Research | 2 MIN READ

Is coconut oil the healthiest?

Marianne Côté

Dietetics student ambassador - McGill University - Keenoa

When it comes to cooking with oils, a lot of people are confused about whether or not to use coconut oil. Are you also wondering if coconut oil is truly the healthiest? Well, there are two interesting facts about coconut oil that may help you make an informed decision the next time you will buy or use oil for cooking.

First, it is important to understand that coconut oil has one of the highest saturated fat proportion, compared to other oils such as olive oil or even butter.

Fatty acid profile of common oils

It is recommended to limit our consumption of saturated fats to 10% of our daily calorie intake and favor polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats (1). The reason is that a diet high in saturated fats may be detrimental to the cardiovascular health as it may contribute to increasing the levels of LDL or “bad” cholesterol; according to Health Canada, high levels of LDL cholesterol can lead to plaque buildup in blood vessels and is also linked with higher risk of heart disease (2). However, it is possible that coconut oil also increases the HDL or “good” cholesterol because its saturated fats are mostly medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) (3). More research is needed to confirm this and thus it is still currently suggested to use oils that are higher in unsaturated fatty acids such as olive and canola oils instead.

It is also important to consider the smoke point of an oil. The smoke point or burning point is basically the temperature at which an oil starts to burn. Each oil has their own smoke point and the higher it is, the better the oil is for cooking purposes. When the temperature of the oil rises above the smoke point this is when it releases potentially “toxic volatile chemical” (4).

For comparison, here are smoke points of some common oils (5):

  • Coconut oil: 350F
  • Canola oil: 400F
  • Olive oil, extra virgin: 410 F
  • Sesame oil: 350-450F
  • Avocado oil, refined: 520F

Facts: Coconut oil is the highest saturated fat containing vegetable oil and has a relatively low smoke point.

Myth debuked: It is not true to say that coconut oil is the "healthiest" oil to cook/bake with.

In conclusion, you may certainly use coconut oil if you enjoy the taste of it, but remember it’s all about balance! Varying the types of oil when cooking is the take-home message here. Keep in mind that there are other oil options with interesting mono/polyunsaturated (unsaturated) fat proportions you might want to incorporate more into your diet such as olive and canola oils.

What is your favorite oil to cook with?


Related articles
Research | 4 MIN READ

Calcium supplements: friend or foe?

Calcium and bone integrity Calcium is an abundant mineral in the body that plays a pivotal role in bone…

Angel Ong, RD, MSc

Registered dietitian, MSc, PhD candidate McGill University