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Food experts such as professional chef Dave Coffman and Food Network celebrity Alton Brown recommend alternative cooking oils for their flavor, healthfulness and weight-loss applications. Coconut oil, made by pressing coconuts for their fatty liquids, is one such cooking oil option. Coffman reports that it's useful and common as a flavoring oil, such as for popcorn or roasted trail mix.
Losing weight is largely a matter of applied physics. The fewer calories you eat, the more likely you are to lose weight. By this logic, a good cooking oil should be low in calories. According to information provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1 cup of coconut oil contains 1,879 calories. By way of comparison, 1 cup of olive oil contains 1,910 calories, and 1 cup of Canola oil contains 1,972 calories. In terms of calories and weight loss, coconut oil outperforms these other common oils, though not by a wide margin.
Walter Willett, Nutrition Chair of the Harvard School of Public Health, says that the kind of fats in a food are more important than the amount of fats. Saturated fats hurt your cardiovascular health by stimulating your body to produce harmful LDL cholesterol. Unsaturated fats clear your bloodstream of LDL, thus contributing to your circulatory health. A cup of coconut oil contains 189 g of saturated fat and just 16.5 g of unsaturated fat. Canola oil contains 16 g of saturated fat and nearly 200 g of healthy unsaturated fats. Olive oil has a similarly unsaturated fat-heavy profile. Therefore, coconut oil is a poor choice from a healthy diet standpoint.
Not all oils are usable for all foods, especially oils with a more distinctive taste like coconut oil; according to Coffman, coconut oil is unsuitable for many recipes. This makes it an inferior choice as compared to oils like Canola and olive oils, which are suitable for nearly all recipes calling for oil. Coconut oil also has the lowest smoke point of any plant oil, meaning that it's not suitable for high-heat cooking methods.
- USDA: Search the USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference
- Dave Coffman; Professional Chef; Beaverton, OR
- "Let There Be Oil"; Alton Brown; "Good Eats," Season 12, Episode 4
- Katharina Rau/iStock/Getty Images