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Moms' Burning Questions: Coconut Oil

Coconut oil was once viewed as an enemy to health because of its high saturated fat content. But now there's a different perspective in the nutrition community.

Is coconut oil good to bake and cook with?

Coconut oil has received a bad reputation over the years because of its high levels of saturated fat—beginning in the 90s, it was seen as the enemy of oils.  However, a growing body of evidence shows a more flattering side of coconut oil.  In fact, there may be health benefits offered by the previously-dreaded coconut oil that deserve some attention.  Let’s take a look…

Like human breast milk, coconut oil contains a unique group of saturated fats knows as medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) that transform into monoglycerides and medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs), specifically lauric acid. Both MCTs and MCFAs may help fight bacterial and viral infections, as well as promote other health benefits such as raising HDL (good) cholesterol more that LDL (bad) cholesterol and supporting immune function.

  • Are all coconut oils the same?  It’s important to differentiate between partially hydrogenated coconut oil and virgin coconut oil: the former contains trans fats that have been shown to cause heart disease.  I recommend Nutiva Organic Virgin Coconut Oil
  • How do you use it?
    • Coconut oil is a heat-stable oil, meaning that it can be used for cooking at very high temperatures, like stir-frying. 
    • It’s also a good option for vegans because it is a solid at room temperature, making it a great substitute for butter or shortening.  Its sweet, nutty flavor makes it suitable for baking, or for any dish where you want a subtle coconut flavor.
    • Coconut oil is also known for improving the health of skin and hair, and is found in many soaps.  I use it as a body oil instead of cream.
  • What about for weight loss?  While there is initial research from McGill University in Canada showing a positive effect, this tropical oil high in saturated fat should be viewed for its potential health benefits, not a diet fix.

As with any fat, especially saturated fat, keep your dietary intake to no more than 5% of your overall diet.  But don’t shy away from incorporating coconut oil into your cooking, baking or skincare routine.  It is definitely no longer the enemy and may in fact prove to be a very good friend to your health.

Do you use coconut oil?  If so, please share how and any recipes, too.

- Stacey Antine, M.S. R.D., author, Appetite for Life and founder, HealthBarn USA

What puzzles you about keeping your family healthy?  Tell us what’s on your mind by emailing info@healthbarnusa.com.  Stacey will answer those questions here weekly.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

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