I have noticed a lot of health hype surrounding coconut oil over the last couple years. I’m still on the fence when it comes to using it because regardless of it’s “positive” health claims, it’s also still very high in Saturated fat. But before I get into that, here’s the 411 on coconut oil.
Coconut oil comes in a few forms; Virgin and refined.
“Virgin” coconut oil is extracted from the fruit of fresh mature coconuts without using high temperatures or chemicals; it’s considered unrefined. “Refined” coconut oil is made from dried coconut meat that’s often chemically bleached and deodorized. If you choose to add coconut oil to your shopping cart the next time you go shopping, be sure to go the route of “virgin” coconut oil.
Nutritionally, coconut oil is considered a saturated fat as it is solid at room temperature. One tablespoons contains nearly 12 g of saturated fat alone. Coconut oil also contains trace amounts of iron and vitamins E and K. Virgin coconut oil also may have some antioxidant properties due to phenolic compounds it contains. The reason coconut oil has been on everybody’s radar is probably more so due to it’s Lauric acid content. Lauric acid is a medium chain saturated fat that may potentially raise both “bad” and “good” cholesterol levels.
The bottom line? Not enough scientific studies have shown coconut oil to be effective in having an effect on cholesterol the lastest studies have shown it to have a neutral effect on cholesterol levels as opposed to a beneficial effect.
The American heart association recommends that people choose monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats like you find in nuts, seeds, and avocados. They also recommend that people try to keep their saturated fat intake to less than 7% daily to keep cholesterol levels in check.
One thing to keep in mind when cooking with oils is smoke point. Smoke point is the point at which a fat starts to break down and smoke. Once this happens, the oil loses it’s nutritional properties. Oils best for frying or stir frying include oils with high smoke points like vegetable, peanut, and sesame oil. Oils best for salad dressings and dips include oils with low smoke points like flaxseed and walnut oils. Coconut oil has a slightly sweet, nutty flavor and is best used in baking and sautéing up to 350 degrees. It’s also a good choice for exotic dishes like curries.
So the bottom bottom line? Only use in moderation. Get your fats from other sources like olive or canola oil, nuts, seeds, and avocados. Skip the coconut oil. If you do choose to use it, be sure to go with virgin coconut oil to reap the most nutritional benefits.