Coconut oil is made by extracting oil from mature coconut meat. The oil can then be refined or left as is, in which case it is known as virgin coconut oil. While coconut oil is high in fat, it is also rich in healthy fatty acids, which may have health benefits. It should still be consumed in limited quantities, however, to keep your diet low in fat and calories.
How Much Fat in Your Diet
Coconut oil is essentially pure fat, with 4.5 grams of total fat per teaspoon serving. The American Heart Association recommends that you allow no more than 25 percent to 35 percent of your daily calorie intake to be from fats. For someone on a 2,000-calorie-per-day diet, that is roughly 55 to 77 grams of total fat.
While coconut oil is high in saturated fat, with 3.9 grams per 1-teaspoon serving, it is also rich in lauric acid, a type of saturated fat known as a medium-chain triglyceride. According to the New York University Langone Medical Center, MCTs are easily digested by your body, and your body processes them similarly to carbohydrates. Coconut oil contains up to 15 percent of the fat as MCTs.
Types of Coconut Oil
Coconut oil can be either virgin or unrefined, with the latter being tasteless while virgin coconut oil has a light, nutty flavor and a scent that is a little sweet. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends you consume virgin coconut oil rather than partially hydrogenated, refined, coconut oil, since virgin coconut oil naturally contains no trans fats. Trans fats are not present in all refined coconut oils -- only ones that have been partially hydrogenated. Partially hydrogenated coconut oil is commonly used in commercial baked goods. Made during the hydrogenation process, trans fats can increase your blood cholesterol levels.
Using Coconut Oil
Coconut oil can be used like all other oils, for cooking and baking. Because of its slight coconut scent and taste, however, virgin coconut oil may pair better with tropical-style dishes, where the flavor is not off-putting. For example, use coconut oil in Caribbean marinated meats that use coconut milk or citrus juice; the nuttiness and richness of the oil will be a welcome addition of flavor. You can also choose refined coconut oil for baked goods because it has a neutral flavor, but use the kind without hydrogenated fat. Refined coconut oil also works better for high-heat cooking methods, such as deep frying or stir-frying, because it can withstand temperatures up to 425 degrees Fahrenheit before it begins smoking.