Think Twice About Cooking with Coconut Oil

By Lisa Cooper, MS, RD, LDN Licensed Dietitian/Nutritionist at Orlando Health

As a dietitian, I watch for fads that can lead well-meaning consumers astray. Lately, I’ve noticed a lot of attention focused on the benefits of consuming coconut oil. In fact, a recent survey reported that 72 percent of Americans rated coconut oil as a “healthy food” compared with only 37 percent of nutritionists. 

While coconut oil does have some health-promoting properties, it is also very high in saturated fat — a proven contributor to heart disease. Because heart disease accounts for one in three deaths in the U.S., the oil you choose to cook or bake with, or add to your smoothie in the morning, is an important decision for your health.

Coconut oil contains more saturated fat than butter, more than twice that of lard and very little in the way of monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats. Why is this important? Because study upon study has demonstrated that by replacing saturated fat intake with monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fat — and eating more vegetables, fruits and grains — you can reduce your risk of heart disease by up to 30 percent.  

So which is the best heart-healthy oil to use in the kitchen? Olive oil remains a recommended favorite. Olive oil has one-fifth the saturated fat content of coconut oil and is high in monounsaturated fat. Extra virgin olive oil contains antioxidants, polyphenols and omega-3 fatty acids that are good for your heart and brain function while boosting your immune system and protecting you from cancer.

Use extra virgin olive oil for salad dressings or dipping. Choose a light virgin olive oil for baking, oven cooking or stir frying. If you need an oil that can withstand a high smoke point for searing, browning or frying, choose refined olive oil, sunflower oil, almond oil or avocado oil. 

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