You’ve probably noticed that coconut oil is enjoying something of a resurgence in popularity these days! After being much maligned since the 1940s when fears arose over the link between saturated fats and poor cardiovascular health, this tropical oil is now touted as a panacea for health. Is coconut oil actually good for you, though? Are there any real health benefits to using coconut oil for cooking? Let’s take a look.

Coconut Oil for Cooking – a Quick History

Coconut oil has long been a popular fat used for everyday cooking in West African diets and up until the 1940s, coconut oil was also commonly used for cooking in North America. In the following decades, a wealth of research linked dietary saturated fat to increased cholesterol levels and poor cardiovascular health, which caused many people to junk the coconut oil in favour of other fats.

More recently, however, scientists have begun to explore the differences between the saturated fats in coconut oil and those found in animal-derived foods. This research has revealed a range of potential health benefits of using coconut oil for cooking. To appreciate the possible effects of coconut oil on human health requires an understanding of different types of fatty acids.

Coconut Oil Fatty Acids

Coconut oil is made up of about 90% of saturated fats and 9% of unsaturated fats. Unlike the saturated fat in animal-derived foods, however, coconut oil is a rich source of medium chain triglycerides (MCTs).

The MCTs in coconut oil are directly absorbed in the intestine and can be readily used for energy production. MCTs also appear to decrease cholesterol and fat production in the liver and fat cells as well as decrease the transport of cholesterol.[1] This contrasts with the saturated fats found in animal-derived foods, which have been shown to be associated with increased levels of total and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, the “bad” cholesterol. Hence why regular consumption of red meat and dairy foods is linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

Coconut oil may also raise levels of beneficial high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol – the type of cholesterol that helps clear undesirable LDL cholesterol from arteries.[2]

Next Week: Read Part II of Cooking with Coconut Oil to find out when to use Coconut Oil vs. Olive Oil


[1] DebMandal, M., & Mandal, S. (2011). Coconut (Cocos nucifera L.: Arecaceae): in health promotion and disease prevention. Asian Pac J Trop Med, Mar; 4(3):241-7.

[2] Chinwong, S., Chinwong, D., Mangklabruks, A. (2017). Daily Consumption of Virgin Coconut Oil Increases High-Density Lipoprotein Cholesterol Levels in Healthy Volunteers: A Randomized Crossover Trial. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med, 2017:7251562.