Coconut Oil As Cooking Oil

Dr. Bruce Fife

This is a very important question. Cooking can significantly affect many fats and oils, causing the formation of toxic compounds. Some fats are more resistant to heat than other fats. Some of the most common cooking oils are the most likely to break down during heating. Which fats are the most vulnerable to heat? Polyunsaturated fats. Let me explain why.

Fats and oils are composed of molecules known as fatty acids. Fatty acids can be classified into three general categories—saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated.

Simply stated, fatty acids are composed of long chains of carbon atoms linked to each other; each of these carbon atoms are attached to a pair of hydrogen atoms. A fat is considered saturated when it holds all the hydrogen atoms it possibly can. In other words, it is saturated with hydrogen atoms. If, however, one pair of hydrogen atoms are missing, it forms a monounsaturated fatty acid. If two or more pairs of hydrogen atoms are missing you have a polyunsaturated fatty acid.

Fatty acids are most stable when they are bonded to all the hydrogen atoms they can hold. When hydrogen atoms are missing, as in the case of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids, they become less stable or more chemically reactive. The more hydrogen atoms that are missing, the more chemically unstable the fatty acid becomes. Therefore, saturated fatty acids are stable, monounsaturated fatty acids are less stable, and polyunsaturated fatty acids are the least stable.

When fats are heated, these unstable fatty acids are easily transformed into harmful compounds such as trans fatty acids, free radicals, and 4-hydroxy-trans-2-nonenal (HNE).  When you cook with polyunsaturated oils, you create these toxic substances.

HNE is particularly insidious. Over the past 20 years an increasing number of studies have found links between HNE and increased risks for cardiovascular disease, stroke, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, Huntington’s disease, liver problems, and cancer. Researcher A. Saari Csallany, a professor of food chemistry and nutritional biochemistry at the University of Minnesota, calls it, “a very toxic compound.” Based on her studies presented recently at the American Oil Chemists Society annual meeting, she recommends that people avoid all foods fried in polyunsaturated vegetable oils.

Polyunsaturated oils include soybean, corn, sunflower, and safflower oils among others. Monounsaturated oils like olive oil and canola oil are less vulnerable than polyunsaturated fats, but they too are degraded under heat. It is best to use monounsaturated oils for salads or low temperature cooking.

Saturated fats are the most heat stable. You can cook them at high temperatures without creating these toxic compounds. Dr. Csallany recommends saturated fats as a healthier choice for use in cooking.

No oil is 100 percent all saturated or polyunsaturated. Fats and oils are composed of a mixture of saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated fatty acids. Soybean oil, for example, contains all three. It is called a polyunsaturated oil because it is predominately made of polyunsaturated fatty acids. Likewise, olive oil contains polyunsaturated fatty acids and saturated fatty acids. It is called a monounsaturated oil because it is composed mostly of monounsaturated fatty acids.

The more polyunsaturated fatty acids an oil contains, the more likely it will create toxic substances when heated. So the best oil to cook with is one that has the least amount of polyunsaturated fatty acids and the highest amount of saturated fatty acids. The oil with the largest amount of saturated fatty acids and the least amount of polyunsaturated fatty acids is coconut oil. Ninety-two percent is saturated and only 1.5 percent is polyunsaturated. You can use coconut oil for cooking without having to worry about it harming your health. It is so stable you can reheat the oil and use it several times without damaging it. Not only does coconut not form harmful toxins when heated, but it also has many health benefits. This makes coconut oil the ideal cooking oil as far as health is concerned. There is no better cooking oil.