A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic Health System

Can you healthfully cook with coconut oil?

Coconut Oil

Coconut oil has crept its way onto store shelves and into health conversations as a quick-fix trend.

“Coconut oil has a place in our food system,” said Paula McIntyre, Marshfield Clinic Health System dietitian. “It has a unique flavor, and I’m sure some people prefer its taste over other oils.”

Is it healthful for our diet?

Most scientists and major health organizations like American Diabetes Association and American Heart Association agree coconut oil is a source of saturated fat and to only consume limited amounts.

“Coconut oil is almost entirely saturated fat, a higher percentage than butter,” McIntyre said. “I don’t recommend it. I don’t use it myself, and I can’t think of a time I suggested it to a patient.”

But isn’t coconut oil trendy?

In the last year or so, coconut oil has crept its way onto store shelves and into health conversations as a quick-fix trend.

McIntyre said she believes the trend started from chatter on medium-chain fatty acids like lauric acid, which is thought to raise HDL (good) cholesterol levels when it replaces carbohydrate in the diet. Other research shows consumption of coconut increases LDL (bad) cholesterol and triglycerides, which are risk factors for heart disease.

Coconut oil contains lauric acid, but it’s not coconut oil’s only fat.

“We have to remember, like with coconut oil or any health trend, the best researched and proven method is a diet of variety and color,” McIntyre said. “There is no one food or supplement to answer all our health questions and problems.”

Learn to decode health information and trends so you can determine what is beneficial and what is not.

Consider your entire health profile including age, genetic history and current diet.

“The media doesn’t consider our individual health profiles,” McIntyre said. “While certain trends might have positive effects, they only may be impactful for a small percentage of people and conditions.”

What if I like the taste?

“If a patient told me they enjoy the taste of coconut oil, I’d give them the same recommendation I give for butter,” McIntyre said. “You can eat it, but enjoy it in moderation.”

McIntyre suggests cutting coconut oil amounts in a recipe and replacing the remaining amount with a healthful cooking oil.

“For example, if a recipe calls for two tablespoons of coconut oil, instead use one tablespoon and fill the other half with canola oil,” she said.

A better use of coconut oil: Skin and hair

It’s evident coconut oil is frowned on by nutritionists.

Dermatologists have a different perspective: Coconut oil cleanses and moisturizes, which makes it a prime ingredient for DIY facial masks.

Talk to your provider

Ask your doctor or work with a dietitian before trying new health trends. Your provider can help you determine your best health and wellness solutions.

Make an appointment.

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