Coconut oil has been the superstar of the superfood arena for some time now, but recently there’s been a lot of buzz about the oil from avocados. This could be due to the popularity of avocados, which are so embedded in the culinary psyche that there’s an injury named after them. With people focusing on their health, the appeal of the heart healthy avocado could have people searching for olive oil and butter alternatives. Is this a trend, or is avocado oil here to stay?
Coconut oil has been used in Asia, South America, and Africa for a long time, and was also commonly used in American processed food during the 20th century under the name “palmitin” or “palmitic acid.” Palmitin is the most common type of saturated fat, and is found in both plants and animal products.
Coconut oil is extracted from the meat and milk of coconuts. “Refined” coconut oil is then bleached and deodorized, to ensure a neutral flavor. “Virgin” coconut oil only receives that designation when no additional solvents were used during the extraction process. Refined coconut oil can also contain additives to extend shelf life, although it does already have a shelf life of around two years. Coconut oil is also semi-solid when completely cooled, but turns to liquid when even a little bit of heat is applied.
The controversy around coconut oil involves its fat content – that is, coconut oil is almost entirely comprised of saturated fatty acids. Saturated fats have a bad rap in the health and wellness world, with a lot of research showing that saturated fats can raise your risk for heart disease and stroke. Nutrition-wise, a serving size of coconut oil (one tablespoon), contains around 117 calories and almost 12 grams of fat, 11 of which are saturated fat. However, the structure of the fat in coconut oil is different than the saturated fats found in animal products. The saturated fats in coconut oil are made of medium-chain triglycerides, or MCTs, which are easier for your body to burn off than the long-chain triglycerides of animal fats.
Not all experts agree that coconut oil is unhealthy. Some studies show that by increasing ‘good’ cholesterol, coconut oil may boost heart health compared with many other fats. One study showed that subjects with coronary artery disease who followed a meal plan that included coconut oil raised levels of good cholesterol.
Coconut oil is a popular ingredient in the kitchen. It’s commonly used among people who avoid animal products, as it’s a great alternative to butter. It also has a higher smoke point than other common cooking oils, like olive oil, which allows it to stand up to high heat. Oil reaches its smoking point once it starts to smoke and break down at a molecular level. Once oils pass their smoking point, free radicals can be released into the body and can cause cell damage.
Avocado oil is relatively newer than many other cooking oils, although it is rising in popularity. It’s made the same way that coconut oil is made; by cold-pressing the fruits to extract the oil. Unrefined avocado oil is much more common than refined oil in terms of availability, although you’ll find both kinds on the grocery store shelves. Unrefined avocado oil retains its greenish hue and sightly fruity avocado flavor, where refined oil has been slightly bleached, resulting in a paler, yellow color. Its shelf life is around 9-12 months, and avocado oil is liquid at room temperature, like olive and canola oil.
Unlike coconut oil, avocado oil is high in monounsaturated fats like oleic acid. It also contains vitamin E, and helps your body to absorb other fat-soluble vitamins like vitamins A, D, and K. Avocado oil also contains lutein, an antioxidant known as a carotenoid, and can protect against macular disease, which can lead to vision problems later in life. Nutrition-wise, one tablespoon of avocado oil clocks in slightly higher than coconut oil, at around 124 calories and 14 grams of fat, with less than 2 grams of that coming from saturated fat.
Although less popular than other cooking oils, avocado oil has surged in popularity in recent years, probably due to the booming popularity of avocados in general. Avocado oil’s extremely high smoke point (around 520 degrees Fahrenheit) also makes it popular for extremely high-heat cooking techniques like stir-frying and even deep frying.
The bottom line
On the coconut oil side, there’s the good kind of saturated fat—that is, the kind that supports your gut health by promoting the growth of good bacteria, and boosts “good” HDL cholesterol. Avocado oil, on the other hand, contains mostly monosaturated fats that help your body work more efficiently to absorb vitamins.
Both oils have impressive nutritional profiles, and which one your body prefers—if it does indeed have a preference—will depend on your unique body makeup. The principle of bio individuality emphasizes that what’s best for one is not necessarily best for another, and that we must each learn and respect our own needs, including what foods and lifestyle practices work best for us.
It’s also important to remember that those needs may change over time. What’s important is to listen to, and respect, the messages your body sends you.