Q: Is Coconut Oil a Healthy Cooking Oil?
October 4, 2012
Culinary Nutritionist Andrea Canada discusses the fat content of coconut oil and how it differs from other fats and oils.
Coconut oil has been receiving some attention lately and with all the hype, people are asking me whether it’s a healthier alternative to butter or other oils. Generally, plant-based oils are primarily unsaturated fats and liquid at room temperature. However, coconut oil is an exception to this rule because while plant-based, it actually contains a high percentage of saturated fat (higher even than butter), and similar to other saturated fats, is solid at room temperature.
As it turns out, all saturated fats may not be created equal. We’ve been taught that saturated fat increases one’s bad cholesterol while doing very little for one’s good cholesterol. However, it’s been noted that the particular chemical structure of the saturated fat in coconut oil (more medium chain triglycerides) helps to increase your good cholesterol more than other kinds of saturated fat. So it’s perhaps for this reason that people are starting to think that coconut oil is a healthier alternative to butter or other saturated fats.
There is a place for coconut oil in our diet. For example, as a plant-based fat that is solid at room temperature, coconut oil has been used as an alternative to butter in vegan baking. In addition, coconut-based products can add delicious flavor to a dish. However, it is too soon to assess how coconut oil compares health-wise with other fats and oils. More research over longer periods of time needs to be done before a general consensus is reached. And, it is certainly unlikely that using coconut oil in place of unsaturated oils is beneficial to our health.
Until we know more, my recommendation would be to avoid the use of coconut oil unless it’s truly necessary. In the context of using coconut oil versus olive oil in cooking (or other heart-healthy oils for that matter), stick with what we know to be the healthiest cooking oils until more research has been done.
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