Expert Advice

Are there any health benefits to cooking with virgin coconut oil?

Are there any health benefits to cooking with virgin coconut oil?
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Yes, but the benefits do not outweigh the risks. Coconut oil is high in saturated fat, which has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease.


A few clinical trials have supported the claim that coconut oil may be good for you. Some studies have found that it can keep your blood lipid levels low; others have linked virgin coconut oil to improved thyroid health, low LDL cholesterol, glowing skin, the prevention of chronic diseases, and even weight loss. A 2001 Japanese study found greater weight loss in a group of people consuming coconut oil compared with participants using other oils. Much of the health claims about coconut oil stem from the fact that it is non-hydrogenated, has no cholesterol (which is true of other plant-based oils), and has no trans fats.


But 92 percent of the fat in coconut oil is saturated fat, for which there is plenty of research demonstrating dangerous links to obesity and cardiovascular disease. One tablespoon of coconut oil contains 120 calories and 14 grams of total fat. Most dietitians recommend limiting your daily intake of saturated fat to 22 grams, based on an average 2,000-calorie-per-day diet. With only one tablespoon of coconut oil, you're more than halfway there.


Bottom line
If you like cooking with virgin coconut oil, use it sparingly. (The "virgin" label is important. It means the oil was made from fresh coconut meat and processed without chemicals.) Otherwise, try replacing coconut oil with monounsaturated fats like olive oil, canola oil, and peanut oil. You may also want to swap it for polyunsaturated fats like corn oil, sunflower oil, and safflower oil. Although you may not get the same flavor, these oils will be better for your body.


—Amy Jamieson-Petonic, R.D., spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association

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