The health benefits of coconut oil and when to use it

Feb 20, 2016

Cooking trends come and go as new information is constantly developing on the healthiest types of foods to cook with. But the most current one was not expected, having once been called “the devil himself in liquid form” by The New York Times.

This week on “Take Care,” Megan Ware, registered dietician, nutritionist and writer for Medical News Today and Livestrong.com, explains the health benefits of the new cooking trend: coconut oil.

Although coconut oil is high in calories and saturated fat, it has recently been found that the fats it contains are good fats for your body, similar to those in many superfoods, such as avocados.

So what makes the fat in coconut oil better for you than the fat in processed food?

“It contains what’s called medium chain triglycerides. So the fatty acids that’s in that saturated fat are shorter, there are less carbons in them then say a meat product, so our body metabolizes those and uses them differently,” Ware said.

Ware also said that almost any fat that comes from a plant is going to have more health benefits than fat from fried or processed food.

Since coconut oil can act as a replacement for butter, margarine, or other oils when cooking and baking, some may wonder if using the oil will affect the taste of food by giving it a nutty flavor they may not want. Ware said in most cases the substitute’s taste won’t be very noticeable, but gave some tips on when not to use it.

“If you were trying to make a, let’s say salad dressing, I wouldn’t really want to take the olive oil out of the salad dressing and use the coconut oil instead because it really would change the flavor, and especially with salad dressing it would change the consistency because coconut oil tends to be thicker at room temperature,” Ware said.

Unlike most oils that are liquid at room temperature, Ware says coconut oil often does not reach its liquid form until heated to about 75 degrees.

But like other oils, there is a variety of coconut oils sold at supermarkets, and there are better choices to pick than others.

“The buzz words you really want to look for are, virgin and unrefined,” Ware said. “What that means is it was taken from the meat of the coconut, it was not heated to a high temperature, it wasn’t bleached, and it wasn’t refined.”

Unfortunately, the bleached and refined versions do tend to be a bit cheaper. But if you do buy the cheaper, more hydrogenated option, it can be just as bad as the unhealthy oils you were trying to avoid in the first place.

Although coconut oil is now proven to be beneficial to our health, Ware says we still shouldn’t go out of our way to add it to foods that wouldn’t normally have oil or butter in them, and to keep our diets balanced.

“I don’t think there’s any reason you need to start eating a tablespoon of coconut oil a day,” Ware said. “You don’t want to focus on any one superfood or one trend to get all your health benefits.”

After all, coconut oil does still contain a high amount of fat, even if it is good fat.

But now that you know what to look for, it may be time to start substituting the shortening in those homemade cookies this winter for some healthier coconut oil.