Fat Face Off: Extra-Virgin Olive Oil vs. Virgin Coconut Oil

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Did you jump for joy when you heard coconut oil was no longer on the “bad foods” list? If you’re one of the many doing cartwheels down supermarket aisles and piling your cart high with every coconut item on the shelf, you may want to read on to find out if your jubilation is truly justified.

When comparing coconut oil to other fats, it does have some redeeming qualities. However, it’s not exactly the healthiest oil out there. It just doesn’t measure up when you pit virgin coconut oil (VCO), which is mechanically extracted from the coconut meat or milk, against extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO), the juice squeezed or cold pressed directly from the olive fruit. (Neither oil extraction process involves the use of potentially harmful chemicals.) Take a look at how they fare against each other in five categories: fats, vitamins, antioxidants, health benefits, and cooking.

Extra-Virgin Olive Oil

Virgin Coconut Oil

Nutrition Facts:
Serving Size: 1 tablespoonAmount Per ServingCalories 120

Total Fat 14 g

  • Saturated Fat 15%*
  • Monounsaturated Fat 74%*
  • Polyunsaturated Fat 11%*
  • Trans Fat 0%*

Cholesterol 0%*

Vitamin E about 2mg

Vitamin K about 8µg

Polyphenol Antioxidants at least 36

*percent of total fat value

Nutrition Facts:
Serving Size: 1 tablespoonAmount Per ServingCalories 120

Total Fat 14 g

  • Saturated Fat 88%*
  • Monounsaturated 7%*
  • Polyunsaturated Fat 2%*
  • Trans Fat 0%*

Cholesterol 0%*

Vitamin E about 0.01mg

Vitamin K 0.1µg

Polyphenol Antioxidants about 6

*percent of total fat value

Winner in the Fats Category: EVOO

The great news is both oils are very low in the worst type of fat—trans fat. But that’s where the similarity ends. EVOO is predominantly heart-healthy monounsaturated fat, while VCO is almost 90% saturated fat (that’s almost double the amount found in butter!). Some research shows coconut oil, which contains lauric acid, a medium chain triglyceride (or MCT) that is easier to burn as energy and less likely to be stored as fat, has the potential to increase good HDL cholesterol levels. Unfortunately, less than half of the saturated fat is lauric acid—the other half is still harmful saturated fat. And even through saturated fats aren’t all bad for us, they haven’t been proven healthy either. It’s still a good idea to limit total saturated fat, including from tropical oils like coconut, as the evidence backing the health benefits of diets low in saturated fat is just too strong to ignore.

Winner in the Vitamins Category: EVOO

The only notable micronutrients the oils contain are vitamin E, an antioxidant shown in studies to have properties that may protect against heart disease and certain cancers, and vitamin K, which is essential for blood clotting and healthy bones. And in this case, the olive is mightier than the coconut, as EVOO contains 160 times more vitamin E and 120 times more vitamin K than VCO.

Winner in the Antioxidants Category: EVOO

The main antioxidants you’ll find in both oils are polyphenols. EVOO contains significantly higher levels (40 times more!) with at least 36 different polyphenols—that’s a lot of highly bioavailable, disease-fighting antioxidants. VCO only contains about six different polyphenols.

Winner in the Health Benefits Category: EVOO

There is an enormous body of evidence supporting the health benefits of EVOO. The high levels of monounsaturated fats and antioxidants in EVOO, have been shown to improve heart health, aid weight control, decrease the body’s inflammatory response, and reduce the risk of certain cancers.

Until more research is conducted, the same cannot be said about VCO. Although it has been linked to many conditions, including weight loss, cholesterol, diabetes, chronic fatigue, Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome, and thyroid issues, there is insufficient scientific evidence to rate the effectiveness of coconut oil.

Winner in the Cooking Category: EVOO

Unrefined oils like EVOO and VCO have lower smoke points (the temperature at which oils begin to smoke and become less healthy) than refined versions. According to the International Olive Council, EVOO has a smoke point roughly around 410°F, making it great for sautéing, frying, and baking (below 410°F). VCO has a lower smoke point (up to 350°F) and is best used when sautéing over medium heat, or as a replacement for butter or shortening for medium-heat baking.

Overall Champion: Extra-Virgin Olive Oil!

EVOO is the stand out winner when it comes to levels of heart-healthy, monounsaturated fats, vitamins, antioxidants, health benefits, and cooking. Virgin coconut oil can be used occasionally when a recipe calls for a solid fat, such as butter or shortening, or when cooking Asian cuisine—but adding oodles of the stuff to your morning smoothie isn’t going to do you any good. For undisputed health-boosting benefits, make extra virgin olive oil your go-to.

Do you have EVOO and VCO in your cupboard? What’s your go-to cooking oil? Join the conversation below!

7 Comments   Join the Conversation

7 CommentsLeave a comment

  • ok I need to know which is better for brain health, heart health, digestion, energy, healing the liver – pure coconut oil or olive oil? email me. been doing both mostly coconut oil as I am on low calorie greens/beans/herbs/omega3/blueberries etc. for losing weight and building muscle/brain/nervous health (adrenal/liver/hormones).

  • so is this virgin olive oil better than canola oil? I was thinking that was the best for health…? Not quite sure why you chose those two oils I guess.

  • I believe you have smoke point temperatures reversed. Everything I have read indicates vco has a high smoke point .

  • I was just reading an article in Life Extension magazine, Collector’s Edition 2017 about EVO. In the article, it states that the major health advantages attributable to EVO is not due to the monounsaturated fat as it is due to the high polyphenol content. The article goes on further to say that a high percentage of EVO oils on the shelves of American grocers are aldulterated from testing that has been done.. They may have been diluted with other food oils, so it is warned that the buyer be aware. The article did not mention VCO

  • Coconut oil feeds the brain keystones which to my understanding olive oil does not. The middle chain triglycerides are preventive for brain diseases , where as I think olive oil is more cardo vascular in benefits. I eat both !

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