Fat shouldn't be a villain in your diet, because some fats are actually good for you. Many plant oils provide "good" fats that protect your heart and keep your blood vessels clean, but not all oils offer the same types of benefits. Coconut and olive oils are two popular plant-based oils that have very different nutrition profiles.
Your body needs fat to create hormones, absorb vitamins and protect your organs from damage, but not all fats are beneficial. Saturated fats are unhealthy fats that raises your LDL, a type of cholesterol that can build up in your arteries. Butter, full-fat dairy products and red meats are common sources of saturated fats. For good health, limit your saturated fat to 7 to 10 percent of your total calories per day. For a 2,000 calorie diet, this equals 16 to 22 grams of saturated fat. Unsaturated fats are heart-healthy fats, because they do not raise LDL levels. Most vegetable oils, nuts and seeds are good sources of unsaturated fats. Substituting unsaturated fats for saturated fats in your diet may reduce your cholesterol levels and protect against heart disease.
Research shows that topical application of coconut oil moisturizes skin and protects the hair from styling damage. A study on rats shows that the antioxidants in coconut oil may help to heal skin wounds. The dietary benefits of coconut oil, however, are controversial. Coconuts are high in saturated fat. In a tablespoon of coconut oil, 12 of the 14 grams of fat are saturated fats. Virgin coconut oil, however, contains high levels of medium-chain fatty acids. Advocates of coconut oil suggest these fatty acids raise good cholesterol and promote weight loss, but research results are mixed and inconclusive. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends using coconut oil only in moderation.
The small olive produces a flavorful and healthy oil. One tablespoon of olive oil contains 13 grams of fat, but only 2 grams are saturated fats. This tasty oil contains mostly monounsaturated fats, a healthy fat that may lower heart disease risk, stabilize blood sugars and control blood clotting. Olive oil also contains protective antioxidants that may lower levels of cholesterol in the body. Extra virgin olive oil is the highest grade of olive oil available.
Olive oil can go rancid if improperly stored, so keep your oil in a cool, dark place. Substitute olive oil for butter or shortening in meat, vegetable and grain recipes. Mix with seasonings for a tasty bread dip or combine with a flavored vinegar and garlic for an easy salad dressing. Coconut oil gives foods a sweet and nutty flavor, and is commonly used in special treats as a substitute for shortening or butter. Due to their high fat content, all oils are high in calories. A little oil provides a lot of flavor, so enjoy small portions to avoid a calorie overload.
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Coconut Oil
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Olive Oil
- CDC: Saturated Fat
- Mayo Clinic: Healthy diet: End the guesswork with these nutrition guidelines
- Mayo Clinic: Olive Oil, What are the Health Benefits?
- Mayo Clinic: Cholesterol: Top 5 foods to lower your numbers
- American Heart Association: Know Your Fats
- Library of Congress: Is a Coconut a Fruit, Nut or Seed?
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: All About Oils
- Effect of Mineral Oil, Sunflower Oil, and Coconut Oil on Prevention of Hair Damage.
- Dermatitis: A Randomized Double-Blind Controlled Trial Comparing Extra Virgin Coconut Oil with Mineral Oil as a Moisturizer for Mild to Moderate Xerosis.
- Skin Pharmacology and Physiology: Effect of Topical Application of Virgin Coconut Oil on Skin Components and Antioxidant Status During Dermal Wound Healing in Young Rats.
- Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition: Coconut oil is Associated with a Beneficial Lipid Profile in Pre-menopausal Women in the Philippines.
- Mayo Clinic: Can Coconut Oil Help Me Lose Weight?
Jennifer Dlugos is a Boston-based writer with more than 10 years of experience in the health-care and wellness industries. She is also an award-winning filmmaker and screenwriter who teaches screenwriting and film production classes throughout New England. Dlugos holds a master's degree in dietetics.