The great debate: olive oil vs coconut oil

Coconut oil: Most commonly used as the binding ingredient in my quinoa chocolate crackles recipe. Also used as a hair treatment. 

But how does it rate in terms of  our health?

Last week I attended a Heart Health and Diabetes Update day hosted by the Dietitian’s Association of Australia where a range of medical and nutrition experts presented the latest evidence on all things chronic-disease-friendly (and not so friendly).

A very enjoyable, yet still scientific, session was the debate between olive oil and coconut oil.

In one corner of the ring was Catherine Itsiopoulos who debated the case for olive oil. Catherine has conducted extensive research in the Mediterranean diet with olive oil being such a major component of this lifestyle.

The ‘Skeptical Nutritionist’ Bill Shrapnel was in the other corner and was debating the case for coconut oil. His “thing” so to speak is looking at dietary fats and carbohydrates, and analysing their impact on the development of chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes.

So how did the debate turn out?

OLIVE OIL (predominantly non-saturated fat)

Well Catherine argued a superb case for olive oil with solid evidence to back it up.

  • Research shows that people have seen improved health benefits from following a diet with monounsaturated fats. Less benefits are evident for those who follow a diet with saturated fats.
  • The Mediterranean diet, which includes approximately 4 tablespoons of olive oil throughout the day, has shown through research to reduce inflammatory biomarkers and blood pressure.
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) contains a good amount of polyphenols, which has shown to significantly improve HDL cholesterol – more so than the lower polyphenol olive oils (e.g. light olive oil).

COCONUT OIL (predominantly saturated fat)

Bill discussed a vast range of high quality evidence that has been conducted on fats and carbohydrates on the outcome of heart disease over time.

What the evidence tends to lead to is that:

Carbohydrates and saturated fats have very little effect on heart function. However, mono and poly unsaturated fats have clear beneficial effects on heart health.  the Total/HDL cholesterol ratio and reduces risk of coronary heart disease.

After a thorough assessment of the evidence, the Skeptical Nutritionist conceded his argument and stated that there is no case for recommending coconut oil in modern diets.

The bottom line:

Coconut oil is not bad for us. But when there are so many other oils on the market that have evidence of providing health benefits, why wouldn’t you choose one of those instead?

– Jenna

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