Additionally, you already know to avoid processed food products, such as commercial baked goods, that contain partially hydrogenated coconut oil. Why? The processing of this oil transforms some of the unsaturated fats into trans fats.
The American Heart Association recommends limiting the amount of saturated fats in your diet to less than seven percent of your total daily calories and limiting trans fat intake to less than 1 percent of total daily calories. These guidelines have been established because saturated fats, in general, and trans fats are associated with increased total cholesterol and low density lipoprotein (LDL) “bad” cholesterol, as well as increased risk of coronary artery disease.
But, here’s the good news: Like all plant-based oils, coconut oil does not contain cholesterol. Also, coconut oil, specifically virgin coconut oil, has some antioxidant properties, potentially because of plant nutrients called phenolic compounds.
Also, virgin coconut oil is high in lauric acid, which is a saturated fat that’s classified as a medium-chain fatty acid; it can raise both “bad” and “good” cholesterol levels. And there’s some preliminary evidence — including both animal and human studies — suggesting that coconut oil intake may be associated with a neutral, if not beneficial, effect on cholesterol levels.
So, what should you do? Avoid partially hydrogenated coconut oil. If you choose to cook with virgin coconut oil, do so in moderation to help limit your total saturated fat intake.
How To Cook with Coconut Oil
Virgin (or unrefined) coconut oil has a very light, sweet-nutty coconut flavor and aroma. It can be an ideal ingredient option when you need a cooking fat with a neutral flavor.
Here are some basic cooking tips:
- Coconut oil is ideal for baking or medium-heat sautéing — up to about 350°F.
- Coconut oil can also be a great choice when preparing curries or other dishes that benefit from a slight tropical flavor.
- Coconut oil can be used for baking or for medium-high heat sautéing or stir-frying — up to about 425°F.
- Though high in saturated fat, virgin coconut oil doesn’t contain trans fat, making it a better choice than trans fat-containing shortening.
- For vegans or strict vegetarians, coconut oil offers a plant-based replacement for butter that stands up well in baking or sautéing.
Like other oils, coconut oil should be stored well sealed and in a cool, dark place. It solidifies when cool, but quickly liquefies when warmed up.