Coconut oil: menace or miracle?

 
By • Published: September 3rd, 2013
Category: Health in a Heartbeat
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For decades, olive oil has been the reigning cooking oil of choice in the United States, in part due to its heart-healthy benefits. While all oil should be used in moderation as part of a balanced diet, the olive variety contains monounsaturated fats, a “good” fat that can lower your cholesterol. However, in the last few years, a challenger has appeared: coconut oil. Does this alternative have what it takes to dethrone the king of sheen?

In the 1990s, coconut oil had a bad reputation for raising cholesterol and containing more saturated fat — the “bad” fat — than lard. However, many studies supporting this claim were conducted using partially hydrogenated coconut oil, which means that the oil was chemically altered from its original liquid state into shortening, which creates trans fat.

Conversely, in its unrefined virgin form, coconut oil retains its antioxidants and has a positive impact on our blood sugar and immune system. While it’s true that coconut oil is approximately 90 percent saturated fat, the main variety of that saturated fat is lauric (LORE-ic) acid. Lauric acid is easier to digest and ultimately has a negligible impact on cholesterol levels.

In short, coconut oil can’t outdo olive oil in the health arena, but it is a better alternative to shortening. For this reason, vegans have embraced coconut oil and are pioneering new ways to cook with it. Virgin oil has a sweet, mild coconut flavor that does especially well in baked goods like cookies and piecrusts. Since it’s solid at room temperature, it can simply replace butter in recipes. It can also be melted down to substitute for oil. In this form, coconut oil is excellent for sautéing or frying, since it can withstand high cooking temperatures.

Now that this versatile oil is on the menu, it’s time for your inner foodie to get creative. Go co-co-nuts.