How do I use coconut oil in cooking?

Coconut oil with herbs
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How do I use coconut oil in cooking?

Really, you can use it in anything, from spreading it on your morning toast or pancakes to using it in place of butter in a sauce or cookies, cakes, and breads. My infant son even enjoys it in his sweet potatoes and other warm mushy baby dishes. It's the closest plant-based oil to butter in that it stays solid when cold, softens slightly at room temperature and liquefies when heated, and it has a pleasantly sweet, mellow taste that adds just a slight unassuming flavor to foods without overpowering other tastes in the dish.

But I've heard that coconut oil is high in saturated fat. Isn't that bad for me?

There's an important thing to understand about saturated fats, and that is that they don't behave the same way within the body. A recent article in The New York Times investigated the transformation between coconut oil as a villain to a superfood in the health world and explains that the saturated fats found in coconut oil actually raises HDL cholesterol--the good kind. Lauric acid, one of the primary saturated fats found in coconut oil, is linked to many good things in the body--from being an antimicrobial, antiviral agent that also speeds up the metabolism to clearing up acne. So although it's high in saturated fats, it's not high in the ones that are particularly dangerous to our health, and as long as you're buying pure organic coconut oil, you're not getting the trans fats that come with hydrogenated products, like hydrogenated margarine.

What's so great about MCT's? And what are they?

MCT stands for medium chain triglycerides, and the reason everyone is so excited about them is because they are unique in our Western diet, where we primarily consume long-chain triglycerides. Medium-chain triglycerides, like those found in coconut products, are easier to digest than their long-chain counterparts, which is why coconut products have been found in infant formula and hospitals for decades.

Some studies have linked MCT's to weight loss, treating disease, and sports performance. (More on MCTs here.)

If I want to use coconut oil in place of butter in a recipe, how much should I use?

Coconut oil is a little fattier than butter, but you can use a 1:1 ratio of coconut oil for butter.

So, should I use coconut oil all the time, since it's so good for me?

Only you and your health practitioner can make that kind of decision. I firmly believe that one of the major problems with Western dietary practices is that we often lose sight of the importance of moderation, so, for my part, I like to eat a variety of healthy foods and fats and not overdo any of them.

Okay. I'm ready to get started. Do you have any coconut oil recipes you'd recommend?

Yes! Here are just a few favorites: