Cooking With Coconut Oil: Benefits & Risks

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Once reviled for its high fat content, coconut oil has been receiving a second look. The oil of this tropical fruit is unusual in the plant world because it is mostly saturated fat. Long linked to coronary disease, dieticians recommend keeping your daily consumption of saturated fats to less than 10% of your calorie intake. So what makes coconut oil different? Why are many nutritionists now recommending adding this solid oil to your diet?

The saturated fat found in animal products consists of long chain triglycerides, which are associated with health risks such as hardening of the arteries, weight gain, elevated cholesterol levels and diabetes. Coconut oil mainly consists of medium chain triglycerides, which are far easier for the body to metabolize than the long chain fatty acids. Instead of being stored as fat, medium chain triglycerides are quickly metabolized and burned as fuel. Proponents of coconut oil claim this promotes weight loss and raises the metabolism.

The fat in coconut oil contains high levels of lauric acid, which has many beneficial qualities. Lauric acid has shown some promise for:

  • Supporting thyroid function
  • Improving blood pressure
  • Preventing heart disease
  • Increasing bone strength
  • Helping the immune system fight off bacteria and viruses
  • Raising “good” (HDL) cholesterol levels
  • Preventing cancer
  • Improving digestion
  • Also see Beauty Benefits Of Coconut Oil

How Do You Cook with Coconut Oil?

When buying coconut oil, look for organic extra virgin brands. The oil is a solid at 76 degrees Fahrenheit or under, with a semi-soft texture, white color and smell and taste of coconut. It easily melts when warmed, and is not harmed by changing from solid to liquid and back again. If you prefer it to stay solid, you can keep it in the refrigerator, but it is not necessary for freshness. Coconut oil has a long shelf life, and stays good for up to two years if kept in a tightly closed container.

An excellent cooking oil, coconut can be used in place of butter , lard, other cooking oils or margarine for sautéing food, in baking and in preparing any dish where the distinctive flavor is appreciated. You can even spread coconut oil on toast in place of your usual butter or nut spread.

Recipes with Coconut Oil

Take advantage of the delicious taste of coconut oil to give a tropical flair to your cooking.

Chicken Coconut Stir Fry (2 servings)

A quick, healthy, tasty alternative to fast food on a night when you don’t have much time to cook.


  • 2 boneless chicken breasts, cut into strips
  • 1 teaspoon curry powder
  • ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil
  • 2 cups chopped vegetables (broccoli, carrots, cauliflower are good choices)
  • ½ cup cilantro, chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Cooked rice
  1. Season the chicken strips with curry powder, red pepper, salt and pepper.
  2. Melt the coconut oil in a wok or skillet. Add chicken, and cook until browned on both sides.
  3. Add vegetables to the skillet, and cook until vegetables are slightly soft.
  4. Serve over rice, and garnish with cilantro.

Banana Bread

Moist, sweet and a great way to use up slightly overripe bananas.


  • 2 bananas, very ripe
  • 1 cup cream cheese or Greek yogurt
  • ½ cup coconut oil
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1-1/2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • Pinch of salt
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Use some extra coconut oil to grease a loaf pan.
  2. Stir all dry ingredients together in a large mixing bowl, set aside.
  3. In another bowl, beat coconut oil until soft, then add cream cheese and beat for three more minutes.
  4. Add sugar, and beat until fluffy.
  5. Add egg and bananas, mix until combined.
  6. Add dry ingredients, then mix until thoroughly blended.
  7. Pour into loaf pan and bake for 45 to 55 minutes, until the bread is golden brown and a knife comes out clean when inserted in the center.

Coconut Rice (2 servings)

Liven up rice with a triple dose of coconut for a tropical taste that will go perfectly with fish or chicken.


  • 1 cup basmati rice
  • 1-1/2 tablespoon coconut oil
  • ¼ cup flaked coconut
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1 lime, zested and juiced
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  1. Rinse and drain rice.
  2. Heat coconut oil in large skillet until hot, then add rice and coconut flakes.
  3. Stir for 3 to 4 minutes, until rice begins to turn golden, then add lime juice.
  4. Stir in coconut milk, chicken broth, salt and pepper and lime zest.
  5. Bring to low boil, then cover and simmer for 20 minutes.
  6. Remove from heat, and keep covered for five more minutes.
  7. Fluff with fork before serving.

Coconut Chocolate Fudge

No cooking or baking required, and only three ingredients! Your family will love this coconutty fudge.


  • 1 cup coconut oil, room temperature
  • 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • ½ cup honey
  1. Lightly grease an 8x8 baking pan, using additional coconut oil.
  2. In a mixing bowl, pour coconut oil, and sift in cocoa powder until evenly blended
  3. Add honey and mix until smooth.
  4. Spread mixture into baking pan and refrigerate for 1 hour.
  5. Cut into squares and serve.

Undoubtedly, studies will continue on the health benefits of coconut, but in the meantime, add this tropical oil, which has been used for centuries throughout the world, to your own diet. It tastes good, is good for you, and is easy to use in so many recipes.

Last Updated: October 21, 2012
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About Michelle Ullman Michelle Ullman has lived and gardened in Southern California since childhood. A freelance writer, she covers topics ranging from gardening to home improvement to health issues. She also has experience as a catalog copywriter and poet. Michelle has trained and worked as a respiratory therapist and surgical technologist, but prefers to spend her time gardening, and walking with her dog. Michelle holds a Bachelor's Degree from Redlands University in Business Management. 

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