Which is Better: Coconut Oil or Olive Oil for Heart Health? EVOO Wins

|Updated Jun 26, 2020
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 Who wore it better? Olive oil or coconut oil? In one of the most hotly contested debates of the plant-based world, the benefits of olive oil versus coconut oil are being argued by no lesser lights than the folks at Harvard Medical School. In a new review of the evidence, their blog posed the question: Which oil is healthier, Olive, or Coconut? They both have their fans and detractors, and with coconut enjoying cult-like status by keto fans and Paleo dieters alike, it seemed like a good time to delve deeper into the facts to find the answer once and for all.

This piece asks which of these two oils should gain status as your kitchen staple was written by ,  and appeared in the Harvard Medical School Health Beat Blog."Coconut oil has developed a cult-like following in recent years, with proponents touting benefits ranging from body fat reduction to heart disease prevention," she writes. "Sadly for devotees, the evidence to support these assertions remains rather sparse."Gelsomin says there is research to suggest that plant-based oils have it over their animal-derived counterparts, particularly when it comes to heart health. But she concludes that drop for drop, olive oil is the winner.

The case for olive oil continues to grow

Since most of the research around olive oil is done in Europe, around the Mediterranean diet, olive oil has enjoyed a heart-healthy halo effect of giving up meat and dairy, as that plant suggests. "But looking at olive oil within the context of American diets provides us with stronger data to guide dietary choices here at home," she explains.

"A recent study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology looked at adults in the United States and found that replacing margarine, butter, or mayonnaise with olive oil was associated with reduced cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk," writes Gelsomin. Americans consume less olive oil than Europeans do, so if they switched over they would be healthier, she concludes. In the US, consumers average less than one tablespoon of olive oil a day, whereas Mediterranean populations take in at least three times as much, or about 3 tablespoons, studies indicate.

"Those consuming more than half a tablespoon of olive oil per day had a reduced risk of developing CVD compared to those using olive oil infrequently (less than once per month)," she discovered. "Consuming more olive oil was associated with a decreased likelihood of dying from CVD. Even slight increases in olive oil consumption, like replacing roughly a teaspoon of margarine or butter each day with a similar amount of olive oil, had advantages."

Olive oil is also associated with reducing inflammation since it contains plant chemicals called polyphenols that appear to fight inflammation. Using virgin olive oil extracted through mechanical rather than chemical means has higher levels of protective compounds than refined olive oils, the article explains. Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) is what to look for.

"Polyphenols may also extend benefits to other areas of the body, like the brain," she writes. "Primarily using olive oil when cooking has been associated with combating the decline in brain function that happens as we age."

Now for a look at how coconut oil stacks up

Coconut oil fans use it to help them with keto diets, and point to the fatty acids as helping the body burn fat and accelerate weight loss, she points out. But the primary fatin coconut oil, lauric acid, is believed to act differently from other fats, and may not have the healthy dietary effect.

Coconut oil does not show benefits related to waist circumference or body fat compared to other plant-based fats, according to a recently published study in Circulation. which looked at a collection of trials. A tropical plant oil, coconut does not stack up well against nontropical plant oils with respect to reducing other cardiac risk factors. Because of its fat type, coconut oil has been associated with raised levels of  (LDL) cholesterol, the so-called bad cholesterol associated with a higher risk of heart disease.

So all in all, when reaching for an oil to dress your salad with, or to add a small amount of oil to your roasted vegetables, reach for EVOO, since it appears to be heart healthier than coconut for most recipes.

Both oils performed better than butter, Gelsomin points out, according to a recent trial published in BMJ Open. "Unfortunately, there are not enough human studies involving extra virgin coconut oil to support its use as a primary fat in our diets," she adds.

Coconut, we're so over you.