From salads to stir-fry to roasted veggies, so many of our favorite healthy foods just wouldn’t be as tasty without a little bit of oil. And both coconut oil and olive oil garner a lot of attention for being healthy alternatives to other vegetable oils.
But which is really better, olive oil or coconut oil? Which one is a healthier source of fat? Which is the best cooking oil? Is one better than the other for weight loss? And seriously, who knew you’d spend so much of your adult life worrying about which cooking oil to use?
Each type of oil has different benefits. Before you decide whether to reach for coconut oil or olive oil, here’s what you need to know.
What Are the Health Benefits of Coconut Oil Vs Olive Oil?
Coconut oil and olive oil contain different types of fat, so their benefits vary slightly.
Coconut oil contains medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), a type of saturated fat that could potentially be linked to lower cholesterol levels. MCTs may also modestly help with weight loss by boosting calorie expenditure—although the research is mixed.
But coconut oil is relatively new to the game, and its benefits are still being researched — so for now, don’t assume it’s a miracle oil. “MCT oil might be helpful for weight loss and energy management, but there’s no rock solid evidence out there,” says Denis Faye, M.S., Executive Director of Nutrition at Openfit.
And while recent research suggests there may not be as significant as association between saturated fat and heart disease as we previously thought, you still want to be careful with how much saturated fat you consume.
Olive oil, on the other hand, contains monounsaturated fats, which have been linked to lowering cholesterol and reducing heart disease. “The science behind nutritional benefits of monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats is there, and we know they’re good for us,” Faye says.
Is Coconut Oil Good for You?
Olive oil has been around much longer than coconut oil, so we know more about it — which gives olive oil a slight advantage. But that doesn’t mean coconut oil is bad for you.
Coconut oil is high in saturated fat, which can raise LDL cholesterol levels in the body. That’s the so-called “bad” cholesterol — but it’s actually important to have a healthy balance of both HDL and LDL cholesterol in your body.
And coconut oil seems to also be particularly effective for increasing HDL levels (the “good” cholesterol). “The most predominant fatty acid in coconut oil is lauric acid, which can increase both good and bad cholesterol in some people,” says Mary Ellen Phipps, MPH, RDN, LD, with Milk & Honey Nutrition.
With both types of cholesterol getting a boost, it’s hard to say exactly how coconut oil will affect heart health. Your best bet? Until more is known, use coconut oil in moderation, and get your cholesterol levels checked every year (you should be doing that anyway).
“It’s important to remember that coconut oil is an oil,” Phipps says. “Just like with any other food, getting too much can lead to unintended side effects like GI discomfort and weight gain.”
Which Oil Is Better for Cooking?
While it’s important to look at the nutritional benefits of coconut oil vs. olive oil, you should also consider which oil is best for what you’re actually cooking.
Olive oil can be mild or robust, and its flavor can be fruity, peppery, or grassy. This makes it a popular choice as a base for salad dressings, or for drizzling over pasta dishes.
Coconut oil is typically sweeter, so it’s often used to replace butter for baking recipes, especially by those who are dairy-free. It also works well in sweeter entrees, like this shrimp coconut curry recipe. But coconut oil is solid at room temperature, so unlike olive oil, it’s not a good option for drizzling.
When you’re cooking with olive oil or coconut oil, pay attention to the smoke points. This is the temperature where the oil begins to smoke and break down, potentially creating carcinogenic compounds. “You should not cook with it at temperatures greater than this,” Phipps says.
The smoke points vary depending on the type of oil. The nutrients in extra virgin olive oil and unrefined coconut oil cause these oils to smoke sooner — around 350 degrees. Regular or light olive oil and refined coconut oil have fewer nutrients, so their smoke points are higher — around 400 to 450 degrees.
So while EVOO and raw coconut oil have more nutrients, light olive oil and refined coconut oil are typically better for cooking.
How Much Oil Should You Consume?
Coconut oil and olive oil may be healthier alternatives to vegetable oil, but that doesn’t mean you can eat as much as you want. Even with healthy oils, balance is key. “Look at your fat consumption overall,” Faye advises. “Between 20 and 35 percent of your diet should consist of fats, which can also be found in foods such as whole olives, avocados, and nuts.”
Like organic potato chips and all-natural ice cream, coconut oil and olive oil are susceptible to the “health halo effect” — the perception that a particular food is exemplary or guilt-free just because it has some healthy attributes. Coconut oil and olive oil should still be used in moderation.
Olive oil has a slight edge for now, only because we know more about it — but if you prefer coconut oil for baking, that’s still a healthy choice. (Just remember that brownies baked with coconut oil are still brownies!)
And don’t skip out on other plant-based sources of healthy fats, like avocados, nuts, and seeds. Whether you choose olive oil or coconut oil, these oils should be just one part of a nutritious, whole foods-based eating plan.
Coconut Oil Vs. Olive Oil: The Stats
|Calories||Monounsaturated fatty acids (g)||Polyunsaturated fatty acids (g)||Saturated Fat (g)||Vitamin E (mg)||Vitamin K (µg)||Iron (mg)||Melting Point||Smoke Point|
|Coconut Oil (1 Tbsp)||121 kcal||0.861||0.231||11.217||.01||0.1||.01||76℉||350℉|
|Olive Oil (1 Tbsp)||119 kcal||9.850g||1.421||1.864||1.94||8.1||.08||21.2℉||374-410℉|