What Is The Difference Between Olive Oil And Coconut Oil

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How Do Olive Oil and Coconut Oil Compare?

How Do Olive Oil and Coconut Oil Compare?

There's no denying that certain fats can be extremely beneficial. After all, fat is a necessary macronutrient that aids in the absorption of other nutrients, keeps you fuller for longer periods of time, and serves as a critical building block for your body's hormones. Certain fats can even increase neurogenesis (the formation of new neurons or brain cells) and thus brain function!

Not all fats, however, are created equal—and choosing a cooking oil always feels so complicated! In fact, you've probably debated between olive oil and coconut oil at some point. After all, both of these oils have been dubbed "superfoods" by the media, and coconut oil has recently received a lot of attention from the paleo and keto diet crowds.

However, being trendy does not always imply greater health benefits. Here, we compare the nutrition, health benefits, taste, and culinary (+ other) uses of olive oil and coconut oil so you can decide which one deserves first place in your pantry.


Olive Oil vs. Coconut Oil: What's the Difference and How Are They Made?

Both olive oil and coconut oil are available in a variety of grades. These can differ in terms of health benefits (which we'll discuss further below), so it's critical to have a basic understanding of the various options and how they're produced.


Olive Oil Varieties

Picking and washing the olives, grinding and mixing the olives into a uniform paste, separating the solids (or pomace) from the liquid oil, and filtering or racking the oil are the basic steps in producing high quality extra virgin olive oil. Any further processing and refinement results in a lower quality, less flavorful oil with fewer health benefits.

The following are the most common types of olive oil found in stores:

  • Olive oil (extra virgin) (EVOO). This is the highest quality olive oil available. It is made using the methods described above and is never exposed to chemicals or high heat during the manufacturing process. This helps to preserve the flavors, aromas, and potent bioactive compounds. The smoke point of EVOO is typically 350-410 F, though some brands may be slightly lower.
  • Ordinary olive oil (or pure olive oil). Regular olive oil is a blend of refined olive oil and 15 percent to 25 percent virgin olive oil. To remove defects in flavor, aroma, and color, refined oil may be bleached, deodorized, and refined with steam and/or various chemicals. Its smoke point is typically around 470 F.
  • Olive oil, light or extra light. This is similar to regular olive oil, but it contains only 5% -10% virgin olive oil, making it lighter in flavor and color. The remaining oil is refined oil that has been treated with steam and chemicals. Its smoke point is typically around 470 F.



Coconut Oil Varieties

Coconut oil is derived from the "meat" of coconuts. It, like olive oil, can be minimally or highly processed, altering the flavor and potential health benefits. Here are the two main types of coconut oil available in stores, both of which are solid at room temperature and are typically sold in glass or plastic canisters:

  • Coconut oil, unrefined. Unrefined coconut oil is oil extracted from the first pressing of fresh, raw coconut meat without the use of chemicals or heat. It maintains a light coconut flavor as well as polyphenol compounds. (While unrefined coconut oil is sometimes labeled as "virgin coconut oil" or "extra virgin coconut oil," there is no legal definition for these two terms in the United States, and they frequently mean the same thing.) It typically has a smoke point of around 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Coconut oil has been refined. Refined coconut oil has a neutral flavor and aroma, with no trace of coconut, making it more versatile but possibly less healthy. It's made from dried coconut meat, known as copra, and it's often processed several times, including bleaching and deodorizing. Some high-quality brands, such as Nutiva, use only steam to extract and refine their coconut oil, whereas others use a variety of chemical agents. It typically has a smoke point of around 400 degrees Fahrenheit.


Olive Oil vs Coconut Oil Nutrient Comparison

If you look at a nutrition label quickly, olive oil and coconut oil may appear similar (they have the same amount of total fat, for example), but their breakdown of specific fatty acids and bioactive compounds is quite different. Spoiler alert: Olive oil has a healthier fat profile as well as more bioactive compounds, including antioxidants. Let's take a closer look:

Nutritional Value of Olive Oil

According to the USDA, one tablespoon of olive oil contains the following nutrients:

  • 119 calories
  • 13.5 g total fat
  • 1.9 g Saturated fat
  • 1.4 g polyunsaturated fat
  • 10 g monounsaturated fat
  • 0 mg cholesterol
  • 0 mg total carbohydrate
  • 0 mg protein

Olive oil is well known for its high concentration of monounsaturated fats, which have been linked to lower inflammation and better heart health. The fat content of olive oil may be up to 83 percent oleic acid, a type of monounsaturated fat with anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties that has been shown to lower "bad" LDL cholesterol. Olive oil contains a small amount of saturated fat.

It also contains polyphenol antioxidants (oleuropein, hydroxytyrosol, and oleocanthal), vitamin E, phytosterols, squalene, chlorophyll, and carotenoids such as lutein, which have been linked to benefits such as reduced inflammation and lower cholesterol. These are most prevalent in EVOO.

Nutritional Value of Coconut Oil

According to the USDA, one tablespoon of coconut oil contains the following nutrients:

  • 117 calories
  • 14 g total fat
  • 12 g Saturated fat
  • 0.25 g polyunsaturated fat
  • 1 g monounsaturated fat
  • 0 g cholesterol
  • 0 g total carbohydrate
  • 0 g protein

Coconut oil is primarily composed of saturated fat, with minor amounts of polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fat. Lauric acid, the main type of saturated fat in coconut oil, has antimicrobial properties. This high saturated fat content makes coconut oil more resistant to spoilage than olive oil, but it's also why some nutritionists are skeptical of coconut oil's impact on health, particularly cardiovascular health. Unrefined coconut oil contains trace amounts of phytosterols and antioxidants.


Which has more scientifically proven health benefits, olive oil or coconut oil?

Nutritionists generally believe that olive oil is healthier than coconut oil. There has also been a significant increase in high-quality research on olive oil to support its health benefits. But that doesn't mean coconut oil is without benefits. Here are the main health benefits of each, as well as some important caveats:


Health Advantages of Olive Oil

Over 12,000 scientific studies on the various health benefits of olive oil have been published. Here's a rundown of its most enticing features (and if you want to learn more, check our full article on the health benefits of olive oil).

  • Heart health: Numerous studies have shown that olive oil can improve cardiovascular health. Researchers discovered that participants who consumed more than half a tablespoon of olive oil per day had a 15% lower risk of all cardiovascular disease and a 21% lower risk of coronary heart disease in one study.
  • Cancer: Many bioactive compounds found in olive oil have been shown to have anti-cancer properties. According to one large 2011 research review, women who consumed the most olive oil in their diet had a lower risk of breast cancer and digestive system cancers, including colon cancer.
  • While research is still in its early stages, a 2019 mouse study suggests that consuming oleocanthal-rich extra virgin olive oil may help slow or stop the progression of Alzheimer's disease in animals. More human research is required.
  • Not only is olive oil high in monounsaturated fats, which have been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties (especially when consumed in place of saturated fats), but research also shows that the polyphenol compound oleocanthal has anti-inflammatory properties similar to ibuprofen.
  • Weight loss: According to a recent study, women with excess body fat who supplemented their breakfast with approximately 1.5 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil lost significantly more weight and had lower blood pressure than women who consumed an equal amount of soybean oil.
  • Mental health: In a 2019 study, researchers discovered that young adults with depression who followed a Mediterranean-style diet (which included vegetables, fruit, whole grains, fish, lean meats, tofu, beans, and about 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil per day) reduced depression symptoms, as well as stress and anxiety, to a "normal" range after 3 weeks.
  • Gut health: According to research, consuming about 1.5 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil daily increased populations of bifidobacteria (a type of healthy gut bacteria) as well as microbial metabolites responsible for antioxidant activity.
  • Diabetes: According to a 2017 meta-analysis, people who consumed the most olive oil had a 16 percent lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes, as well as significant reductions in HbA1c levels and fasting blood sugar (an indicator of your average blood glucose over two to three months).


The Health Advantages of Coconut Oil

Some proponents claim that coconut oil can help you lose belly fat, improve brain health, strengthen your immune system, and maintain healthy cholesterol levels, among other things. But, after sifting through the hype, what can coconut oil actually do? Here's a more realistic assessment of its potential health benefits:

It appears to be beneficial to your skin: If you use coconut oil to remove makeup or moisturize your skin, keep doing so! According to research, topical application of coconut oil has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-aging, and antibacterial properties. It can even aid in the repair of skin barrier function, which can be harmed by conditions such as eczema. These advantages are due in part to coconut oil's high concentration of antimicrobial lauric acid.

It may be less harmful than other saturated fats: According to a 2018 study, neither extra virgin coconut oil nor EVOO raise LDL cholesterol, and both oils performed better than butter. However, numerous studies have shown that coconut oil raises both good HDL cholesterol and bad LDL cholesterol. More research is required before we can confidently advise you to replace your butter with coconut oil.

It may help with weight loss: Again, it's too early to tell, but some research suggests that consuming coconut oil as part of a healthy diet (along with regular exercise) may help you lose weight. According to one study, women who consumed coconut oil daily for 12 weeks lost a greater percentage of weight around their waist (also known as belly fat) than women who consumed an equal amount of soybean oil.

It's worth noting that while coconut oil is frequently touted for its health benefits due to its high concentration of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) in the form of lauric acid, this may not be entirely accurate. Yes, MCTs have a shorter chemical structure than other fats, which allows them to be processed quickly by your liver, and some research suggests that this aids in weight loss and brain function. According to a Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health article, "many of the health claims for coconut oil refer to research that used a special formulation of coconut oil made of 100 percent medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), not the commercial coconut oil most commonly found on supermarket shelves."


Is There a Taste Difference?

Yes, there is a significant difference in flavor, particularly between EVOO and unrefined coconut oil, and this may influence how you use them.


Olive Oil Flavor and Applications

Extra virgin olive oils made from green, unripe olives picked early in the growing season have more intense, vibrant flavors described as pungent, grassy, herbaceous, or peppery; ripe olives picked Later in the season, the olive oil becomes smoother and butterier. Regular or light olive oils have a relatively neutral flavor and are made up of a blend of refined and virgin oils.

Given its variety of flavors and the fact that it is liquid at room temperature, olive oil is an extremely versatile culinary oil that can be used in salad dressings, dipping or finishing oils, baked goods, and to sauté or roast meats and vegetables. (Here are some ideas for using each type of olive oil.)


Coconut Oil Flavor and Applications

Unrefined coconut oil may have a light to medium coconut flavor. Refined coconut oil has a nearly neutral flavor and is even milder than regular or light olive oil.

Because coconut oil is solid at room temperature, it is less suitable for salad dressings or marinades. However, because of its relatively high smoke point, it is still a good cooking oil. To add a subtle coconut flavor to a stir-fry or curry, use unrefined coconut oil, or use refined coconut oil to keep your flavors clean. Either type is good in baked goods, and some people mix it into their coffee for a filling breakfast treat (a.k.a. bulletproof coffee).


Last Word

When compared to coconut oil, olive oil has a superior composition of fats, bioactive compounds, and research-backed health benefits. And, while coconut oil can still be a part of a well-balanced diet (especially if you eat plenty of vegetables, fruits, nuts, and other minimally processed foods), you don't want to go overboard—a large body of research to date suggests that it may increase levels of "bad" LDL cholesterol if consumed in excess, which is why the American Heart Association does not recommend coconut oil.

Our recommendation: Make extra virgin olive oil your go-to cooking oil, and use unrefined coconut oil to add a touch of tropical flavor to specific recipes. Oh, and keep a jar of unrefined coconut oil in your bathroom as well—fantastic it's for your skin!


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