A Few Notes on Oil Pulling, A Few Notes on Oil

Calicut, Kerela

Coconuts being laid out to dry before processing in Kerala. Flickr

If you’re the kind of person to read this blog, you probably know what oil pulling is. But in the off-chance that one of you doesn’t: oil pulling is when you use coconut oil (or some other oil, but coconut is by far the best) like mouthwash. Except you do it for 15-20 minutes instead of 2, and you needn’t do it vigorously at all. Just kind of… move it around between your teeth.

I’ve started doing it this week, and I really like the way my teeth and mouth feel afterwards, but one of the thing that other oil pullers claim just has me face-palming, now that I’ve seen the phenomenon for myself: that the oil/spit wad turns whitish by the time you’re done, and this is because of the “toxins” it’s pulled out.

I gotta say, this is complete bullcrap. Coconut oil is an oil, and if you spend a lot of time in the kitchen, you’ll be well familiar with another way in which oils are frequently turned white: emulsification. So no, this isn’t a visible sign that you’re detoxing – there’s no proof that this happens when you oil pull anyways – you are literally just making an oil and spit aioli in your mouth. So no need to fret if you accidentally swallow some, no need to start gagging because the idea of reintroducing those “toxins” freaks you out. It just ain’t happening.

The other thing I wanted to note, if someone reading this is interested in trying it out, is be sure the oil is melted before you use it. The texture of a huge wad of cold coconut oil in your mouth is just so wrong that I did gag a couple times with my first go at it. So what I did was scoop some into a metal spoon, hold the spoon over one of the burners on my stove for a few seconds so that the oil melted, and then let the spoon cool down a little bit before taking a gulp.

Want to try it? Here’s how to do it and some of the (empirically proven) benefits: Should You Try Oil Pulling?

A worker and oil-extracting machine in Sri Lanka. Flickr

And a note on coconut oil in general: one of the ways that the oil is produced is with the use of solvents, namely a chemical called hexane: “Conventional coconut oil processors use hexane as a solvent to extract up to 10% more oil than produced with just rotary mills and expellers.” There’s little to fear on the consumer end, though, as hexane evaporates quickly, and it mostly only poses a problem if inhaled. But, from a worker standpoint, working with hexane can be dangerous and result in poisoning. But it’s not just coconut oil that this stuff is used for: “n-Hexane is also used as a solvent in the extraction of oil from seeds (soybean, cottonseed, flaxseed, safflower seed, and others). It is sometimes used as a denaturant for alcohol, and as a cleaning agent in the textile, furniture, and leather industries. It is slowly being replaced with other less toxic solvents.” (Both of these quotes are from Wikipedia.)

From Nutrition.About.com:

The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not require foods to be tested for hexane levels — probably because the chances you’ll experience any meaningful exposure from food is highly unlikely. You’re much more likely to be exposed to hexane through gasoline fumes, quick-drying glue and cleaning solvents than you are from any amount of foods you eat.

Hexane is a solvent made from crude oil. In the food industry, hexane is used to extract the vegetable oil from plant seeds such as canola, soybeans, sunflowers and corn because it is more efficient and less expensive than squeezing out the oil with presses.

The hexane is removed from the oil before it is bottled and sold, but there is always the potential for some hexane residue to be left in the oil.

The FDA hasn’t established a limit on hexane residues in foods, however it has set limits for residue levels in hops and fish meal protein. Since it isn’t something foods are usually tested for, it’s difficult to know how just how much hexane might be in any foods you buy.

It’s also unknown how much foodborne hexane might cause a problem, although current research indicates it would take magnitudes more hexane than what is possibly found in the diet.

[…]

Hexane is toxic and exposure to large amounts of it can cause neurological damage. This mostly occurs when workers are exposed to hexane at oil refineries and other places where hexane may escape into the air. Current toxicology research focuses on industrial and airborne exposure to hexane, so it’s not clear how much hexane exposure from foods would be dangerous.

The EPA has estimated that consuming less than 0.06 milligrams hexane per kilogram of body weight is probably safe. For a 200-pound person (97.7 kilograms), that would be about 5.8 milligrams per day. A typical diet, even one with a lot of hexane-extracted vegetable oil, would fall very far short of that. For example, the oil in the Swiss study with the most hexane contained 0.13 milligram hexane per kilogram of oil, so a 200-pound person would have to consume over 40 gallons of that oil to even come close to 5.8 milligrams hexane.

Is it difficult to avoid hexane? Most hexane exposure comes through the air, however if you wish to eliminate hexane residues from your diet, you can choose foods that are “100-percent organic” and oils that are expeller-pressed rather than solvent-extracted. Expeller pressing is not as efficient as hexane extraction so oils made this way are going to be more expensive. Keep in mind that labels that state the product is made with organic ingredients may still use ingredients that have been exposed to hexane.

So if you’re going to buy oils, definitely be sure to buy organic or expeller-pressed. Not only is it better for you, but it’s healthier for the workers who have to do all the back-breaking labor to produce those bottles of oil for us. Though if you’re worried more about your and your family’s exposure… well, honestly? I don’t see much of a point if you’vestill got a car that runs on oil. It’d be about as silly as an alcoholic giving up rye because of concerns about alcohol poisoning!

Or, interested in saying “screw it” to the whole production process? You can try making your hand-pressed oil at home with a few basic kitchen tools!

Advertisements

One thought on “A Few Notes on Oil Pulling, A Few Notes on Oil

Comments are closed.