This fatty food has been stirring up controversy lately, largely because of its high saturated fat content and caloric density. But science has definitively uncovered that saturated fats, such as the kind in healthful coconut oil, are really freaking good for you: They reduce your bad cholesterol and boost up the good, for instance, and they decrease your risk of brain degeneration (and might even make you smarter).
So it seems obvious that coconut oil would be a positive addition to your healthy lifestyle. However, sautéing with it is a really terrible idea.
All oils have what is called a “smoke point”: the temperature at which the compounds in the oil denature and the oil begins to burn, rather than just sizzle. Your pan, after being heated past the oil’s smoke point, will begin to smoke.
When oil — or anything else, for that matter — burns, it emits blackened, charred carcinogens. These carcinogens can increase the activity of free radicals in your body once ingested, subsequently increasing your risk of developing cancer.
Coconut oil’s smoke point is unnervingly low: 350 degrees Fahrenheit. When you heat a pan over medium-high or high heat, as is common practice for sautéing, you’re heating the pan’s oil to approximately 375 degrees. That’s already over coconut oil’s smoke point.
If you’ve ever tried this, you’ve likely seen it — billows of smoke rise from the pan and your fire alarm beeps warningly. If you don’t want to disturb your entire apartment building and increase your risk of ingesting carcinogens, stick to higher-heat oils like avocado or olive. Consult our list to find out what else you’re doing with oil that’s totally wrong.