Nutrition: Coconut Oil vs. Olive Oil

If you’re cooking for health (and who isn’t these days?), you’ve probably read a great deal about extra-virgin olive oil for cooking healthy over the years. More recently, though, you may have heard of coconut oil for adding nutritional value to food and cooking light and healthy.
But, how do the two really compare when cooking for full flavor and for health?

Nutritional Breakdowns of Coconut Oil and Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Before moving forward, it’s a good idea to breakdown the basic nutritional components of each oil. These are the basic nutritional facts for a 1-ounce serving of Organic Coconut Oil and Extra-Virgin Olive Oil.

Organic Coconut Oil

  • 240 Calories
  • 28g Total Fat
  • 24g Saturated Fat
  • 2g Trans Fat

 Extra Virgin Olive Oil

  • 224 Calories
  • 25g Total Fat
  • 4g Saturated Fat
  • 0g Trans Fat
Understanding the nutritional value of both oils can help you make informed decisions about cooking with them.

About Coconut Oil

Coconut oil was once more widely used than it is today. Unfortunately, coconut oil got a bit of a bad rap when it came to cholesterol because it is a fairly significant source of saturated fat in the diet – something that World Health Organization warns should be restricted at best and used sparingly in the diet at worst.
However, the more we learn about bodily cholesterol levels, the more we understand that coconut oil offers many benefits that go beyond what some of the numbers show.
A 2009 study determined that women with abdominal obesity who supplemented their diets with coconut oil were able to lose more weight. Coconut oil also presents some healthy hair and skin benefits. The impressive thing about these benefits is that they can be experienced by applying coconut oil topically or by including it in the diet. Other potential coconut oil benefits that include:
  • Boosting metabolism
  • Containing anti-fungal properties
  • Having antibacterial features
  • Containing antiviral properties
Definitely not bad properties to find in a cooking oil or butter substitute! Additionally, coconut oil contains vitamin E and polyphenols, which are thought to combat free radical damage and reduce oxidative stress.
Another reason so many people have become recently enamored with coconut oil is the richness of its flavor. It is especially delicious when preparing seafood dishes and is widely used in Thai cooking.
The major problem with coconut oil today is that we’re still using outdated information to try and determine how healthy or detrimental it may be. Most of the studies conducted were conducted using the partially hydrogenated coconut oil of the 1980s. We need new studies using organic coconut oil to determine just how much of an effect the coconut oil has on health.

About Extra Virgin Olive Oil

If you’ve heard of the Mediterranean Diet then you’ve probably heard of extra virgin olive oil. Celebrity chef, Rachael Ray, seems to swear by it and likes to refer to it as EVOO, but is it really all it’s cracked up to be? The answer is yes and no. There are many things to love about extra-virgin olive oil.
On the plus side, extra-virgin olive oil packs a powerful punch with a few significant health conditions. WebMD reports that EVOO has been used to reduce the need for blood pressure medication among some. The study, conducted at the University of Naples, determined that using 40 grams of olive oil per day, in lieu of other types of fats in the diet, reduced the dosages of blood pressure medications by approximately 50 percent.
Another study involving 4,200 subjects, found that women between the ages of 60 and 80 on an olive-oil-supplemented Mediterranean diet were 68 percent less likely than the control group to develop breast cancer.
Olive oil is already ahead of the game as it consists of mostly monounsaturated fats compared to the saturated-fat-filled coconut oil. These are just a few of the benefits Jillian Michaels points out about monounsaturated fats:
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Reduce risk of cardiovascular disease
  • Improve negative effects of type 2 diabetes
  • Antioxidant rich
These things work together to make olive oil a heart healthy choice in which to prepare flavorful meals.
The one downside for using olive oil in cooking is that it has a relatively low smoke point of only 320 degrees. The smoke point is important because it is the point at which the beneficial properties of the oil begin to break down and may do more harm than good by releasing harmful free radicals.

Comparing Coconut Oil with Extra Virgin Olive Oil

One of the difficulties in comparing the two is that there are so many similarities between the two at first glance. Both olive oil and coconut oil present many potential benefits for hair, skin, and health. It’s not the pluses that make the differences, but the negatives.
The high amount of saturated fats associated with coconut oil combined with the lack of up-to-date studies on long-term effects on heart health makes it something to think about when it comes to consuming it, especially in large quantities. With something as important as your heart on the line, that’s a risk many find too big to take – especially considering that extra-virgin olive oil appears to offer a substantial number of benefits with only one noteworthy drawback (the smoke point). Further research may reveal that coconut oil has far more to offer than the current research reveals, so this judgment reserves the right to change if new evidence surfaces.
In terms of cooking, the natural sweetness in coconut oil makes baking sweet treats and cooking sautéed dishes especially delectable. Some chefs like to use it in homemade dressings or for a marinade for vegetables, fish or chicken for a subtle tropical island flavor. That said, chefs have been using extra-virgin olive oil for years to create delicious dishes.

What to Look for When Buying

There are some qualities that are important to look for when purchasing olive oil and coconut oil. This will help you buy smarter when shopping for the two.

Olive Oil

If you do not use olive oil frequently when cooking, buy smaller bottles to prevent them from going rancid and/or losing flavor over time. Also buy extra-virgin olive oil in darker bottles and store it in dark places to prevent it from losing its healthy properties. Finally, buy from reputable vendors and brands you trust.

Coconut Oil

Virgin coconut oil is the most natural to use. It offers the most health benefits of the coconut oil options, but carries a significant coconut flavor. When used for cooking, this is an excellent choice for dishes that are sweeter or that will benefit from the added flavor. This is what you want to see if you’re buying coconut oil for flavorful cooking.