractionated, but they do remove the colors and flavors. Their website reports doing this using only steam distillation (no chemicals) at processing temperature of around 220° F.

That’s not bad, since it’s well below the smoke point (which is when fats create lots of toxic compounds).

How to make it might involve solvents, but that’s more likely with things like hair creams, skin lotion, and lube (yes, there are natural personal lubricants which use it).

When it comes to those which are edible, manufacturers tend to be more conscious of how they process it, using only electrolysis and steam distillation, with no chemicals.

2. Digested like carb, without glycemic spike

diabetes blood sugar test stripsDo fats make you fat? No, at least not literally. One calorie equals one calorie, regardless whether it’s a fat, sugar, or protein. That being said, there are characteristics about oils which can increase the likelihood of you gaining weight:

  • Calorically dense – Pure fat will range from 100 to 130 calories per tablespoon. That’s a lot of calories with little satiability, given that it won’t fill your stomach.
  • Slow digestion – They’re not absorbed in the stomach, but rather the small intestine. Bile from the liver is needed to emulsify the fat into absorbable droplets.

Since it takes hours to digest most fats, it can leave you still feeling hungry after eating them. That leads to eating even more calories which you don’t need, but your body is telling you it does, since the fats haven’t yet been metabolized in the small intestine.

It’s a catch-22. Carbs offer near instant energy and satisfaction, but they also cause a blood sugar rollercoaster. Fats don’t spike your blood sugar, but they’re slow to satisfy hunger and produce energy.

The benefit of fractionated is that its 100% short and medium chain fats. Those are not digested in the small intestine. The liver absorbs them, through the portal vein (3). That means they are metabolized quickly like a carb, but without the blood sugar side effects.

The non-fractionated version is still rich in short and medium chains, but 25-35% is in the form of slow-digesting long chains. Those are considered bad saturated fats, instead of the good short and medium chain.

Can you ingest fractionated coconut oil?

Most of the time, no. Therapeutic grade oil such as Doterra, Plant Therapy, Ellie’s Best, Life-Flo, and Rocky Mountain are not edible. They are designed to be a carrier for essential oils or uses like skin lotions and hair masks. There is food grade fractionated coconut oil which you can eat, called MCT oil. NOW Foods, Viva Naturals, and Bulletproof are a few of the brands who make it. Places like Whole Foods, Sprouts, GNC, and Vitamin Shoppe sell them.

3. Longer shelf life

expiration date on Nutiva jar
At stores like Whole Foods, Kroger, Walmart and Target, these are not high turnover items. Still for sale, this virgin oil was already expired by 6 months!

Whether it’s an oil or solid fat, as time goes on, more AGEs will be created. Even before the expiration date on the bottle, you can bet there will be more than what it had on day one of production.

Organic extra virgin coconut generally has a stamped expiration date which is 18 months after date of manufacture. Unofficially, some say it will remain stable and not go rancid for 3 or even 5 years.

Even if it doesn’t smell bad, eating it long after the expiration date is probably not good for you because of the increased degradation and AGEs.

The shelf life of fractionated coconut oil is reported by some manufacturers as being “indefinite” so long as it is stored in an air-tight container at room temperature away from light. This is because it has been purified, removing more of the unstable compounds. The saturated fats left can be stabile for decades.

To be safe though, most therapeutic grade fractionated products stamp a date 3 to 5 years out. Food grade (i.e. MCT) may list shorter, such as 18 to 24 months.

If it’s unavailable, the best alternative to fractionated coconut would be jojoba oil. It too has a 5 year shelf life. However that’s a liquid wax which is not edible – it’s only a substitute for topical applications.

With all of these shelf life estimates, they will go rancid much quicker if not stored properly.

4. Less likely to cause allergic reaction

palm tree with green coconuts growing on itJust like almonds, cashews, and walnuts, did you know coconuts are a tree nut?

In Europe, they have labeled it as such on food ingredients and nutrition facts for many years. In the US, the FDA adapted that more recently. (4)

An allergy to fractionated coconut oil is possible, but much less likely when compared to non-fractionated. That’s because it’s not the fatty acids people are allergic to in foods, but the proteins and pollens. In refined oil, the amounts of those are virtually non-existent (parts per million).

That’s why in Canada, food labels don’t even need to put an allergy warning for highly refined oils made from peanuts, tree nuts, fish, or soy. However with unrefined they are required to have the warning. (5)

5. Better for acne and pores

woman touching pimple blemish in mirrorFor any type of facial skin care or hair treatment, using the regular virgin cold pressed can have consequences.

Some skin care companies claim it has a comedogenic rating of 4. That would mean there’s a high chance it will clog pores and may worsen not just pimples and blackheads, but also diseases like eczema. That being said, other research suggests it’s rating is lower (6).

The comedogenic rating of fractionated coconut oil is excellent, since it has a melting point of around 40° F. Anything above that means it’s a liquid and that’s less likely to clog your skin pores.

With the raw, it has to be spread very thin to ensure it stays liquid (since that will depend on your body heat). For hair applications, you definitely want to stick with the refined, since it will be further away from your 98° skin.

Some men use it as a natural one-ingredient product to add sheen to their beard or facial hair (rumors that it helps with hair growth of beards are exactly that, not backed by science).

6. Works for oil pulling

Indian woman smiling with pretty teethThis is not some new fad. It’s been used in India as part of Ayurvedic medicine for some 3,000 years. Basically, it’s the practice of swishing around sesame oil or some other type in your mouth for an extended period of time, up to 20 minutes.

What is new about oil pulling is its resurgence, thanks to modern research suggesting oral health benefits. Helping to prevent or reduce gingivitis and Candida yeast infections (thrush) as well as freshening of breath are just a few of the uses being studied (7).

Can you use fractionated coconut oil for oil pulling? Yes and it arguably works even better. With regular coconut oil, when you first put it in your mouth, it will be solid until the temperature warms up to 76° F. When you use fractionated for pulling, it’s ready to go since it’s liquid.

Not every type of fractionated will work. For pulling you will want to be sure you get the type that still has the lauric acid intact (sometimes it is removed). That’s because lauric forms a sodium laureate soup-like substance from its reactions with your saliva’s natural alkalis, like sodium hydroxide and bicarbonates. (8) (9) (10)

7. Healthier than other saturated fats

melted butterMost of the bad stuff you’ve heard about saturated fat is true, but it’s in reference to the long and very long chain forms.

Those are what is most prevalent in the Western diet.

Is extra virgin olive oil vs. fractionated coconut oil better for you? Despite what the Mediterranean diet may falsely evoke, the saturated fats in MCT are no worse for your metabolic profile than the “heart healthy” monounsaturated in olive.

At least that’s according to a 16 week weight loss study, where some used fractionated coconut and others used olive. Lipid profiles, glucose readings, and blood pressure were comparable among both groups. (11)

While both the normal coconut and the fractionated contain high amounts of good saturated fats, only the latter is 100% good. With the virgin unrefined, you still have around 35% in the form of bad fats.

Side effects of fractionated coconut oil

The pH of fractionated coconut oil cannot be measured, because it’s not water soluble. To determine it acidity, you have to measure in percent free acidity (not pH).

This type, along with other edible oils – whether refined or unrefined – are all very weak acids, since usually less than 2% of them are free acidity. That means the the worsening of heartburn and tooth enamel erosion are not side effects you have to worry about. (12)

When you compare the nutrition facts side by side, you will see that fractionated has the same number of calories as pure organic virgin.

nutrition fact labels for Nature's Way fractionated and Nutiva virgin coconut oils

Either way, these are calorically dense foods. Athletes and those on a keto diet can get away with using a lot more, but if you’re aiming for weight loss, you should use only the smallest amount necessary for your recipes.

Nutiva reports their dry refined coconut has a smoke point of 400° F. Other versions like dry expeller pressed virgin and wet centrifuge virgin are even lower at 350° F.

Can you cook with fractionated coconut oil? Yes but only if it’s food grade. In fact, any brand of coconut spray is using some version of fractionated, since it has to be liquefied to come out of the nozzle.

Whether you’re using the spray or straight up oil, you need to be aware the smoke point will be somewhere between 320 to 365° F.

fractionated coconut oil spray

Check the label for the exact number, which can vary depending on how it’s made. Anything above the limit is not safe and will create higher amounts of oxidized compounds that are bad for you.

Extra virgin olive oil is only a slightly better smoke point than all of the above. Your best bet for stove top frying and higher heat cooking will be refined avocado oil, which has a smoke point of 520° F.

Don’t use fractionated coconut oil in a diffuser. Just like other carrier oils such as jojoba and almond, it will gum up and permanently ruin your machine. This is because they’re stable fats which won’t vaporize like the volatile organic compounds in essential oils do.

Verdict? Fractionated is healthy for you and in many ways, it’s a better choice versus the unrefined.

Where to buy

First, make sure sure you know what to look for.

How do I know if coconut oil is fractionated? The answer is simple. It’s a clear liquid even at room temperature. If it is solid, then it’s definitely non-fractionated. Though at temperatures above 76° F even virgin and unrefined coconut oil will be liquid. The difference is that it will be cloudy, as if you mixed milk and water.

The edible versions are marketed as MCT. Be careful though, because some are made with palm oil.

Whole Foods 365 brand oil ingredients label
The front of the bottle might only say MCT. The back will say what it’s made from.

You won’t find it for sale at wholesale clubs like Costco, so if you want a gallon or bulk size, get it online.

Trader Joe’s doesn’t sell it in any size.

You won’t find it at most drugstores either. CVS and Walgreens locations in the Los Angeles area generally don’t carry it. Some Rite Aid stores might, since they carry the GNC brand.

Nature’s Way, Carrington Farms, and NOW Foods are probably the most widely sold at health and vitamin stores, but they’re not the best brands for this.

Jarrow Formulas doesn’t water theirs down with cheap palm kernel oil like NOW Foods does. But the big drawback with Jarrow’s is that they take out the lauric acid.

Buried Treasure and Vitacost offer it with the lauric left in, but they’re not made using organic.

Our favorite brand?

That would be Natural Force and here’s why…

  • Made from organic coconuts
  • Keeps the lauric acid intact
  • Non-GMO, vegan, and kosher

On Amazon, you can get their 32 ounce bottle for a good deal.

Best for skin and hair?

You may be better off using Natural Force, even though its intended for eating.

Why? Because with topical or “therapeutic” versions, their manufacturing processes don’t have to follow food grade stipulations. There’s a higher chance of chemical solvents and other undesirable things being used.

Combining food quality with frankincense and other essential oils may seem strange, but its composition is the same as those marketed for therapeutic.

High quality fractionated coconut oil will only use hydrolysis and steam distillation for taking out the long chains. The best brands which do this and market it for cosmetic purposes include:

  • Pure Acres Farm, which is organic.
  • Young Living uses it along with jojoba, olive, cocoa and shea butters as part of their V6 carrier oil complex.
  • Fushi, an organic brand in the UK.

For the brands Doterra, Radha, Zija, Majestic Pure, Earth’s Essentials and Go Pure, it’s not clear from their websites as to how they make them.