Coconut Oil and Olive Oil, A Face-Off

Coconut oil is the latest miracle food. If you believe popular wellness websites, it’s good for just about everything – from making your teeth whiter, skin more luminous and hair shinier to boosting your brain and bone health and treatment for yeast infections. However, according to the Food and Drug Administration, coconut oil isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Coconut oil’s health benefits are often credited to the medium-chain triglycerides it provides. However, coconut oil actually contains very little – about 10 to 15 percent of all of its fat is the beneficial short-chain MCTs that contain no more than 10 carbon molecules. While the major saturated fat in coconut oil is lauric acid (a 12-carbon molecule), there is insufficient published scientific evidence to suggest lauric acid provides any meaningful health benefits.

Coconut oil is more than 90 percent saturated fat. Butter, a distant second, is about 65 percent saturated fat. And like all fats, it’s also high in calories, weighing in at 120 calories per tablespoon. Using coconut oil when cooking Thai dishes and others recipes that call for the tropical oil won’t harm your health, but adding coconut oil to your diet probably won’t improve it, either.

The amount of research behind the healthy heart properties of olive oil is substantially greater than that available for coconut oil.

Let’s break this down in a heart-healthy and heart-unhealthy analysis:

Olive oil has more “good fat,” monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. For example, 1 tablespoon of olive oil contains 11 grams (gm) of monounsaturated fat and 1 gm of polyunsaturated fat. In comparison, one tablespoon 0.1 gm of monounsaturated fat and 0.25 gm of polyunsaturated fat. In a quick analysis, olive oil has 5 to 10 times the amount of good fat we need to consume.

Olive oil has less saturated fat. Saturated fat, particularly from animal products, can increase our bad cholesterol (LDL), and increase risk of developing atherosclerotic plaques and coronary artery disease.

For example, 1 tablespoon of olive oil contains 1 gm of saturated fat. In comparison, 1 tablespoon of coconut oil contains 13 gm of saturated fat. In a quick analysis, coconut oil contains more than 10 times the amount of potential bad fat compared to olive oil. This analysis is not quite as simple as the other. Saturated fats from some plant-based products are not as bad as those from animal-based products. Most of the saturated fats in coconut oil comes from lauric acid, which can increase bad cholesterol (LDL) but also good cholesterol (HDL). Because it increases both good and bad cholesterol, the risk of using coconut oil may not be as significant, or even significant at all.

With any efficient food source, the amount of calories per serving becomes important. Even healthy foods consumed in excess can become unhealthy. When it comes to calories, both oils are similar. One tablespoon of olive oil contains 120 calories, compared to 130 calories in a tablespoon of coconut.

And the Winner Is . . .

For me, right now, olive oil is the best choice for heart health because:

Much more research supports the long-term benefits of olive oil in humans. The same may be true of coconut oil, but we just have to wait for the human data to come in to guide us.

The quantity of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats is clearly higher in olive oil. These good fats have many heart-healthy properties, including lowering inflammation, improving cholesterol, lowering risk of heart disease, and, in animals, lowering the risk of abnormal heart rhythms.

“The Face-Off Between Coconut Oil and Olive Oil”, Written for Vertex Fitness Personal Training Studio by Ashvini Mashru, RD

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