Jennifer House is a Registered Dietitian, author & mom of 3. From Baby-led weaning to picky eating and meal planning, she helps you to make feeding your family easier.
Fat is necessary for many body functions, including absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, healthy hair and skin. Fat also improves taste of foods and satisfies and keeps us full for longer.
I often get questions about the healthiest oil. Avocado and coconut oils are both very popular right now. So today I am comparing these two - both of which I have in my pantry!
Unlike most oils that come from seeds, avocado oil is pressed from the fruit of an avocado. Avocados produce mild flavoured oil, which varies in colour from light yellow to a deeper emerald green.
Avocado oil has an even higher percentage (76%) of healthy monounsaturated fats than olive oil. Monounsaturated fat was made famous by the Mediterranean Diet and promotes heart health by lowering “bad” LDL cholesterol.
Another reason why high levels of monounsaturated fats are healthy is that they are, by default, lower in omega-6 polyunsaturated fats unlike most vegetable oils. High amounts of omega-6 fats can promote inflammation, which is linked to to heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.
Besides the healthy fats, avocados are high in Vitamin E, as well as carotenoids. Among other roles in our body, Vitamin E serves as an antioxidant. It protects our body cells from free radical damage.
Carotenoids are another type of antioxidant present. The most prevalent one in avocados is lutein. Lutein promotes eye health by fighting against macular degeneration.
One big benefit of avocado oil is that it has a high smoke point. Once oil reaches its smoke point, it will release smoke and will start to decompose and produce unhealthy trans fats.
This oil won’t smoke until about 520 degrees Fahrenheit. For comparison, extra virgin olive oil smokes at a lower 375 degrees. This makes avocado oil great for high heat cooking like stir-frying.
The flavour of avocado oil is light and won’t overpower the taste of your dressing or dish, making it very versatile. Use it as a healthy addition in your kitchen for baking, frying, BBQing, in salad dressings, or for dipping your baguette. I get my giant bottles at Cost-co for a fraction of the price of smaller bottles at other stores.
What about coconut oil? You’ve probably heard all of the amazing claims - from treating Alzheimer’s disease to diabetes and obesity.
Coconut oil is pressed from the flesh of coconuts. Refined coconut oil is then refined, bleached and deodorized, but virgin coconut oil is not. Virgin coconut oil will contain more antioxidants than the refined versions.
Coconuts are mostly saturated fat, and therefore the oil is solid at room temperature. This makes it a bit more challenging to bake with than a liquid.
My favourite thing about coconut oil? It’s flavour! I love using it in my favourite cookie recipe and baking to replace butter, because of its slightly sweet coconut flavour. I also like using it in my hair…but that’s beside the point today.
Another benefit is that coconut oil is potentially (slightly) antibacterial. Its main fat in is a type of saturated fat called Lauric acid, which is is antibacterial. Lauric acid is found in breast milk and lower quantities in dairy too.
This is why you may have heard of people using coconut oil to strengthen teeth and gums, or “oil pull”. I don’t know a lot about that. What I do know is that it’s not a bright idea to replace your sunscreen with coconut oil, which also seems to be a popular trend in the hippy crowds I run in :) Its SPF is only 4.
As for the other claims for coconut oil, unfortunately they haven’t been proven by decent studies. It may have a small benefit for weight loss, but is not the magic cure everyone is hoping for!
One study showed that 1-2 tablespoons of coconut oil per day can burn 120 calories. But 1-2 Tbsp of coconut oil contains 130-160 calories! So if you’re adding this purely for fat loss/calorie burning, you’re still behind in that you’re taking in more calories than burning.
Another study from 2009 in 40 women compared a trial of low calorie diet and increased activity with the addition of either coconut or soybean oil (which is high in those omega 6 polyunsaturated fats that I mentioned earlier). At the end of the trial, both groups had lost weight. But only the coconut oil group had a lower waist circumference. They also had higher HDL (healthy blood cholesterol) and the soybean oil group had lower HDL.
So while this was a small study, perhaps coconut oil could have some benefits compared to high omega 6 polyunsaturated oil like soybean, sunflower or corn oil. But compared to a high monounsaturated fat like avocado oil….unlikely.
What about the brain health claims? Like coconut oil can cure Alzheimer’s Disease. Most of these claims are based on research using medium chain triglycerides that are eight and 10 carbon chains in length. While the main saturated fat in coconut oil is a medium chain triglyceride, it contains 12 carbon atoms. So the research shouldn’t be directly translated, and I couldn’t find any studies looking at Alzheimer’s or brain health using coconut oil specifically.
Overall, most of the claims for benefits of coconut oil haven’t been proven. I’m not going to tell you to avoid it because it’s a saturated fat. But I’m not going to tell you to add it to your coffee every morning either. I would suggest using it more in moderation, along with other fats and oils in your kitchen.
The verdict? Avocado oil is the WINNER in terms of nutrition, health and ease-of-use!
Avocado Oil Salad Dressing Recipe
I make this dressing a lot, and don't actually measure ingredients but you can't mess it up!
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