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For starters, coconut oil, especially virgin coconut oil, is rich and flavorful. TODAY Food nutritionist Bonnie Taub-Dix, MA, RD, CDN says that's one of the biggest reasons coconut oil is all the rage. It's also a great animal-friendly alternative to butter. Executive Chef Simon Apollonio at Carillon Miami Wellness Resort in Miami substitutes coconut oil for butter in the resort's vegan dishes including a very popular coconut panna cotta. He also uses it when preparing traditional dishes from the South Pacific.

Nutrition-wise, coconut oil, especially virgin coconut oil, is said to have antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties. According to Dr. Oz, coconut oil can also help boost thyroid function and ward off illness-causing bacteria and viruses. However, most health claims made about coconut oil, such as how its medium-chain triglycerides increase good cholesterol, are based on short-term, smaller studies. Coconut oil is still relatively new to the Western diet. For that reason, many experts agree it should be used sparingly.

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