Whats the difference and which one is better for you??
In the 90′s there was no question that Extra Virgin Olive Oil was the healthiest of oils. Second best was Canola Oil which was certainly better than Coconut Oil which was the evil but delicious oil that made movie theater popcorn so yummy.
But in the last few years I started hearing about how healthy coconut oil is. Could this be true? It is filled with saturated fat which is the bad fat right? I also discovered avocado oil, sunflower oil and fish oil. Fad diets have gone from low fat to Atkins to the current Paleo trend. With it our perception of oils and fats has changed significantly.
So what’s the truth?
A quick review of nutrition and you’ll remember all foods are either carbohydrates, proteins or fats. Fats are made from fatty acids and glycerol. The body needs fatty acids to make hormones and other chemicals our bodies need. The body can make some fatty acids but there are some such as Linolenic and Linoleic fatty acids that your body cannot make and you must consume in your diet. You also need fat to digest the fat soluble vitamins.
So lets be fair, fat is not evil. You need some fat in your diet; most nutritionists recommend that about 30% of your calories come from fat. But there are different kinds of fat. “Saturated” refers to the number of hydrogen atoms in a molecule of fat. Most oils are a combination of the different types of fats.
- Mono-unsaturated Fats could contain one more hydrogen atom. They are liquid at room temperature and have been shown to reduce blood cholesterol. Canola, Olive and Peanut Oils are examples of mostly monounsaturated fats.
- Poly-unsaturated Fats could contain two or more hydrogen atoms. They are liquid at room temperature and have been shown to reduce cholesterol. Seafood and vegetable oils have high amounts of polyunsaturated fats. Omega-6 and Omega-3 are the two main types of polyunsaturated fats and they are made from two main essential fatty acids Linoleic Acid and Linolenic Acid. These we must eat, the body is unable to build these.
- Linoleic Acid is needed to build omega-6 fatty acids.
- Linolenic Acid is needed to build omega-3 fatty acids.
- Saturated fat is solid at room temperature, which is why it is also known as “solid fat.” Saturated fats contain as many hydrogen atoms as they can. It is mostly in animal foods, such as milk, cheese, and meat. It is also in coconut and palm oil. Saturated fat raises cholesterol in the blood which can cause cardiovascular disease. The thicker a fat is the more likely it is to be saturated.
- Trans fats do not occur naturally in nature but are man made by “saturating” unsaturated fats by adding hydrogen to them. Trans fats are generally accepted to be unhealthy and in fact are being removed from many products. The most common is partially hydrogenated vegetable oil.Many studies conducted over years have shown that mono and poly unsaturated fats lower blood cholesterol and reduce risk for cardiovascular disease while saturated fats raise cholesterol and health risks.
Types of fat in common oils
fatty acid %
fatty acid %
fatty acid %
fatty acid %
*Data taken from USDA Nutrient Database
So it seems pretty clear that Olive Oil is much heart healthier than Coconut Oil which is mostly saturated. So why have I been hearing that coconut oil is healthy? Even butter has less saturated fat than coconut oil. (Go Julia Child!)
It turns out that saturated fats can be divided into long chain fats and medium chain fats. Coconut oil is made mostly of a medium chain fatty acids called Lauric Acid. There are early studies which show that although Lauric acid raises your bad cholesterol it also raises good cholesterol. There are also small studies that concluded coconut oil aids in weight loss and helps memory in alzheimer patients. The studies to date have not been rigorous and are not convincing.
Olive Oil on the other hand has had many large and long studies concluding that Olive Oil is good for longevity, fights against cancer, prevents heart disease, slows down Alzheimers, protects bones and aids in weight loss. And it’s delicious!
I believe moderation and balance is the key to a healthy life. A variety of different oils and unprocessed foods should be eaten to provide the body with the wide range of nutrients and fuel it needs. Years of evidence points to high quality, fresh Extra Virgin Olive Oil having lots of health benefits. So while coconut oil is occasionally delicious, you’ll still find Olive Oil on our table as our staple oil.