When it comes to ‘it’ foods, coconut oil is the one of the hottest things around. Converts tout its heart benefits, weight loss and dental hygiene properties.
However, some have put coconut oil under the chopping block, concluding that its high saturated-fat content should preclude it from making health claims.
So is coconut oil a super food or just super hype?
The controversy comes from coconut oil being extremely high in saturated fat, which was once thought to raise cholesterol. However, fats are no longer seen as the villain of heart disease and obesity, clogging everyone’s arteries.
For a start, most coconut oils in the 90’s were partially hydrogenated (a nasty process). Today’s selections contain virgin, organic and unprocessed options.
Second, the fat crazed hysteria of the 90’s is over. Butter is back on our tables and people are eating egg yolks again. As a society, we have been so focused on trying to lose fat (around our middle) it was only natural we thought we needed to eat less 'fatty' food. In this regard, it is unfortunate the two share the same name when actually, good fats are one of the three essential building blocks our bodies need to survive and thrive.
When it comes to coconut oil specifically, studies have found that medium chain saturated fats (like coconut) can actually aid in weight loss and decrease fat mass. It also contains zero (dietary) cholesterol and has been shown to improve overall body cholesterol.
The main area coconut oil falls short is its smoke point, that is, the temperature at which certain oils burn. You want to avoid burning oil as this can cause a break down and the creation of free radicals, which can damage cells and increase the risk of cancer.
The smoke point for coconut oil is around 175oC which is somewhere in the middle for cooking oils. You don’t need smoking hot oil for a good saute, so coconut oil is perfect for low-medium heat cooking and sautéing, just keep a close eye on the stove. For higher heat cooking, such as searing meat or stir frying, you'll want to use a healthy alternative with a high smoke point. Avocado oil is great, and has a smoke point of about 190 - 205oC, one of the highest.
Overall, the health benefits of coconut oil are tremendous and I only ever have 3 types of oils in the kitchen. Olive oil for salads, avocado oil for high heat and coconut oil for everything in between.
All this makes coconut oil worthy of its ‘Superfood title’.
But rather than gobbling it up like it’s a magic pill, the key is to enjoy it and use in moderation!