In the kitchen, our favorite fats for sautéing are butter, XVOO, duck fat, and especially coconut oil. According to Sally Fallon and Mary Enig in Nourishing Traditions, lauric acid, found in coconut oil, is a medium-chain fatty acid with antifungal and antimicrobial properties. Read here how coconut oil perhaps is also good for your heart and offers protection from the buildup of proteins linked to Alzheimer’s disease.
Part of the appeal of coconut oil, says Glen D. Lawrence, a professor of chemistry and biochemistry at Long Island University in Brooklyn, is that it has “medium-chain fatty acids,” a designation referring to the number of carbon atoms in the fat. Most of the fats Americans eat have long-chain fatty acids, Dr. Lawrence says.
The medium-chain fatty acids are easier to digest, particularly for people with gastrointestinal ailments, scientists say. And the body burns them quickly, which some researchers think may make them good energy for athletes.
Coconut oil’s fatty acids, including lauric acid, kill a wide range of viruses and bacteria in the laboratory, Dr. Lawrence says, but so far it’s unknown if the same thing will happen in the body after it is ingested.
Early research on coconut oil and Alzheimer’s disease shows a possible protective effect on neurons. In a study published earlier this year in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, Canadian researchers found mouse brain cells treated with coconut oil were somewhat protected from the toxic effects of amyloid proteins, which build up in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients.
Coconut oil, imported primarily from the Philippines, has a “slight coconut taste and aroma” in its “virgin” form, pressed from coconuts and otherwise unprocessed, says Bruce Fife, a Colorado Springs, Colo., naturopathic doctor who has written several books on coconut oil and other coconut products. If it is refined using chemical processes, it loses its flavor, he says.
Most of the scientific research has been done on refined oil, so there’s no evidence virgin oil is better unless you prefer the taste, Dr. Fife adds. Both types are available in stores.