Just when you thought the preferred culinary oil was extra-virgin olive oil, there’s a new topical oil in the kitchen. If you watch TV food shows, you know the “in” oil to use is coconut. The sales pitch about coconut oil is that it cures all our aches and pains, and is healthy in cooking.

Let’s start with a review of fats and oils.

There are three types of fatty acids found in fats: saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated. All fats and oils are a mix of these three types. For example: an oil recognized as a polyunsaturated oil also contains smaller amounts of saturated and monounsaturated fatty acids.

Saturated fats are solid at room temperature. The fat in meat, shortening, butter and some margarine contains larger amounts of saturated fats. A diet high in saturated fats has been shown to increase the risk of heart disease and raise the levels of LDL cholesterol (bad).

Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are from plant sources and are liquid at room temperature. Vegetable oils are unsaturated fatty acids.

The American Heart Association recommends that we eat no more than 5 to 6 percent of saturated fatty foods. From a 2,000-calorie diet, less than 600 calories would come from all fats/oils; and only 30 to 36 calories should come from saturated fats.

Virgin coconut oil is solid in cool temperatures and liquid in warm temperatures. It is considered to be a solid fat. Coconut oil is a saturated fat (saturated more than butter).

Some preliminary studies have shown that this fatty acid might have a neutral effect on cholesterol in the body and, in fact, might raise the “good” cholesterol levels. I want to remind you that there is a big difference between the word “might” and “research has shown” when talking about coconut oil.

Some coconut oil has been hydrogenated. Read labels of baked goods to see if it is listed as an ingredient. Hydrogenated oils are oils with trans-fats. Avoid all hydrogenated oils.

Virgin (unrefined) coconut oil has a very light, sweet-nutty coconut flavor and aroma. It is ideal for baking or medium heat sautéing — up to 350 degrees. Refined coconut oil is tasteless. It can be used for baking, sautéing, and frying up to 425 degrees.

Bottom line? Coconut oil is a saturated fat, has calories, and needs to be limited in our diet, as should all fats. Research might prove coconut oil to be a good oil in time, but it does not heal Alzheimer’s disease nor does it help with weight loss. We still need to fill half of our plate with fruits and vegetables, eat more whole grains, lean protein and low fat dairy, and limit fats.

Nancy Schuster is a Frontier District Extension agent in the agency’s Garnett office. Email her at nschuste@ksu.edu