In the hospital where I work, I cover two floors that treat patients specifically for heart disease and its related comorbidities. Therefore, a fair percentage of my patients ask questions pertaining to diet and what they “should” and “should not” be eating. A big question that’s been asked many times lately is what the best type of oil is to use while cooking. More specifically, is coconut oil better than olive oil? It’s a valid question, considering coconut oil has been recently touted in the media as a superfood with many multi-faceted health benefits.
I personally use both coconut oil and extra virgin olive oil, but for different purposes. For instance, I like to use a teaspoon of coconut oil when sauteing vegetables, because I feel as though it can take to higher heat a little better. Meanwhile, I like to drizzle olive oil over proteins and vegetables when roasting them in the oven, and to dress up my salads and pastas.
The truth is, you can Google “coconut oil benefits and uses,” and a million pages from unreliable blogs and websites will pop up. But, when doing a brief search through scientific publications, I found that straightforward human studies comparing the health benefits of coconut oil consumption to olive oil consumption is limited. One review article I found reported that virgin coconut oil (less processed than refined coconut oil), does have some heart healthy benefits secondary to its medium-chain fatty acid (MCFA) content. A little background: MCFAs are absorbed in the intestine faster than long or short-chain fatty acids, and are used up for energy more quickly in the liver, reducing fatty acid levels circulating in the blood. Virgin coconut oil also has antioxidant properties, which can lead to improved cardiovascular health and reduced inflammation. Studies examined in this article found that MCFA supplementation helped promote weight loss and healthy cholesterol levels. This all sounds great, but the authors were unable to make a conclusive statement that coconut oil was actually better than olive oil, because coconut oil is also rich in saturated fatty acids (which cause it to be solid at room temperature, like butter). Saturated fatty acids are more greatly associated with inflammation and high cholesterol, which can worsen your overall risk for cardiovascular disease. So clearly, there’s no conclusive evidence here that coconut oil consumption may actually be amazing for your heart health or if it deserves to be lauded as a superfood.
If you want a simple, straightforward, side-by-side comparison between coconut oil and olive oil, I found this infographic from the Cleveland Clinic that breaks down the main differences between olive oil and coconut oil. The conclusions are to stick with olive oil, because it is higher in monounsaturated fats (or MUFAs, which allow it to be liquid at room temperature as opposed to solid. I know, there are SO MANY KINDS of fats). MUFAs have been extensively studied and are known to decrease overall inflammation and cardiovascular disease (even more so than medium chain fatty acids). Other good sources of MUFAs include salmon, almonds, and avocados. You can check it out below, and find the full article here.
Bottom line: If a patient with heart disease were to ask me which oil they should use, I would recommend olive oil, and to use coconut oil sparingly due to the saturated fatty acid content. What else have you heard about coconut oil? Sound off in the comments!
Source: Babu AS, Veluswamy SK, Arena R, Guazzi M, Lavie CJ. Virgin Coconut Oil and Its Potential Cardiac Effects. Postgrad Med. 2014 Nov;126(7):76-83. doi: 10.3810/pgm.2014.11.2835.