For a number of years now, one oil in particular has received a lot of positive attention in the health world: coconut oil. This exotic oil has grown in popularity because of its potential beneficial effects on energy, atherosclerosis, and aging, all of which have been supported in a number of scientific articles.1 2 3

These benefits are attributed to coconut oil’s high medium chain triglyceride (MCT’s) content, which are fatty acids that are more easily used as energy by our bodies rather than stored fat, and therefore help regulate insulin triggers.1 Coconut oil is also very high in the saturated fatty acid, lauric acid (also prominent in breast milk), which has been found to have both anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory effects.2

Because coconut oil has been receiving so much attention, olive oil has fallen slightly to the wayside, even though it long held the title as the ultimate healthy oil.6

This brings up the question – Which is better? The simple answer is, it depends. Let’s compare one to the other so we can better form our own opinions.

Coconut vs. Olive Oil: Types of Fat

coconut-vs-olive-oil

First of all, to some extent oil is oil. All oils are almost entirely comprised of fat (a combination of saturated, mono and polyunsaturated fats) and contain about the same number of calories. Where coconut oil and olive oil differ is in the types of fat they’re comprised of.

Coconut oil is predominantly saturated fat (91%) and its remaining 9% is comprised of polyunsaturated fats (6%) and monounsaturated fats (3%).

Olive oil, on the other hand, is primarily monounsaturated fats (72%), with polyunsaturated fats and saturated fats evenly sharing the remaining 28%.

It’s because of their different composition of fats that these oils have such different health benefits, smoking points, and optimal cooking uses. 6

Why is the Saturated Fat in Coconut Oil Healthy?

The idea that saturated fat is entirely unhealthy is somewhat misleading and doesn’t give the whole picture. Lauric acid and medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), the saturated fats that are specifically in coconut oil, fall into the healthy spectrum.

MCTs are a type of fat that our bodies can use immediately for fuel rather than converting them into fat tissue. The MCTs in coconut oil are also known to decrease LDL blood levels while potentially raising HDL blood levels.1 3

Lauric Acid comprises 50% of the saturated fats in coconut oil, and is extremely beneficial for the immune system. It has been found to have considerable antiviral and anti-fungal properties thus making it a great food for digestive health.2 11

It’s also a good source of vitamins E and K, although both vitamin potencies are known to be around 100 times greater in olive oil.6

Why is the Monounsaturated Fat in Olive Oil Healthy?

That brings us to olive oil. Whereas lauric acid and MCTs are what make coconut oil great, monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) drive the health benefits of olive oil.

The MUFAs in olive oil help decrease the prevalence of LDL in our blood as well, but have also been found to protect against cardiovascular disease (a benefit not associated with coconut oil’s MCTs). MUFAs also have potent anti-inflammatory properties through numerous biological mechanisms. If you pair olive oil with turmeric, you have an even more potent anti-inflammatory recipe. 13

Which Oil is Best For Cooking?

Stir-Fry

They key to determining which oil is best for cooking comes down to its smoking point.

Why is this important? Once an oil reaches its smoking point it starts to burn, which results in a major loss of the beneficial properties normally provided by the oil. Additionally, burnt oil produces free radicals, which studies show are carcinogenic (can cause cancer cell development) and are harmful in a dozen other ways.

Interestingly, because of its saturated fat content, the smoking point of coconut oil is much higher than that of olive oil – the smoking points of coconut oil and olive oil are 350° F and 280° F respectively.

Therefore, if you’re looking to prepare food at a high temperature (for example, frying, sautéing, baking, etc.) then you are better off using coconut oil. Olive oil is best used for dressing a dish, emulsifying, mixing, light cooking, etc.14

Which Oil is Best Overall?

These two oils constantly battle it out for the “healthiest oil” award. In the end, both should have a place in your pantry. Aim for variety! Choose which oil to use based on how you plan to cook or prepare. You’ll get the health benefits of both oils while adding variety to the flavor of your cooking.

Infograph Cocount vs Olive

Do you cook with these oils? Which is your favorite?

Show 14 References

  1. Ward Dean. (2012). Medium Chain Triglycerides . Available at: http://www.nutritionreview.org/library/mcts.php. Accessed February 14, 2016.
  2. S.V. Veeresh Babu . (2010). Lauric acid and myristic acid prevent testosterone induced prostatic hyperplasia in rats. European Journal of Pharmacology. 626 (2-3), 262–265.
  3. R.P. Mensink. (2013). Fatty Acids: Health Effects of Saturated Fatty Acids. Encyclopedia of Human Nutrition (Third Edition). N/A (N/A), 215–219.
  4. Ward Dean. (2012). Medium Chain Triglycerides . Available at: http://www.nutritionreview.org/library/mcts.php. Accessed February 14, 2016.
  5. S.V. Veeresh Babu . (2010). Lauric acid and myristic acid prevent testosterone induced prostatic hyperplasia in rats. European Journal of Pharmacology. 626 (2-3), 262–265.
  6. Available at:http://www.thehealthcloud.co.uk/coconut-oil-vs-olive-oil/. Accessed February 14, 2016.
  7. Available at:http://www.thehealthcloud.co.uk/coconut-oil-vs-olive-oil/. Accessed February 14, 2016.
  8. Ward Dean. (2012). Medium Chain Triglycerides . Available at: http://www.nutritionreview.org/library/mcts.php. Accessed February 14, 2016.
  9. R.P. Mensink. (2013). Fatty Acids: Health Effects of Saturated Fatty Acids. Encyclopedia of Human Nutrition (Third Edition). N/A (N/A), 215–219.
  10. S.V. Veeresh Babu . (2010). Lauric acid and myristic acid prevent testosterone induced prostatic hyperplasia in rats. European Journal of Pharmacology. 626 (2-3), 262–265.
  11. Available at:http://www.thehealthcloud.co.uk/coconut-oil-vs-olive-oil/. Accessed February 14, 2016.
  12. F. Pérez-Jiménez. (2002). Protective effect of dietary monounsaturated fat on arteriosclerosis: beyond cholesterol. Atherosclerosis. 163 (2), 385–398.
  13. Available at: http://www.livestrong.com/article/408393-which-is-better-coconut-oil-or-olive-oil/. Accessed February 14, 2016.
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4 Comments

  1. profile avatar
    Nina Apr 09, 2016 - 06:25 #

    Great article! Wonderfully written, to the point and researched based! Thanks -RD friend

  2. profile avatar
    LoraineMac Apr 09, 2016 - 07:44 #

    I enjoy using cocont oil for ALL its wonderful uses. Cooking, roast potatoes are ‘cleaner’ and crisp, Frying there is no residue on the plate or pan cleaner again. I also prefer it as an emollient there is NO greasiness on skin, hands or clothes. It is cost effective ‘pulling’ is very good to kick-start the digestive system too.

  3. profile avatar
    Elias Rodriguez Apr 09, 2016 - 09:56 #

    What do you think about avocado oil? Thanks for the info! I enjoy ready your articles!

    1. profile avatar
      Kristin Apr 12, 2016 - 15:39 #

      Avocado oil is fantastic! It contains high levels of monounsaturated fatty acids, has a really high flash point (520°F), and is antioxidant-rich. It’s definitely a versatile cooking oil, and can be used for just about everything from pan-frying to baking and drizzling. Avocado oil is absolutely worthwhile to have in your kitchen.

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