I’ve been watching for a while as coconut oil has become a popular choice of fat for many people interested in health and wellness. I’d always considered it a no-no from what I remembered at university. It’s very high in saturated fat, so how could it possibly good for you? Saturated fats = bad as they raise cholesterol, correct? Well, whilst we generally want to keep saturated fat levels low in our diets, not all saturated fats are created equally.
All fats are made up of fatty acids, of which there are many. And different fatty acids have different effects on cholesterol. For example, stearic acid, which is one type of a saturated fatty acid, does not raise cholesterol levels.
Coconut oil is high in what’s called medium chain triglycerides – fatty acids which are caproic acid, caprylic acid, capric acid and lauric acid. Medium chain triglycerides are digested differently from other fats and able to be quickly used as an energy source by the body – so we burn them off faster than other fats. While lauric acid is a fatty acid that increases cholesterol, it does so by mainly increasing the good “HDL”cholesterol.
The other positive of coconut oil is that it has a high smoke point. The smoke point is the characteristic temperature at which fat breaks down into visible gaseous products giving smoky blue fumes, is potentially dangerous and gives undesirable flavours, colour and odours. (National Heart Foundation). Coconut oil is also fairly stable, meaning it doesn’t break down when exposed to heat. While other oils, like flaxseed oil are healthy, you would never cook with them as all the health properties would be destroyed. The smokepoint of Blue Coconut Oil is 232 degrees celcius.
Coconut oil isn’t the dietary villain it was once thought of, and, in small amounts, in my opinion would be fine for cooking with, especially at high temperatures. There are others that would disagree, as it is still a saturated fat.
I wouldn’t however recommend eating 4 tablespoons a day, as Miranda Kerr does. Although she may be slim and beautiful, coconut oil is highly unlikely the reason why. And unfortunately, there is not convincing evidence that coconut oil assists with weight loss.
Other oils which have a high smokepoint include avocado oil and macadamia nut oil. These are monounsaturated fats which tend to be more stable than polyunsaturated fats so better for cooking with in high heat.
Mackay, Sally for The National Heart Foundation NZ (2000) Techniques and Types of Fat used in Deep-Fat Frying, published online www.heartfoundation.org.nz