Coconut Oil: Good or Bad?
Currently in, coconut oil is the subject of much talk. Some praise its numerous benefits, while others single it out and say we should completely ban it from our nutrition.
About 90 % of coconut’s fats are saturated fatty-acids. In North America, recommendations for cardiovascular health are to reduce our consumption of such fats, because they raise our level of LDL cholesterol (“bad” cholesterol). However, it should be noted that the effect of different saturated fats can vary depending on the type of fatty acid.
Coconut’s distinctive characteristics
Half of the saturated fatty acids found in coconut are in fact lauric acid, which is the same fat found in breast milk. Compared with other fatty acids (saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated alike), lauric acid is said to be the best one for raising levels of HDL cholesterol (“good” cholesterol). Therefore, consuming saturated fatty acids from coconut should be less damaging to cardiovascular health than saturated fatty acids from butter, for example.
However, studies are unanimous: substituting saturated fatty acids with unsaturated fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated) has the most beneficial effect on cardiovascular disease risks.
Using coconut oil
Still in North America, coconut oil (or copra) is mainly used in the food industry in its hydrogenated or partly hydrogenated forms, often in pastries or other ready-to-eat foods. Used in this way, it should be avoided since it has a higher saturated and trans fats content.
This being said, we know that saturated fats are more stable when exposed to heat than unsaturated fats. Therefore, when planning to cook at a very high temperature at home, virgin coconut oil might be an interesting choice as long as it is not allowed to reach its smoking point, which creates trans fatty acids. For low-heat cooking, olive oil should still be preferred for its high monounsaturated fatty acids content.