Guru Kate: Why do people say that coconut oil is so good for you?

Coconut oil for alternative therapyCoconut oil is a unique fat. It’s solid at room temperature, like butter, but has purported health benefits, like olive oil. Many doctors used to warn against consuming coconut oil because it looks like butter at face value.

However, recent evidence suggests that coconut oil, although it is a saturated fat, contains medium chain triglycerides (MCTs). These types of fats are less likely than butter to wreak havoc on cholesterol levels and can actually lead to less fat accumulation.

Now that it has a nutritional go-ahead, which situations are appropriate for coconut oil? And what kind of flavor does it impart on dishes?

It can be used as a one-to-one ratio substitution for butter. This is most fitting for a stir-fry, because coconut oil has a high smoke point and a minimal amount should be used to prevent veggie burning. Try adding only a couple of teaspoons of coconut oil. If more oil than that is needed, add olive oil from that point on.

Beware of the coconutty taste, because the strong flavor can run rampant in a dish. It would be fitting for an Indian dish, but if you’re cooking brownies for a bake sale, keep in mind that people may not appreciate the taste in the same way you do. For these situations, substituting olive oil or canola oil for butter may be more appropriate.

Another reason to choose olive or canola over coconut oil is the age of data on coconut oil. It is less than 10 years old and therefore fairly weakly established. While it is young, the evidence is compelling enough to change some doctors’ minds. In an article by Kevin Lomagino, editor of Clincial Nutrition Insight, internist Dr. Tim Harland said he would label coconut oil as “not a bad choice,” but he “wouldn’t say it’s a good choice.”

Because the substance is still rampant with unhealthy saturated fats (around 34 percent of its composition), coconut oil is still primarily a saturated fat. Therefore, it is still not as healthy as a poly- or monounsaturated fat.

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This puts it into the category of a “limited consumption food,” not a miracle fat as some natural-health advocates tout it to be. It is still a fat and therefore contains nine calories per gram of oil. Although there are some reasonable health effects, it should be eaten in moderation.