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Why coconut oil is better than vegetable oil

Fats are one of the most misunderstood topics in nutrition and my loyal newsletter subscribers may have noticed something about the recipes I post.

I use coconut oil. A lot.

I also use ghee or butter.

I sometimes use olive oil.

I never use vegetable oils like soy, canola, or corn.

 I was recently interviewed for an article on coconut oil by a fellow real food dietitian, Aglaée Jacob, for the magazine Today’s Dietitian. I thought you might like to hear some of the highlights and understand why I love coconut oil and why you should, too.

Many people question the use of coconut oil because it is high in saturated fat. The assumption is that saturated fat is bad for you and should be reduced or eliminated in your diet.

Turns out that reducing saturated fat hasn’t panned out the way researchers from 50 years ago thought. Americans followed the advice. Nowadays we eat less saturated fat, more unsaturated fat, more carbohydrate (and in case you’re wondering, roughly the same amount of protein), and we’re sicker and fatter than ever.

The claim that saturated fat is bad for you is meritless, yet has unfortunately been perpetuated since the 1950’s, even through my formal training as a registered dietitian and nutritionist.

A major review article on saturated fat published this year concluded:

Saturated fats are benign with regard to inflammatory effects… The influence of dietary fats on serum cholesterol has been overstated, and a physiological mechanism for saturated fats causing heart disease is still missing. – Lawrence G. Adv. Nutr. 2013.

That’s not the information you’ll read when you pick up any health-related magazine or follow a “lighter” recipe. It’s still all about lean meat, low-fat dairy, and reduced-fat versions of tasty classics. They tell you to use vegetable oil because it’s “healthier” for you – because it’s lower in saturated fat. But I disagree.

Why Cooking with Vegetable Oil is not Healthy


What they don’t tell you is that cooking with unsaturated fats, the kind found in vegetable oils, damages them and creates free radicals. Free radicals are essentially the opposite of antioxidants.  That’s bad.  They lead to inflammation in the body that’s linked to the very heart disease and diabetes you were trying to avoid by using them.

Cooking with saturated fats, on the other hand, does not damage them. They actually stay pretty much unharmed due to their stable chemical structure. That’s why generations of chefs love the stuff; they don’t go rancid or develop off-flavors and they have a high smoke point. And, that’s why I prefer to cook with saturated fats, coconut oil being a personal favorite.

Now for the science buffs out there, I’m purposefully simplifying this. There are different types of unsaturated fats. Some unsaturated fats have critical roles in our bodies and in their undamaged, unheated forms are healthy (omega-3 fats are just one example, monounsaturated fats from foods like olive oil and avocado are another).

The important point is that processed vegetable oils sold in clear plastic jugs are not part of this group and because they are so fragile, they are often rancid by the time of purchase (exposure to light is enough to oxidize unsaturated fats, which is why high quality oils are often sold in dark bottles).

Some Cool Facts About Coconut Oil


Coconut oil has a particular type of saturated fat called “medium chain triglycerides” (MCTs), which are easily digested and readily burned for energy, much like simple carbohydrates give you an energy boost, but without the spike in blood sugar. This makes coconut oil particularly helpful for people who have trouble digesting fats, athletes, and those with low energy levels.

A nice bonus of MCTs in coconut oil is the effect on metabolism, specifically their ability to promote weight loss. In studies where people use coconut oil in place of other cooking oils, weight loss is greater in those using coconut oil.

One of the MCTs in coconut oil called lauric acid has other beneficial effects, namely antimicrobial and antifungal properties that help maintain normal gut flora and immune function. Maybe that’s why human breastmilk is the only other significant source of lauric acid that we know of.

When you think about it, this makes perfect sense. Coconut palms grow in tropical regions with high humidity and temperatures that promote growth of fungi, molds, bacteria, and viruses. In order to protect itself from these pathogens, coconuts naturally produce compounds to ward them off.

How to Use Coconut Oil?

Traditionally used in Thailand and India, coconut oil adds great flavor to stir fry recipes and curries.  I use coconut oil in place of other cooking oils for most recipes that call for sauteing, frying, or roasting.

When baking recipes list vegetable oil, I replace it with an equal quantity of coconut oil. Note that coconut oil is naturally solid at room temperature, so if your house is cool, you might have to scoop it out with a spoon and melt it before use. Because if this, coconut oil doesn’t make the best salad dressing oil. I still prefer extra virgin olive oil as a base for salads dressings.

Coconut oil can also be used to replace butter, although I see no reason to do that if you can find a good quality butter from grassfed cows. (I’m a big fan of good butter.)

Finally, coconut oil can be used externally as a lotion. If you’re using a nice extra-virgin coconut oil, it will have a lovely coconut scent and for those of us with sensitive skin, it’s extremely gentle.

Now I’d like to hear from you!

Do you like coconut oil? If so, how do you use it?

If you have friends or family that are still cooking with vegetable oils because they think it’s healthy, forward this article to them!

You never know how much a small tip like this can change a life.

Happy cooking with coconut oil!

Until next week,


PS – If you want to read the full coconut article I was quoted in, check it out here. I’ll warn you ahead of time, it’s written for nutrition professionals, so it gets a little technical. Enjoy!

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Lily Nichols is a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist, Certified Diabetes Educator, researcher, and author with a passion for evidence-based prenatal nutrition and exercise. Her work is known for being research-focused, thorough, and unapologetically critical of outdated dietary guidelines. She is the author of two bestselling books, Real Food for Pregnancy and Real Food for Gestational Diabetes.


Leave a comment
  1. Coconut oil is so good in baking! The last time I made banana bread, I used coconut oil instead of canola oil and it came out so much better than usual… almost buttery. Yum.

    • Hi Kristi – I agree! Coconut oil goes so well with homemade baked goods.

      • I’m about to try banana bread as well. Replacing vegetable oil with coconut oil and also replacing flour with hemp protein. I’ll report back the result.

        • You never did report back and I’m interested how the hemp protein worked out. O:) Trying to severely reduce my intake of wheat products and thus gluten. I’m not a celiac it’s just I believe it causes some health issues even for those of us who are not celiacs.

  2. Coconut oil in brownies instead of veg. oil tastes incredible! I also use coconut oil for making popcorn which is very yummy!

  3. Does coconut oil leave a strong coconut flavor? My husband dislikes coconut flavor but has just been told he is diabetic, and we are trying to shift our diet. Lots of the recipes I am finding call for coconut oil but do want to use it if the flavor is going to be strong.

    • Hi Pam,
      It depends on the type of coconut oil. Extra virgin coconut oil will have a stronger coconut flavor than a refined version. Unlike other oils, coconut oil doesn’t go rancid during the refining process, but it does lose some antioxidants. Refined coconut oil is still healthier than other cooking oils, so I’d go with that first. If the recipe has many spices, I don’t notice the flavor at all.

  4. I purchased a jar of Coconut oil sometime back and have never used it. However, after reading your articla I will be using it a lot.

    • Luckily, coconut oil has a long shelf life! Enjoy!

  5. I’ll be baking with coconut oil this holiday season!!

  6. I am a fellow dietitian. I am wondering if you would be able to share your sources for this information. I’m trying to study up on coconut oil and the comparison to vegetable oils myself to be able to clearly talk to my patients about it from a research-based perspective. Thanks!

    • Hi Kathy,
      The increased susceptibility of unsaturated fats to oxidation and rancidity compared to saturated fats is something you’ll find in basic biochemistry and organic chemistry textbooks (and the book, Know Your Fats by lipid biochemist, Mary Enig). For the rest, I suggest searching PubMed for terms such as: “coconut oil stability”, “coconut oil cholesterol”, “coconut oil oxidation”, “coconut oil energy expenditure”, “lauric acid antimicrobial”, “omega-6 inflammation”, etc.

      Aglaee Jacob, MS, RD did a nice (cited) summary in Today’s Dietitian.

      Here are other articles to get your research started:

      DiNicolantonio, James J. “The cardiometabolic consequences of replacing saturated fats with carbohydrates or Ω-6 polyunsaturated fats: Do the dietary guidelines have it wrong?.” Open Heart 1.1 (2014): e000032.

      Assunção, Monica L et al. “Effects of dietary coconut oil on the biochemical and anthropometric profiles of women presenting abdominal obesity.” Lipids 44.7 (2009): 593-601.

      Siri-Tarino, Patty W et al. “Meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies evaluating the association of saturated fat with cardiovascular disease.” The American journal of clinical nutrition (2010): AJCN. 27725.

      Eder, E et al. “Oxidative stress related DNA adducts in the liver of female rats fed with sunflower-, rapeseed-, olive-or coconut oil supplemented diets.” Chemico-biological interactions 159.2 (2006): 81-89.

      Bhatnagar, AS et al. “Fatty acid composition, oxidative stability, and radical scavenging activity of vegetable oil blends with coconut oil.” Journal of the American Oil Chemists’ Society 86.10 (2009): 991-999.

      Malhotra, Aseem. “Saturated fat is not the major issue.” BMJ: British Medical Journal 347 (2013).

      • Great article, and I appreciate reading the comments to find further information from you. Thanks!

  7. Wonderful, well-researched article. Thank you 🙂 i just used coconut oil for the first time in baking a batch of banana oat chocolate chip cookies and i LOVED it. So I’m kinda on a reading spree on coconut oil benefits and uses. I’m glad i found your article as i just decided to try it in my other recipes.

  8. Hi,
    Thank you for this very nice article. I have never cooked with coconut oil and I am just starting researching it.
    I have some questions about butter: What do you think about cooking with butter? Has butter a low smoking point? Would butter be better then vegetable oil for cooking? (I am concerned about the flavor of coconut in food and the high price it has in Holland where I live)
    And about vegetable oils, what do you think about sunflower oil? You don’t mention this one specifically, so I would like to know if it has the same issues as the others.
    Thank you! 🙂

    • Yes, Carla, but if you’re doing any high heat cooking, the milk solids in butter can burn. In that case, I’d use ghee (clarified butter). Sunflower oil is unsuitable for cooking.

      • Hi Lily,
        Thank You for your reply. I will think about ghee. Why is sunflower oil unsuitable for cooking? Do you have any article or reference that I can read? I use it for frying and baking. I have never heard about it. I am now worried.
        Thank you!

        • Unsaturated fats (those that are liquid at room temp), such as sunflower oil, oxidize at high temps.

          • Thank you Lily!

      • I hear Clarified butter many times, what is it.?

        • Clarified butter is also known as ghee!

  9. Replacing vegetable oils with coconut oil and tossing out everything with high fructose corn syrup and processed foods would make a significant difference in American health.

    • Absolutely!

  10. Thank you for sharing. I have also found coconut oil to be healthy for my loyal canine friends. My dog gets (and loves) a teaspoon a day and he has a shiny beautiful coat due to that.

  11. I started cooking with organic coconut oil months ago and love the flavor it gives the food. I use in chicken, salmon, etc. I also love how the kitchen smells of coconut when cooking. It is the only oil I use now…..and it is good for me.

  12. I bought a jar of coconut oil from the health food store a year ago and I just now tried a little with microwaved vegetables. I only put in a teaspoon but I still noticed the flavor which kind of put me off. I love cocconut in baked goods or anything sweet but with savory food not so much. How much seasoning do you need to use to adequately disguise the taste?

  13. I recently became a strict vegetarian and loss a ton of weight. I started looking for an alternative to vegetable oil for baking and came across this site. Thanks for the nutritional facts on coconut oil!

  14. The link to the article no longer takes you to the article. In fact, I cannot access the article anywhere on Today’s Dietitian. Is there a reason that it has been removed? It is not even available in the digital edition. I would like to use it for one of my classes.

  15. Any cookbook titles that use exclusively coconut oil? Best outlet for purchasing the extra virgin type. Whys extra virgin better than regular version?

  16. I use it in my fried potatoes and smoked sausage dish (simple, but delicious) and I love the flavor the coconut oil gives it. Plus the higher smoke temp is pretty sweet

  17. – I put it in my coffee along with a bit of caramel or vanilla extract, then whip it with an immersion blender.
    – moisturizer for hands, face and hair.
    – baking pan coating, as well as replacing butter/shortening.
    – eat a spoonful in the morning just because it’s yummy.
    – lip balm!
    .. etc

    • Yeah coconut oil is tasty in coffee, tea, or even cocoa!

  18. We were gong to make a lemon cake (just the store bought kind from a box) which called for vegetable oil which we were out of. So we substituted coconut oil. OMG! it was so fluffy, light and moist. It did have a hint of coconut flavor, but it went great with the lemon flavor. Little by little I’m discovering the different uses for it and I’m liking it… lotion, coffee sweeter, oil pulling and now baking. Good stuff!

  19. Hi Lily

    I am opening a Take away next week and are thinking about using coconut oil in the deep fryers for the Take Aways.
    Can I use coconut oil? And will I be able to use the oil for longer than normal cooking oil.

    • That would be amazing! Yes, saturated fats, like coconut oil and tallow, can withstand heating (and re-heating) without going rancid, unlike vegetable oil.

      • I liked your article. I use cocout and peanut. Never canola. Lots of EVOO. Is peanut a vegy?

        • Peanut oil is a mostly unsaturated vegetable oil, so not ideal for high heat cooking.

  20. I wanted to add that my family loves when I use it for popcorn instead of corn oil. It beats those microwave versions by a mile as well.

    Thanks for the info!

  21. if so, why is olive oil okay for cooking?
    Olive oil is also a vegetable oil
    and doesn’t contain so much saturated fat.

    • Olive oil is also not ideal for cooking, especially at high-heat. However, olive oil contains more monounsaturated fat than polyunsaturated fat, so it is slightly more stable than typical vegetable oils (meaning corn, soy, cottonseed, etc).

      By the way, there’s no reason to fear saturated fat. 😉

  22. My wife has recently switched to coconut oil and we love the taste. One thing I’ve noticed: when I scramble eggs using coconut oil, it makes the pan WAY easier to clean.

  23. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Vegetable oil leaves a very bad taste in my mouth after baking a “boxed” recipe that calls for it and I almost always bake from scratch. But one of my recipes calls for 2 1/2 Cups of vegetable oil and the thought of that much oil in a recipe makes me sick to my stomach. I am practicing with this recipe and will reduce the amounts but am glad to substitute with the coconut oil.

    • I use coconut oil or butter in place of vegetable oil in baking recipes all the time. They taste way better and are actually healthier. (If you have any concerns about saturated fat or eating too much fat in general, please give this a read: Saturated fat: does it really clog your arteries?)

    • I use coconut oil or butter in place of vegetable oil in baking recipes all the time. They taste way better and are actually healthier. (If you have any concerns about saturated fat or eating too much fat in general, please give this a read: Saturated fat: does it really clog your arteries?)

  24. Could u please explain what clarified butter is! Looking to bake with coconut oil for the first time today, came across ur site and interested in the ‘clarified’ butter.
    I have also substituted 1/2 vegetable oil with applesauce in the past with excellent results.
    Your blog is amazing and very helpful, thank you

    • Hi Margo – Clarified butter has the milk solids removed, so it does not burn when cooked at high temperatures. It’s very simple to make by heating butter over low heat, then straining through cheesecloth.

  25. I have what some may call “chicken skin”, and I’ve been using coconut oil on my damp arms right after a shower for about a year now and you can instantly tell a difference in the amount of moisture it provides for my arms. I heard you can use it as a deodorant, so as I’m doing research on that, I see this site and now I’m going to buy another container just for my kitchen to start using to cook! Thanks for all the info! 🙂

  26. Great article indeed!!
    I stay in India. We have generally used Mustard oil in northern part of our country and Coconut oil in south India. But as western influence in our everyday life is getting deeper every passing day. We have been badly changing to vegetable oils such as Olive, Canola, Soyabean, Peanut and so on!!
    But i can see health of Indians have worsened slowly inspite of using the above said oils and this article clearly is an eye opener. In our part Coconut oil is considered as bad and fattening, which is rediculous.

  27. Saturated fat raises your LDL cholesterol. It seems crazy for you to encourage people to think saturated fat isn’t bad for them. Of course in moderation there’s nothing to fear, but you’re encouraging people to cook with the oil that has THE MOST saturated fat of all the oils. I’m studying to be a dietician and so much of what you said here goes directly What my books and teachers and basic chemistry has taught me.

    • I understand where you are coming from as I also went through a conventional dietetics program. I encourage you to use your university’s access to medical journals to read the latest evidence on saturated fat and heart disease, as there is much evidence contrary to what is stated as “fact” in most dietetics textbooks. This article explains more:

  28. This is a lot of information. Informative, but a little too overwhelming, given that we have just started changing our diet. I might come with a ton of questions, but I will try to keep it limited to only a few. I know it is easy to make salad dressing, but what about other spices, such as ketchup, bbq sauce (I make my own but ketchup in it), or mayo? Do you make your own? If so, what kind of shelf life do they have? I used to make my piece small for the cake, and even in pie crusts. Do you have any suggestions for the option?

  29. Hi,
    Thank you for a well written article.
    I use coconut oil regularly and find the taste very good with most baked goods (my hobby). Occasionally I will use half coconut oil and half vegetable oil if I’m making a recipe that I don’t want the coconut undertones.

    I will disagree with you on one point. Coconut oil is not a solid at room temperature it is a liquid like the others unless it has been processed. I buy my homemade coconut oil from a local man that has been making it for over 70 years (he’s 83 and learned from his dad). The color and flavor are wonderful!!! Little tidbit it takes an average of 32 coconuts to make 1 liter of oil.

    I’m a retired US citizen living in Panama

  30. I’ve been using vegetable oil when cooking thinking that it is more healthier than coconut oil. I’m so glad that I found this article while I was looking for health ideas. I’m living here in a tropical country where coconut is so abundant I can even make my own oil if I want to.

  31. This is a great topic. In India we use a lot of coconut oil but recently many moved to vegetable oil. Do you have any scientific research links providing more details about rancid vegetable oil. Thanks.

  32. “Jakobsen et al. pooled 11 cohort studies with over 344,000 participants and found that isocalorically replacing saturated fat with PUFA was associated with reduced risk of coronary events (per 5% energy, hazard ratio: 0.87; 95% CI: 0.77, 0.97) and coronary death (hazard ratio: 0.74; 95% CI: 0.61, 0.89) [34]. In a recent analysis, Li, et al. found that replacing saturated fat with high quality carbohydrates such as whole grains was associated with lower risk of CHD, but replacing saturated fat by total carbohydrates or refined starch/added sugars was not associated with CHD risk.”

    Nutr J, 2017. A healthy approach to dietary fats: understanding the science and taking action to reduce consumer confusion.

  33. Cholesterol, eggs and coconut oil.
    Fifteen years ago, my total cholesterol was 152, but HDL of just 26. I found an intelligent doctor(not easy) and started the day with two range sourced eggs, either slightly cooked or raw in a warm milk shake. The cooked or raw eggs, in the case of the shake, raw milk and two eggs is combined with a generous tablespoon of coconut oil. Evening always includes a large salad with another generous tablespoon of cold pressed olive oil.
    My recent blood workup was total cholesterol 198 and HDL of 62. I am male, 77 years old, very active and yes, I eat 12 to 16 eggs per week. I do have a little fat, but at 5 foot 11 inches, go to the gym four times per week and I weigh 172 to 176 all year.
    Best regards…

  34. You mention vegetable oils in your article but not avocado oil. Avocado is technically a fruit so does it fall into a different category? Everything on the internet says it’s so healthy to cook with because it has a high smoke point. Is this accurate? Thanks!

  35. Is there a safe cooking temp for coconut oil?


    This study showed that pregnant rats who were fed coconut oil, had pups that lacked essential fatty acids and had spiky fur.

    I LOVE coconut oil and caprylic acid as a part of a balanced diet, to kill off Candida. Should I eliminate coconut oil from my diet after reading this study?

    • During pregnancy**

  37. I wanted to re-raise the question above about Avocado oil. Is that still one you’d avoid? Why/Why not?


  38. I’m 68 and cook for my whole family. My daughter started eating like this when she was pregnant but after giving birth she was diagnosed with Ms then thyroid removal. She is now 5’4” almost 300 lbs 32 years old. She desperately wants another child. I have osteoporosis no legs or buttocks but super big stomach. And type 2. I’ve tried keto for a couple of months list 45 lbs but due to severe gastrointestinal issues it wasn’t sustainable. I realize you only deal with pregnancy so can you refer me a book or something to teach me how to cook and eat. My family is currently addicted to sugar including 4 year old. I use a lot of Splenda to use less sugar.

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