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How To Cook With Coconut Oil For The Best Health Benefits

03/16/2015 12:30 EDT | Updated 03/16/2015 12:59 EDT
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coconut oil in a pan and wooden spoon

Everything you think you know about coconut oil may be a lie, because even scientists don't know everything about it.

Basically the kale of cooking oils, coconut oil has been put on a pedestal as a cooking option with copious health benefits. But for one B.C. dietitian and University of B.C. lecturer, the oil may not be worthy of its shrine.

According to Gail Hammond, the oil is made up of mostly saturated fats, while what we need in our diets is polyunsaturated fats, she said in an interview with the school.

Ninety per cent of coconut oil is saturated fat — in fact, butter has less saturated fat than the “super oil.” The difference, of course, is that coconut oil's fats are vegetable-based, while butter's are animal-based. The type of of saturated fat in coconut oil does metabolize more easily, Global News points out.

Experts remain skeptical of the oil’s “superfood” status due to lack of research, and as a result, tend to recommend using other vegetable oils that contain poly-unsaturated fats.

A study conducted by The National Center for Biotechnology Information, however, found that using coconut oil as a dietary supplement helped women with abdominal obesity lose weight over use of soybean oil.

Although Hammond acknowledged that saturated fats from oil are metabolized more readily, she said it’s necessary to compare its health benefits as a primary source of fat, since there are essential fatty acids the oil is lacking, which other oils like avocado and canola oil have on offer.

”The cornerstone to any healthy diet is variety, not swinging way over to one side of something,” she pointed out.

Hammond’s other problem with coconut oil resides in the kitchen. Oils that have a high smoking point — that is, the temperature at which they start to smoke in a hot pan and begin to lose their health benefits — are good choices for cooking. While some report using coconut oil for stir-frying meals, its smoke point is actually 175°C, making it beneficial only for 'moderate' heat cooking, as with simmering or reductions.

Some options for high heat cooking include avocado oil, which can be used at a high temperature up to around 270°C without smoking, or corn, peanut and sesame oils.

As with any food, including the ones touted for being healthy, people need to be cautious of the “healthy halo effect”, says Kristin Kirkpatrick, registered dietitian and manager of wellness nutrition services for the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute.

"Just because we think there are some health benefits doesn't mean you can use a whole jar of coconut oil to cook," she said.

Moderation — whether it's putting coconut oil on popcorn or using it in a sauce — is always key.


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