Coconut oil is a very versatile ingredient to have in your kitchen.
It’s suitable for both sweet and savory recipes such as soups, curries, smoothies, salads, baked goods, stir-fries and desserts.
The tropical flavor gives your food a hint of sweetness. And if you aren’t big on the coconut flavor or it just doesn’t suit your dish, you can use a good quality organic refined coconut oil. This type of coconut oil has a neutral taste.
You can use it raw, cook with it, bake with it, fry with it, melt it, freeze it and whip it up.
But how healthy is cooking with coconut oil?
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Is fat good for you?
There is a lot of contradicting information out there about fat.
Some people believe that you should ingest as little fat as possible or that saturated fat is unhealthy. Others follow a diet high in fats such as the Keto diet.
Most food contains some sort of fat. Some of it is good for you and others less, but our body can simply not function properly without fat.
We need it for our brain, heart, skin, cells, organs, hormone production, for energy, for transportation and absorption of fat-soluble nutrients etc.
There are 4 types of fat:
Monounsaturated fats: found in avocados, olive oil, peanuts and other ground nuts and tree nuts.
Polyunsaturated fats: plant sources: nuts, seeds and vegetable oils.
Animal sources: salmon, mackerel and herring.
Saturated fats: animal sources: meat, dairy products and eggs.
Plant sources: coconut oil, cacao butter and palm kernel oil.
Trans fats: a result of chemical processing and bad for your health.
Found in some processed foods such as cookies, candies, fried foods, some types of margarine and anything labeled ‘’(partially) hydrogenated’’.
They raise bad cholesterol levels (LDL) and increase the risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
The MCT’s in coconut oil
Coconut oil consists of 92% saturated fat. That sounds like a lot and it is, but it’s actually a good thing. This is why:
The plant-based saturated fat in coconut oil is different from saturated fats from animal sources.
Unlike other saturated fats which consist of fatty acids called long triglycerides, coconut oil is rich in Medium Chain Triglycerides.
MCT’s are fatty acids called lauric acid, capric acid, caprylic acid and caproic acid. They are the main reason why cooking with coconut oil is so healthy.
Lauric acid forms about 50% of the MCT’s and is an important immune builder.
Coconuts are the main natural source of lauric acid. Another essential source of lauric acid is breast milk!
Instead of being stored in the gall bladder, part of the MCT’s metabolize in the liver. They work as an immediate energy source.
The rest of the MCT’s convert into ketones which are literally brain food. And they are also fuel for our heart and muscles.
Since MCT’s are not stored in the body and help with metabolism, they can actually burn fat and help with weight control.
The antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal and antiparasitic properties in MCT’s destroy viruses, bacteria and fungi in our body. Plus they help the body detoxify.
Coconut oil also helps absorb fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K, minerals and anti-oxidants.
Why cooking with coconut oil is healthy
To understand what makes a fat healthy or not, it’s important to know how it’s produced and how sensitive it is to oxidation.
Oil oxidation is a chemical reaction between heat, light and oxygen that changes the chemical properties of an oil. This can result in harmful free radicals which can not only accelerate aging, but also cause serious damage to our body.
Oxidation can actually turn an otherwise healthy fat into an unhealthy one.
Every oil oxidizes at some point, the key is to use oils that are heat-stable.
Fats high in saturated fats are the most heat-stable ones.
Fats high in monounsaturated fats are not very heat-stable. Some of them like extra virgin olive oil are suitable for brief, low-temperature cooking.
Fats high in polyunsaturated fats are not heat-stable and should not be used to cook with.
To recap: the high concentration of specific saturated fats is one of the main benefits of coconut oil.
Cooking with coconut oil is healthy because it’s the most heat-stable fat.
I explain more about fat and oxidation in this article about healthy cooking oils.
My pick: I love buying coconut oil from small local companies when I am travelling in the tropics. Other than that, I usually use a Dutch brand called Royal Green.
If you want to buy your coconut oil online, this one ships worldwide.
A good read is Bruce Fife’s (naturopath and nutritionist) book The Coconut Oil Miracle.