Avocado Oil vs. Coconut Oil: Which Is Healthier?

Both avocado oil and coconut oil are plant-based and have a high smoke point, but which is healthier?

Many methods of cooking utilize oil. Whether you are baking, stir-frying, sautéing or roasting, chances are your recipe calls for at least a small amount of oil.

Oil enhances the flavor in foods, acts as a heat-transferring agent, can prevent foods from sticking to pots and pans and improves the texture and tenderness of foods. Hundreds of oils are available on the market—you'll often find an entire aisle dedicated to different types and brands of cooking oil.

But not all oils are created equally; they have different flavor profiles, different smoke points (the temperature at which the oil begins to burn and may become unstable) and different health benefits and risks.

Two oils that have become very popular over the past few years are avocado oil and coconut oil. Both are plant-based oils with high smoke points, but their nutritional value, benefits and risks are very different.

Here we compare avocado oil and coconut oil and get advice on which is healthier from physician and brain health expert Annie Fenn, M.D.

Why Does the Type of Oil You Cook with Matter?

In addition to how oil impacts the taste, consistency and texture of a recipe, the type of oil you cook with affects the nutritional value of the foods you are cooking. This is most evident in the way it impacts your total dietary fat intake, shares Fenn.

"The cooking oil you choose can have a profound impact on your long-term health," she says. "Just like with any food you consume regularly, be strategic about quality: find products that are unrefined, minimally processed, and with a balance of what I like to call the brain-friendly fats: mostly monounsaturated, some polyunsaturated and very few saturated fats."

When it comes to comparing avocado oil and coconut oil, the fat profile is one of the biggest differences leading to either health benefits or health risks.

Avocado Oil

Research "healthy fats," and avocados appear on almost every list. Avocado oil is made when the oil is pressed from the avocado fruit. It has a mild flavor and aroma and a high smoke point. Yet, when unrefined, it maintains some of the mild green color of the avocado fruit.

Avocado oil is made up primarily of monounsaturated fats. These healthy fats are the same type of fats found in olive oil. They are liquid at room temperature, and according to the American Heart Association, they can help lower bad cholesterol (LDL).

Fenn explains that the monounsaturated fats found in oils like olive oil and avocado oil are healthier than saturated fats and provide additional health benefits. "Avocado oil is packed with polyphenols —the potent antioxidants that help mop up the by-products of oxidative stress in the body and the brain. And it provides brain-healthy carotenoids, especially lutein, which has been shown to reduce age-related macular degeneration." According to a 2019 meta-analysis published in PLoS One, lutein supplementation (10 or 20 mg/day for more than six months) may significantly improve visual acuity in people with age-related macular degeneration.

However, Fenn recommends that we exercise caution in saying avocado oil has been "proven" to have health benefits, as it is still too early to have long-term trial results, as of February 2023. "While avocado oil provides many health-promoting substances, we don't have long-term studies that show it can actually prevent disease." The early studies are promising, yet the research is new.

Fenn shares that focusing on quality is also very important when purchasing avocado oil, which can be difficult as products flood the market and popularity outpaces quality control. In fact, a 2020 study published in Food Control found that 82% of avocado oil found in the United States was poor quality, mixed with other oils or mislabeled.

Finding a quality product isn't impossible, but Fenn suggests always purchasing "extra virgin" avocado oil and offers additional tips to ensure quality. She recommends looking for "avocado oil that is 100% pure, unrefined, cold-pressed and with a harvest date on the label." And she shares that you should also consider the oil's color: "Color is an indicator of quality: chlorophyll makes high-quality avocado oil emerald green."

a photo of coconut oil and avocado oil
Getty Images

Coconut Oil

Coconut oil has a mild flavor and aroma with a hint of sweetness. Fenn explains that because of its nutty flavor and sweetness, and its high smoke point, coconut oil is suitable for baked goods and certain styles of cooking.

Research on whether coconut oil is healthy has been quite controversial over the last few years. Initially, coconut oil was thought to be a heart-healthy option with no effects on your cholesterol levels. However, later research indicated that coconut oil could increase your LDL (bad) cholesterol levels due to its high saturated fat content, per a 2020 report published by the American Heart Association.

Fenn explains, "The problem with coconut oil is it's too high in saturated fat to be consumed regularly in a heart- or brain-healthy dietary pattern." According to Fenn, and backed by a 2020 meta-analysis published in Circulation, occasional use is fine, but consistent use might raise your LDL cholesterol, contrary to other vegetable oils.

That being said, it's important to remember that instead of categorizing saturated fats as bad, think of an overall balanced diet, where all foods fit, following the recommended intakes for each one. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, saturated fats should contribute less than 10% of your daily calories.

While research is still needed to prove the health benefits of coconut oil accurately, Fenn shares that it works well in baking due to its similarities with butter in texture and fat content and that its flavor profile can help offset the bitterness in certain foods.

Fenn suggests using coconut oil sparingly and choosing unrefined, virgin or extra-virgin coconut oil when you use it: "Avoid refined or partially hydrogenated coconut oil and look for blends of high-quality coconut oil and pure avocado oil to use for high-heat cooking when you want the flavor of coconut without all the saturated fat."

The Bottom Line

Hands down, avocado oil is a healthier option for regular use than coconut oil due to its fat profile and antioxidant properties.

Fenn agrees: "We have solid scientific data that supports minimizing saturated fat in the diet to reduce your risk of heart disease and Alzheimer's. That makes avocado oil a clear choice over coconut oil. In my kitchen, I use extra-virgin olive oil as my primary cooking oil, avocado oil for neutral flavor and high-heat cooking, and coconut oil sparingly, if at all."

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