What Is Oxidation and Why Does It Matter?

What Is Oxidation and Why Does It Matter?

Have you ever noticed how some oils can go bad and smell rancid? Learn why some fats oxidize, and why eating oxidized fats is harmful to your health.

Oil and cooktop

Have you ever noticed how some oils can go bad and smell rancid? That's because they've oxidized. Oxidation is a chemical reaction that occurs when a substance comes into contact with oxygen or another oxidizing agent.

Examples of oxidation include rusting metal and enzymatic browning of fruits and vegetables like apples and potatoes.

In this post, we'll take a closer look at what causes fats to oxidize and explain why they're pro-inflammatory and damaging to your health. We'll also discuss what free radicals are and how coconut oil can help prevent free radical damage.

Oil and cooktop

What Happens When Oils Oxidize?

When oils oxidize, they go through a process called rancidification. This is when the fats in the oil start to break down and form new compounds. When this happens, free radicals are produced, which can damage cells, proteins, and DNA.

Free radicals are also pro-inflammatory, which means they can contribute to chronic diseases like heart disease and cancer. This is why it's so important to consume fresh, unoxidized oils.

What Causes Oils to Oxidize?

As we mentioned earlier, oxidation occurs when a substance comes into contact with oxygen or another oxidizing agent. In the case of oils, oxidation usually happens when they're exposed to light, heat, or air.

An advantage that all saturated fats have over unsaturated fats (mono- and polyunsaturated fats) is that they don’t have any missing hydrogen atoms or double-bonds in their carbon chain.

A saturated fat fully loaded with hydrogen atoms on its carbon chain contains single bonds, which make them very stable. This means that saturated fats are not vulnerable to oxidation and free-radical formation like unsaturated fats are.

Food manufacturers have known about the stability of saturated fats, which is why they add fats like coconut oil or palm oil to foods to prevent spoilage caused by free radicals. More recently, they have used hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils to increase shelf-life stability.

The Problem With Hydrogenation

Hydrogenation is a process where unsaturated vegetable oil is chemically altered to form a more saturated fat, where high heat is applied while adding hydrogen atoms, creating toxic trans-fatty acids. Trans-fatty acids are artificial fats that have been linked to many health problems

Coconut oil has NO double-carbon bonds, which are the weak links that are easily broken to form free radicals. This is why, unlike fish oil or other vegetable oils, coconut oil can be exposed to heat, light, and oxygen without undergoing any significant degree of oxidation or free radical formation.

One major advantage of coconut oil is that it remains stable even when heated to normal cooking temperatures. That's why, here at CocoTherapy, we use coconut oil to cook or sauté our foods.

Because unsaturated fats have missing hydrogen atoms and contain double carbon bonds, they are very prone to oxidation. That’s why olive oils, fish oils, and other vegetable oils are typically packed in dark bottles and should be stored away from heat and light.

Oxidized fats are pro-inflammatory, and when consumed regularly, can cause serious oxidative stress on the body. So, make sure to only consume fresh, unoxidized oils or those that aren't prone to oxidation such as coconut oil.

Why Free Radicals Are Bad News

To understand why free radicals are so damaging, let's take a closer look at the science behind how they're formed.

A free radical is an unstable molecule that has lost an electron in its outer shell, leaving an unpaired electron. This creates a highly volatile, unbalanced molecule, which will attack and steal an electron from a neighboring molecule.

The second molecule, now with one less electron, becomes a highly reactive free radical molecule and will pull an electron from yet another molecule. This process continues in a destructive chain reaction that affects many molecules.

Research has shown that free radicals are a key factor in the cause and development of degenerative disease and aging. Once a molecule becomes a radical, it is physically and chemically changed. Free radical damage has been linked to the loss of tissue integrity and physical degeneration.

Free radical damage is caused by many substances, including:

  • Pollution
  • Cigarette smoke
  • Oxidized fats and oils
  • Pesticides
  • Chemical additives in food

Antioxidants to the Rescue!

    Antioxidants are nutritional compounds that can stop the free radical chain reaction from damaging more cells. When a free radical comes into contact with an antioxidant, the destructive chain reaction is stopped.

    Because of this, doctors, veterinarians, and nutritionists now recommend including antioxidants in our diet, as well as applying them topically on our pets (and our) skin.

    Vitamins A, C, and E are great antioxidants that help against further free radical damage. Foods that are rich in antioxidants include organic, colorful fruits and vegetables such as blueberries, raspberries, spinach, beets, and kale.

    Virgin coconut oil is a powerful antioxidant that's resistant to oxidation. Coconut oil is a medium chain saturated fat that is highly resistant to oxidation at high heat. Unlike monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, this makes it very well-suited for frying and other high-heat cooking methods. Used both topically and eaten orally, it protects against free radical formation.

    Many lipid experts agree that coconut oil is the healthiest oil for consumption and cooking. 

    How to Choose a High-Quality Virgin Coconut Oil

    Before adding coconut oil to your pet's diet (or your own), make sure to choose a high-quality, virgin coconut oil that's safe and unrefined.

    Unlike its low-quality imitators, therapeutic-grade coconut oil is very stable and has a shelf life of about two years – considerably longer than most other oils. Therapeutic-grade coconut oil has a very low moisture content (.06% or lower) and a high Lauric Acid content of at least 53%.

    Thanks to these unique properties, therapeutic-grade coconut oil like CocoTherapy Virgin Coconut Oil can be safely stored in the kitchen cupboard and doesn't need to be refrigerated.

    So, if you're looking for an antioxidant-rich, fresh, and delicious-tasting oil to cook with or to use topically on your skin, why not give CocoTherapy Virgin Coconut Oil a try?