Healthy fats are essential for maintaining a healthy lifestyle, and we are told that both olive oil and coconut oil are sources of healthy fats, but are very different in their composition of fats meaning they are both important. This article will explain the differences between coconut oil and olive oil, the the advantages of each, and where is best to use each one in food preparation to benefit the most from them. Throughout this article it is assumed that both oils are cold processed, and that the fats are not damaged. Who will win in coconut oil vs olive oil?
The types of oils in both olives and coconuts are very different. Coconut oil can contain up to 91% saturated fats, with the remaining 9% being made up of polyunsaturated fats (6%) and monounsaturated fats (3%). Olive oil is slightly more balanced in oil composition, but is predominantly monounsaturated fats (72%), with polyunsaturated fats and saturated fats both making up approximately 14%. With such a large difference in fatty acid composition both oils will behave differently and offer different benefits to the body.
Coconut oil – The saturated fats in coconut oil is medium chain triglycerides (MCTs). MCTs are a fantastic source of sustained energy, and the body prefers to use MCTs a source of energy instead of converting them into body fat. The advantage of this is that there is no energy slump from the consumption of coconut oil, as MCTs do not trigger an insulin response (unlike carbohydrates). These triglycerides are well known for their benefit to the cardiovascular system, and are able to prevent atherosclerosis (hardening and narrowing of the artery wall) and reduce platelet aggregation (which can cause heart attacks and blood clots). MCTs have also been shown to lower LDL cholesterol, which is linked to cardiovascular disease, and some studies have shown it can raise HDL cholesterol (which is considered to be ‘good cholesterol’). There is also large amount of evidence to show that coconut oil can strengthen your immune system, and aid with weight loss by stimulating thermogenic activity similar to that of green tea.
Up to 50% of the saturated fat in coconut oil a is a fat called lauric acid, and coconut oil contains the highest concentration of lauric acid out of all foods. In the body lauric acid converts in a compound called monolaurin, which extremely beneficial for the immune system. It has shown significant antiviral and anti-fungal properties, which make it very beneficial for the digestive system.
Olive oil – Monounsaturated fats (MUFAs) are well researched and known for their powerful protective effects on the cardiovascular system, and their ability to protect against cardiovascular disease is considered to be greater than that of the MCTs found in coconut oil. MUFAs have also shown an ability to help reduce inflammation via a number of pathways, which can help with joint pain and redness. However, the anti-inflammatory properties of MUFAs are less than that of other natural anti-inflammatories such as curcumin, but operates via different pathways, so would be a beneficial accompaniment. There is also emerging evidence that MUFAs (especially those found in olive oil) can help protect against the development of type 2 diabeties, and can also help diabetics regulate their blood sugar.
Both coconut oil and olive oil contain the fat soluble vitamins E and K. Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant, which embeds itself in our cell membrane to protect them from oxidative damage (which will help protect against cardiovascular disease), whereas vitamin K is needed to maintain strong bones and control platelet aggregation meaning it is important for cardiovascular health. The levels of these vitamins in coconut oil is quite small, so coconut oil cannot be considered a good source of these vitamins, whereas olive oil is much higher in these vitamins, and contains nearly 100 times more vitamin E and 10 times more vitamin K than coconut oil. The high levels of these vitamins in olive oil could to some extent explain why olive oil is more beneficial than coconut oil for the cardiovascular system.
When exposed to high temperatures many nutrients will react with the oxygen present in the air; becoming oxidized and toxic to the body. Saturated fats are much more stable and resistant to oxidative damage at high temperatures, whereas monounsaturated or polyunsaturated are more vulnerable to oxidative damage. This means that coconut oil is a better choice than olive oil for cooking/ frying with, but olive oil is suitable as a salad dressing.
Coconut Oil vs Olive Oil – Summary
In the battle of coconut oil vs olive oil, both contain very different fats, but are both extremely beneficial and healthy for different reasons. Coconut oil will support the immune system, and is a better substitute for carbohydrate calories than olive oil, as it is readily converted into energy. Olive oil is offers better protection to the cardiovascular system, and can aid with reducing inflammation. Both oils will help the reducing the risk of diabetes, as olive oil can aid with blood sugar control, and coconut oil is a fantastic energy source which give no insulin response. To ensure you get the most benefits from both oils, only coconut oil should be used for cooking, and olive oil should be used as a dressing.
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