We all know that all oils are pure fat, but we forget that not all fats are created equal. Essential fatty acids that are contained in some fats are essential for a reason – they play a major role in our bodies, supporting various bodily functions (e.g. brain and liver).
Fats are also important for the transportation and absorption of fat soluble vitamins (A,D,E and K). So we should not avoid them completely. However, we should strive to eat only good fats, in moderation.
Coconut oil is getting a lot of attention lately and for a good reason. The fat in coconut oil has quite an interesting structure as we’ll see later, which is one of the reasons why people have different opinions about its health benefits.
Is coconut oil healthy?
Coconut oil has received a bad reputation in the past because it is high in saturated fat. But unlike margarine, the saturated fat in coconut oil is naturally occurring and is of an interesting construction.
Not all fats are created equally. Coconut oil is high in lauric acid, which is a saturated fat that’s classified as a medium-chain fatty acid (MCFA). Our body metabolizes this fat in the liver, immediately converting it into energy rather than storing it as fat! This is the reason why it is believed that coconut oil can help with weight loss. Saturated fats consumed in moderation are also important for the body, and coconut oil is an excellent option for vegans.
Are there other benefits of coconut oil?
Coconut oil is believed to help with digestion as well, as the fatty acids in the oil contain anti-microbial properties which can help against bacteria, candida and parasites that can cause poor digestion.
A study by the Garvan Institute of Medical Research found that coconut oil protects against insulin resistance, reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes. MCFA fats are small enough to be absorbed into the cells where they’re quickly converted to energy. It is this process that not only reduces the amount of fat we pack into storage, but improves insulin sensitivity.
Coconut oil can be used also externally as an excellent cosmetic product for the hair and skin, as its moisturizing and anti-microbial properties can make your hair more lustrous and help reduce acne.
Cooking with coconut oil
There are two types of coconut oil you can cook with: virgin and refined.
- Virgin coconut oil is extracted from the fruit of fresh mature coconuts without using chemicals or high temperatures.
- Refined coconut oil is made from dried coconut meat, which is often chemically bleached and deodorized.
Unlike many other cooking oils, coconut oil is stable and can withstand high cooking temperatures. The virgin coconut oil tastes coconutty, and is great to use in your recipes if you are a fan of that Hawaiian flavor. I personally love it. You can use the virgin coconut oil for medium heat sautéing and baking but not for frying. The refined coconut oil is neutral in taste and aroma and can be used for medium-high heat sautéing and stir-frying.
What you need to know about smoke point and healthy oils
When cooking with oils it is very important that you know that certain oils have different smoke points.
The smoke point is the temperature at which smoke arises from the oil caused by the heating process. Usually at this point the oil starts to decompose, causing chemical changes in the oil that not only reduces the flavor and nutritional value, but also generates harmful compounds (oxygen radicals) that are carcinogenic and can be very harmful.
For this reason it is very important to not heat the oil past its smoke point. I personally use mainly three types of oils in my kitchen:
- Extra virgin olive oil for my salads and dressings. I never heat it up! Many people don’t realize that cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil has a low smoke point, and can be harmful if heating past its smoke point. I personally think it is also a waste of good quality oil when used for cooking, and that it tastes best in salads or added on sautéed veggies.
- I use coconut oil for sautéing, cooking and baking.
- Grape seed oil for stir-frying.
You can find coconut oil at your local health-food store, or nowadays in most organic / health-food sections of your local supermarket.
If you want to know more about different oils and their smoke points click here.
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