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The best cooking oil : Coconut vs. Olive Oil

Updated on May 2, 2012

Which oil should I use?

We have all heard about how healthy olive oil is. In fact, we've been consuming it with reckless abandon and substituting it wherever oil is called.

While it is true, olive oil has many health benefits, it may not be the best oil to cook with.

Some Facts about Olive Oil

  • Contains monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) - may reduce your risk for heart disease by lowering your total cholesterol and LDL ("bad") cholesterol levels while raising HDL ("good") cholesterol levels
  • Well tolerated by the stomach and fights the formation of gallstones
  • May reduce colon cancer
  • Great moisturizer for the skin and hair

Four Types of Olive Oil

  • Extra Virgin: extracted from the first pressing of the leaves without heat ("cold pressed"). Considered the best and least processed.Closest to its natural state. Rich in vitamin E
  • Virgin: extracted from the second pressing
  • Pure: made by adding extra virgin olive oil to refined olive oil. Labeled as "olive oil" in US.
  • Extra Light: Considerably more processed, retains only a light olive taste

Cooking with Olive Oil

When cooking with any oil, it is very important to be aware of the smoke point. The smoke point is the point at which the oil begins to smoke and, more importantly, when the oil begins to break down. Decomposition of the oil results in a decrease in flavor, nutritional value, and causes the creation of oxygen radicals. Oxygen radicals are harmful and potentially cancer causing.

Olive oil manufacturers list varying smoke points for their olive oils, depending on the degree of processing. However, if olive oil is being used to cook meat, it is easy to reach the smoke point.

So before you pour olive oil in the pan for dinner tonight, keep the smoke point in mind.

Coconut Oil Facts

  • Antimicrobial - fights bacteria
  • Great for hair and skin
  • Raises cholesterol - both HDL and LDL
  • High in saturated fat*
  • May help prevent heart disease
  • Easily digested and absorbed by the body, often used in hospitals to help young and ill patients

*High in Saturated Fat But Won't Make You Fat

Coconut oil is a medium chain fatty acid (MCFA), whereas most other vegetable and seed oils are long chain fatty acids (LCFA). Unlike LCFAs, MCFAs are small and easily digestible. They are immediately burned by the liver for energy, like carbohydrates, but do not cause an insulin spike. In this way, MCFAs increase metabolism and help the body use fat for energy, so coconut oil can aid in weight loss. A higher metabolism also leads to more energy, faster healing, and better immunity.

One word of caution: As with most oils, coconut oil is about 120 calories per tablespoon, so use sparingly.

Cooking with Coconut Oil

Coconut oil is about 92% saturated fat, a fact which its critics tout as the reason to avoid it. However, this fact is also the reason why it is a good cooking oil, as it is less susceptible to damage in high heat. On the other hand, olive oil is mostly a monounsaturated fat, making it easy to break down when heated.

Make sure you are using a high quality virgin coconut oil that is not bleached, deodorized, or hydrogenized.

Final Verdict

I like to use coconut oil in my cooking. I use about a tablespoon, or less, with my green nonstick cookware. (It is coated with a petroleum-free ceramic-based coating so little oil is required anyway.)* I don't taste the coconut when I cook with it, but it can provide a nice hint of coconut when used in baking.

I like to use olive oil in salad dressings and will add it to pasta dishes after cooking.

Both oils have many health benefits, but coconut oil has a higher smoke point, so I feel comfortable knowing that it is not breaking down when I cook in high heat.

Whichever oil you choose to cook with, please be aware of the smoke point.


*See product list below for green cookware. It is a fantastic brand!

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    • profile image

      Jen 5 years ago

      Great article!

    • cdemp11 profile image
      Author

      cdemp11 5 years ago from GA, USA

      Thanks, Jen! Glad you like it! Which cooking oil do you use?

    • profile image

      Ann 5 years ago

      Thanks for this! Very helpful! I'm one of those people who heard about how great extra virgin olive oil is and ever since then, that's all I've used. Would like to try coconut oil.

    • profile image

      Ann 5 years ago

      Want to learn more about the green cookware too!

    • cdemp11 profile image
      Author

      cdemp11 5 years ago from GA, USA

      Stay tuned! I plan to write a hub about it soon!

    • Hally Z. profile image

      Hally Z. 5 years ago from Madison, Wisconsin

      I'm more in favor of using saturated fats for cooking and unsaturated fats for seasoning. I'll even use lard that I buy at my local Farmer's Market for cooking, esp. if I'm deep frying, because such a fat is more stable and less likely to break down under heat. Broken down fat can be more dangerous than saturated fat because the by-product of such breakdown is often trans fat. Thanks for the great review!

    • cdemp11 profile image
      Author

      cdemp11 5 years ago from GA, USA

      Thanks for the comment Hally Z! I couldn't agree more!

    • Kathryn Stratford profile image

      Kathryn 4 years ago from Manchester, Connecticut

      I was curious about the "smoke point" of my olive oil, but I checked the entire label and didn't see any indication of one.

      This is an interesting article.

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