Is cooking with coconut oil as healthy as some folks claim it to be?
Probably not. It’s very high in saturated fat. Butter is 64 percent saturated fat, whereas coconut oil is about 90 percent saturated fat. The reason why people think it might be healthy is it contains lauric acid, which increases HDL cholesterol (the good kind), which in turn protects against heart attack and stroke. But it also increases LDL cholesterol (the bad kind), which contributes to narrowing of the arteries and increases one’s risk of a heart attack and stroke.
What do studies of coconut oil’s effect on the heart show?
There really is no data to support that it’s good for your heart or that it improves heart health. There’s a lot of data on using coconut oil in mice and rabbits, but there’s not a lot of real, solid data looking at coconut oil in humans. In 2016, researchers reviewed findings from about 21 studies, looking at the effect of coconut oil or coconut oil products on cholesterol. Compared with unsaturated oils like olive oil, sunflower, safflower, and corn oils, coconut oil actually raised your HDL, LDL, and total cholesterol. Again, these are not studies looking at survival or mortality or incidence of heart disease. These are studies that are just looking at cholesterol levels per se. And then people are extrapolating from there.
Are there any pros to cooking with coconut oil?
For people who cook at very high temperatures, coconut oil is a good one to use because it has a very high smoking point. That means it won’t smoke at very high temperatures, which is a healthier environment for people to cook in. It has a semisolid quality when left at room temperature, so there are some people who think it may be helpful to use as a replacement for cooking things that would use butter, like baked goods.
Which oils rate highly in terms of heart health?
Olive oil is definitely the best. It has the least amount of saturated fat and reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease. Comparatively speaking, a tablespoon of coconut oil has six times the amount of saturated fat than a tablespoon of olive oil. Canola oil is low in saturated fat, and it’s also a liquid at room temperature. It has a higher smoking point than olive oil, so it can be used safely for cooking at high temperatures, but people don’t always like its flavor. Flaxseed oil has a lot of omega-3 fatty acids, which may contribute to heart health. Avocado oil is high in monounsaturated fatty acids, which can promote healthy cholesterol levels. It also has a high smoke point and is used for stir-frying, sautéing, and searing, but it may be too expensive for some people to use regularly. Nut oils like walnut oil are good, because nuts are part of the Mediterranean diet, but can be very expensive.