Coconut oil has had quite a marketing revamp over the past few years. Popular diets and the increase of holistic health trends have put coconut oil front and center. Coconut oil is often used topically on your skin and in your hair, and it is even said to help whiten teeth. While many consume coconut oil, conflicting information surrounds it. The research on coconut oil is limited. However, many identify it as a source of saturated fats.

Although plant oils are considered a more nutritious option than animal fats, coconut oil is the exception to this statement. Even though it is a plant product, coconut oil is actually classified as saturated fat, with 11 grams per tablespoon. The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that less than 10% of your caloric intake be from saturated fats. So, if you hover around 2,000 calories per day, only about 200 calories should be from saturated fats. High saturated fat intake is linked to increased LDL (bad) cholesterol levels and may increase our risks for heart disease, obesity, and insulin resistance.

Despite the fact that coconut oil is classified as a saturated fat, using it (or any saturated fat) in small amounts here and there can always fit within a balanced diet. This practice is only one piece of the puzzle, and you need to look at the complete picture to understand the impact of your eating patterns as a whole. Many recommend increasing your unsaturated fat intake with olive, canola, and sunflower oil options. Coconut oil has a distinct and delicious flavor that adds depth to many dishes. If you are selecting coconut oil from your local store, try to avoid products that have “partially hydrogenated” on the label. While this method can extend the shelf life, it creates trans-fats, which is recommended to avoid. Extra virgin or virgin are interchangeable, as the term is not regulated. This form is best for lower-heat cooking such as sautéing and baking. Refined coconut oil has a higher smoke point, which can be heated up to 450°F. Plus, refined coconut oil is flavorless and odorless so uses can vary. However, refined oil only lasts about a few months compared to virgin or extra virgin oil, lasting about two to three years.

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