It’s been dubbed ‘the healthiest oil in the world,’ but is it really that powerful? While more research may be needed to determine whether coconut oil is truly as beneficial as some claim, there’s one thing that’s for sure: you should definitely use it for cooking.
Coconut Oil Structure and Stability
When it comes to the kitchen, many people gravitate to canola oil or industrial polyunsaturated oils like corn, safflower, soybean, and sunflower. The problem is that these fats contain double bonds – sometimes many of them – and are therefore highly unstable. When they’re heated to high temperatures for sautéing, roasting, or frying, they produce harmful free radicals that can cause serious damage to cells.
Coconut oil, on the other hand, is a saturated fat. This means that its structure is such that it contains no double bonds – the fatty acids are packed tightly together. This is important for a few key reasons:
1. It’s less prone to degradation when heated
2. It has a longer storage life (about two years)
3. It has less open space for free radicals to bond to
Health Benefits of Coconut Oil Consumption
Choosing coconut oil for cooking isn’t just about avoiding the bad fats that can do harm to the body, though. It also brings some important health benefits to the table.
Contains a Significant Amount of Lauric Acid
About half of the fatty acids in coconut oil are lauric acid, a medium-chain fatty acid that has a lot in common with long-chain fatty acids. Studies show that lauric acid is responsible for an increase in HDL (or ‘good’) cholesterol, which has been associated with a lower risk of heart disease.
Researchers have also found that lauric acid tends to be transported directly to the liver, where it is converted into energy for use by the brain and heart instead of being stored as fat. It’s also demonstrated significant antimicrobial and antifungal properties and may help fight bacteria, fungi, and viruses.
Low in Omega-6 Fatty Acids
Studies continue to show that the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 consumed has a significant impact on health outcomes. Whereas humans evolved on a diet that was approximately 1:1, the average Western diet has an excess of omega-6 (and usually a deficiency of omega-3), with a ratio of, on average, 16:1. Research indicates that high consumption of omega-6 fatty acids promotes disease, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, and inflammatory and autoimmune diseases. It’s also associated with increased obesity rates. A more balanced ratio, however, has been linked to lower mortality rates and reduced incidence of disease.
While typical cooking oils like canola and sunflower contain 21% and 71% omega-6 fatty acids, respectively, they make up only about 2% of the fatty acid content of coconut oil. Over the long term, this could have a significant impact on your health.
Rich in Antioxidants
Believe it or not, coconut oil is a good source of antioxidants that can help ward off free radicals – specifically vitamins E and K, as well as the mineral iron. Vitamin E is beneficial for the skin and eyes and has been found to help boost the immune system, while iron is crucial to allow the body to make enough healthy red blood cells to carry oxygen.
The Bottom Line
Between its highly stable structure, resistance to oxidation, and potent health benefits, there’s no question that coconut oil is a far better choice than processed vegetable oils for cooking. While heart-healthy olive oil also has its place, if you’re using heat then you should be reaching for the coconut oil.
Of course, food is about health and flavor. Virgin coconut oil delivers here, too, as it imparts a lovely nutty flavor that works perfectly for stews, curries, and stir-fried vegetables. Refined coconut oil offers similar Modafinilhealth benefits, without the coconut flavor – but be sure you’re still getting pure coconut oil, rather than oil that’s partially hydrogenated. Since coconut oil is solid at room temperature, you can also experiment with it as a substitute in baking recipes that call for butter or vegetable oil.