Lately, one particular type of oil has become a “go-to” food, with more and more people citing its impressive health benefits. It’s coconut oil—yup, the oil that became a nutritional pariah some years back when a damning report showed that a tub of movie theater popcorn, which usually was popped in the stuff, contained the saturated fat equivalent of six Big Macs.

So why is coconut oil now being celebrated? Movie theaters often use partially hydrogenated coconut oil for their popcorn—and partial hydrogenation produces the horrible trans fats that increase heart disease risk by causing calcium buildup in the arteries and promoting inflammation. However, recent studies suggest that nonhydrogenated coconut oil may…

Promote heart health. Coconut oil supports normal thyroid function, which in turn helps guard against heart disease.

Fight Alzheimer’s disease and other cognitive disorders. A brain compromised by Alzheimer’s does not use glucose efficiently. Coconut oil may help the brain compensate for its reduced ability to use glucose as fuel.

Encourage weight loss. Coconut oil is almost 90% saturated fat (which many experts now agree is not the villain it was once thought to be), and the majority of that saturated fat is made up of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs). Rather than storing MCTs as fats, the body immediately uses them for energy, which speeds up metabolism.

Combat infection. Among coconut oil’s healthful fatty acids is lauric acid, which is antimicrobial and protects against the H. Pylori bacterium that causes stomach ulcers. Coconut oil also contains capric acid, which has strong anti-yeast properties. And all the MCTs feed healthful bacteria in the large intestine and help fight off harmful pathogens in the digestive tract.

A Tasty Addition to Your Diet

Coconut oil is solid at room temperature and has a slightly sweet, very mild coconut flavor. To get the maximum health benefits from coconut oil, make sure you’re buying a minimally processed product. The label should say “extra virgin coconut oil” or “organic coconut oil” and list zero trans fats…and avoid any product that smells rancid or metallic, suggests Sally Fallon Morell, coauthor of Eat Fat, Lose Fat: The Healthy Alternative to Trans Fat and president of The Weston A. Price Foundation, a nonprofit nutrition education organization.

Try using coconut oil to…

Make a midafternoon pick-me-up drink. To concoct Fallon Morell’s favorite energy tonic, mix one cup of hot water with one tablespoon of coconut oil, one tablespoon of molasses and one-quarter teaspoon of powdered ginger. Stir until the oil is melted and the ginger dissolved. In addition to the benefits of the coconut oil, the molasses is rich in vitamin B-6 (for a healthy metabolism and immune function), iron, chromium and other important minerals…and the ginger is a natural stimulant.

Cook vegetables. Chop some root vegetables, stir in some melted coconut oil, and oven-roast at 350°F until the veggies are tender. The faint sweetness of the coconut oil pairs particularly nicely with carrots, sweet potatoes and beets, Fallon Morell said. Because coconut oil has a medium-high smoke point, it’s also well-suited for sautéing veggies.

Bake. You can substitute coconut oil for butter, cup for cup, in recipes for muffins, quick breads and other baked goods…and use it to grease pans, too.

Pop popcorn. As long as you choose a brand that’s not hydrogenated, you’ve got nothing to worry about.