Coconut oil is a powerful example of how fat can be healthy – and it has made its way into many people’s lifestyles. But, for all the information out there, people consistently ask, what is the best coconut oil for cooking?
After all, there are so many different products on the market and they all have their own advantages and disadvantages. For example, you will sometimes see virgin or extra virgin coconut oil, along with refined and fractionated alternatives.
So, what do you pick?
In this post, I show you some of the best brands currently available, along with why coconut oil is so relevant for health in the first place.
Coconut Oil, Health and Diet
Coconut oil is simply created through pressing the white ‘meat’ of a coconut. This results in a natural oil and companies often choose to do very little processing.
With coconut oil, almost all of the calories come from fat – and around 86% of that fat is saturated (1). This saturated fat content is the reason that coconut oil is typically a solid at room temperature, while olive oil and avocado oil aren’t.
Needless to say, the saturated fat content is also what makes coconut oil controversial.
After all, we’ve all been told how fat makes us fat – even though research is calling this idea into question. And, saturated fat is often viewed as being exceptionally bad and thought to promote heart disease
If so, why all the hype about coconut oil?
For one thing, as I’ve highlighted elsewhere, fat isn’t nearly as bad as people assume. Instead, it is an important nutrient and can offer significant health benefits.
In many ways, fat is actually healthier than carbs, which are the key alternative source of energy. That perspective is a reason that lifestyle approaches like ketosis are so popular, as they focus on using fat for fuel, rather than carbs.
As a result, coconut oil acts as a powerful source of healthy fats. This makes it exceptionally popular for anybody relying on fat for energy – which is also why coconut oil is common in keto fat bomb recipes.
This information alone suggests that coconut oil is healthy, especially as part of a high-fat low-carb diet. But, it doesn’t explain what makes the oil so popular.
A key reason for that popularity is the saturated fat itself.
In coconut oil, the saturated fat is in the form of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs). This is unusual, as most saturated fats are in longer chain variants.
The body handles MCTs differently than other types of saturated fats and these are quickly converted into ketones. This difference in metabolism has significant implications for brain disorders and may help to promote health overall (2,3,4).
Research also suggests that the MCTs help to increase fat burning (5,6,7) while also helping to reduce hunger (8,9,10). Both patterns have significant implications for weight loss and research has confirmed this connection (11,12). The site Paleo Leap provides additional insight into the implications of MCTs.
Finally, the science that connects fat and saturated fat to heart disease isn't clear cut.
In fact, many studies are failing to find any association between saturated fat and heart disease risk – regardless of the type of saturated fat that is consumed (13).
Even if the compounds in coconut oil could increase heart disease risk (and there is little evidence to support that idea), the overall impact is likely to be minimal.
After all, coconut oil supports weight loss and losing weight would significantly reduce heart disease risk for many people.
Coconut Oil and Cooking
Coconut oil has many uses, which includes having it as part of your diet or using it on your skin (shea butter is another interesting skin option). If you do want it in your diet, then cooking with coconut oil is often a good approach.
For that matter, coconut oil works particularly well for cooking because it has a high smoke point.
You can read more about coconut oil and cooking over at The Coconut Mama, as she has a detailed post on how to cook with coconut oil. But, before that, it’s important to look at what coconut oil you should be getting.
What is the Best Coconut Oil to Buy?
As with most ingredients for the kitchen, it’s important to find coconut oil that has been through as little processing as possible. In many cases, this will mean choosing a brand that is labeled as either virgin or extra virgin. Likewise, organic brands are also the most attractive.
You can also find refined and fractionated coconut oil. Refined means that there has been more processing, so you’re likely to see fewer health benefits from the oil. On the other hand, fractionated coconut oil is also processed but in a different way. Here, the oil ends up containing mostly MCTs because the long-chain fatty acids are removed.
This overall style may offer more health benefits, especially for people who specifically want MCTs. Indeed, you’ll often see fractionated coconut oil or MCT oil as an ingredient in Bulletproof Coffee.
But, that’s a discussion for a different time.
If you want coconut oil for your cooking, then you would generally avoid refined and fractionated coconut oil, although there might be specific cases where you do use those. Regardless, all of the options in this post are powerful ways to get started.
Viva Naturals Organic Extra Virgin Coconut Oil
Without a doubt, Viva Naturals is one of the most popular options for coconut oil and can be a great place to start. For one thing, the product is extra virgin, cold pressed, unrefined and certified organic. This means that you’re going to end up with a pure product, one that contains no additives of any kind.
It also receives consistently good reviews from a large number of people. Now, reviews aren’t everything but they are a good indication of when a product is high quality.
However, one limitation with this brand is the amount you get. There are only two sizes to choose from, with the other one being a 32-ounce container. For many people, that size may be just fine – but if you plan to use a considerable amount of coconut oil, buying small containers like this would be an expensive way to do so.
Nutiva Coconut Oil (Refined)
This coconut oil is a little bit different, as it is refined. However, I wanted to include it on the list as there are some advantages to the product, especially for cooking. In particular, this type of coconut oil has a higher smoke point. It also has a neutral flavor, while virgin coconut oil tends to taste and smell like coconut.
The product here is still certified organic and the refining process is steam-based. As a result, you do still end up with a healthy ingredient, one that doesn’t contain additional ingredients or chemicals.
The company does offer a selection of sizes and combo packs – going up to a 1-gallon container. Large sizes like that are great if you plan to use coconut oil frequently. Plus, buying the oil in that way is considerably less expensive per ounce.
Nutiva Coconut Oil (Virgin)
The coconut oil here comes from the same company as the previous example but it is a virgin option, rather than being refined. Both versions receive good reviews overall, although the virgin option is considerably more popular (as you might expect).
As with the previous product, the company does provide a range of sizes, including a 1-gallon option. This is also one of two brands that The Coconut Mama relies on, which is another indication that it is a high quality choice.
Now, this is virgin rather than extra virgin coconut oil. But, don’t let the marketing fool you. With olive oil, there is a clear difference between extra virgin and virgin. The same isn’t true for coconut oil. Instead, the process is identical either way (17).
As a result, the difference to look out for is simply refined versus virgin coconut oil – such as with this product and the previous one on the list. The end result is that this virgin coconut oil is made in the same general way as the extra virgin options on the list.
Dr. Bronner’s Virgin Coconut Oil
This brand is somewhat more obscure than the previous examples but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Instead, you sometimes find that smaller companies produce better products overall and have a stronger focus on quality.
One key difference to note with this particular brand is that it is fair trade. This may be a key selling point for many people, especially as only some brands produce fair trade products.
The coconut oil also makes use of the whole kernel, which includes the brown skin rather than just the coconut meat. Doing so can result in a more intense flavor overall, although this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It isn’t clear what the nutritional impact of using the whole kernel is but either way you end up with a healthy product.
A final advantage is that some of the sizes (but not all!) come in glass jars. Glass jars are always the ideal for health and you might choose this brand for that reason alone.
However, if you’re wanting a large size, then you would have to choose plastic, regardless of the brand.
Coco & Co Beauty Grade Coconut Oil
This product is marketed as ‘beauty grade’, with the implication that this is a higher quality option than regular coconut oil. Despite that marketing, the company does make it clear that this coconut oil can still be consumed, so it would make a good choice for cooking as well.
To achieve purity, the company uses a different process that includes spinning cooled coconut milk to extract the oil. In theory, the company’s approaches could create a more powerful and healthier product. But, there is no evidence about whether or not this is the case.
On the other hand, the product is more expensive than many other coconut oils on the market. As a result, you would need to carefully weigh up whether the company’s claims are worth the extra cost.
Personally, you may find the brand worth trying, especially if you don’t plan to use coconut oil extremely frequently. But, if you want coconut oil to be a common ingredient in your cooking – you might be better off with a less expensive brand. After all, the various products on this list are all high quality coconut oils.
Nature’s Way Coconut Oil
Unlike the previous example, this coconut oil is specifically marketed as being for the diet. It is also another organic virgin coconut oil and is one that receives consistently positive reviews.
The most unusual thing about this brand is that there are different variations. The first of these is the basic coconut oil like the other entries on the list. But, the brand also has a number of flavored varieties.
These appear to be fractionated coconut oils, especially as their MCT content is higher than virgin coconut oil and they stay liquid regardless of the temperature.
If you’re just looking for coconut oil, those flavored options probably aren’t a great choice. But, they’re an interesting alternative if you want something that is a little bit different, especially if you already use fractionated coconut oil.
Barlean’s Organic Virgin Coconut Oil
This is another good brand for coconut oil and once again it is certified organic. It is also vegan, non-GMO and non-hydrogenated but those patterns do tend to be true for most brands, regardless of claims on the label. This is another fair trade option, which could be a reason for choosing it over some of the alternatives on the list.
One aspect to mention is sizing. With this particular product, there are two size options, either the 16-ounce shown above or a 32-ounce alternative.
So, this is a good choice in many situations – but not if you plan to use a large amount of coconut oil regularly in your cooking.
Coconut oil can strongly promote health and is a popular ingredient, especially if you’re relying on fat as a key fuel source. Nevertheless, it’s still important to play close attention to your food choices overall.
There can be no doubt that the food we consume truly plays a critical role in our overall health and wellbeing. In fact, making the right choices about what we eat may significantly decrease disease risk and promote longer life overall.
Want to Improve Your Health?
Better health starts in the kitchen, with the food that you eat and the meals you prepare. Getting the best outcomes involves making good choices about the food and the ingredients that you use.
Check out my recommended products to see where you can get started.