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Have you ever wondered what the healthier oil is: avocado oil or olive oil? Or which one makes the best cooking oil? In this article, we’ll take a deep dive into the avocado oil vs olive oil debate to try and determine which one is healthier and better suited for cooking.
Chosen Foods published a blog article the other day promoting the benefits of avocado oil. We use both avocado oil and olive oil a lot at home, and I decided to share with you the findings of my research.
Move over olive oil — avocado oil is the new favorite. It has grown in popularity this past year for so many reasons. (Chosen Foods)
Both olive oil and avocado oil consist primarily of fat. More specifically, they consist primarily of fatty acids. So before we jump in to the comparison between olive oil vs. avocado oil, let’s take a look at the differences in the various types of fatty acids that make up those oils, including monounsaturated, saturated, and polyunsaturated fat.
Understanding the risks and benefits of each fatty acid category enables you to better judge the health benefits of cooking oils.
Fatty acids are molecules; in other words, they are the building blocks of fat. Most people use the terms interchangeably, and while that isn’t technically correct, it’s OK for the purpose of understanding the health benefits of cooking oils. To learn more about fat and fatty acids, check out this article on thepaleodiet.com.
You can find saturated fatty acids primarily in foods sourced from animals, such as dairy products and meats. They are also present in relatively high amounts in coconut oil, peanut oil and palm oil.
Saturated fatty acids (and all fatty acids) are comprised of chains of carbon atoms connected to one another by chemical bonds.
There are different types of saturated fatty acids. These types are classified based on their number of carbon atoms, and each type has different chemical properties. The term “saturated” stems from the fact that their “carbon atoms are completely filled with hydrogen atoms.”
What is essential for us to remember is that not all saturated fats are the same when it comes to their impact on the human body. Moreover, different foods contain different types of saturated fatty acids.
I grew up being told that saturated fats are bad for your health, and there seemed to be plenty of pseudo-scientific evidence to support that so-called “lipid hypothesis.” But based on recent scientific research, there is little indication that saturated fat is actually bad for your health. I wrote about the “low-fat lie” in another article that goes into more detail, so check it out if you are interested.
If you don’t have time to go into the details, here’s the conclusion of a study published in 2012, titled “Dietary intake of saturated fat by food source and incident cardiovascular disease”:
Although dietary recommendations have focused on restricting saturated fat (SF) consumption to reduce cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk, evidence from prospective studies has not supported a strong link between total SF intake and CVD events. Associations of SF with health may depend on food-specific fatty acids or other nutrient constituents in foods that contain SF, in addition to SF.
You can learn more about the various types of saturated fatty acids here.
You can find monounsaturated fats in nuts, olive oil and avocado oil. The term “mono” comes from the single, double bond between two carbon atoms. You can learn more about the different types of monounsaturated fatty acids here.
There are two main groups of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA): omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. The ratio of those two types of PUFAs is a crucial factor in determining how healthy an oil (or any other type of fat) is for your body. The term “poly” stems from the multiple double bonds between carbon atoms. You can learn more about PFUAs here.
Avocado oil contains over 70 percent monounsaturated fat, 16 percent saturated fat, and 14 percent polyunsaturated fat. As a rule of thumb, saturated and monounsaturated fats are good for your health, but you should stay away from polyunsaturated fats when it comes to vegetable oil.
Avocado oil scores well in that area because it’s comprised of over 85 percent beneficial fatty acids. In particular, it has a very high level of oleic acid, a monounsaturated fatty acid that has been correlated with heart-health benefits.
Note: Fatty acids are sub-units of fats. Or, in other words, fats are made up of fatty acids.
Avocados have a lot of nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants (which can help neutralize the effects of free radicals).
Carefully-processed avocado oil retains many of those nutrients. Chosen Foods claims that their refinement process retains 80 percent of the beta-sitosterol found in virgin avocado oil, as well as 60 percent of the vitamin E! As a side benefit, you can also use avocado oil as a hair mask to treat hair loss (more details). That’s mostly thanks to its monounsaturated fatty acids, which are good for your hair. (Some people also claim that it’s helpful for skin care, and especially for moisturizing dry skin, thanks to its high potassium and lecithin content.)
High heat — such as the heat generated when cooking — can destroy the chemical structure of oils, not only negating their health benefits but also making them potentially toxic and dangerous for consumption. The temperature at which the breakdown process begins is called the smoke point and, as the name suggests, it’s the temperature at which a particular oil starts to burn and transform from a solid state into smoke. Refined avocado oil has a relatively high smoke point, making it ideal for cooking at high heat. The avocado oil from Chosen Foods (Amazon) we use at home has a smoke point of 470-500 degrees Fahrenheit.
Refined avocado oil doesn’t have a very distinctive taste, unlike olive oil. That makes it a perfect cooking oil, especially for frying, sauteing or searing.
Just like with any other oil, the refinement process of olive oil is critical and not all olive oil is created equal. Some lower quality oils are extracted using high heat and chemicals. Some are even diluted with cheaper oils. For that reason, I highly recommend buying only extra virgin olive oil, which has to follow certain standards for purity and extraction method.
Olive oil is very similar to avocado oil in terms of its fat composition and contains about 73 percent monounsaturated fats, 13.8 percent saturated fats and 13.2 percent polyunsaturated fats.
Olive oil contains modest amounts of vitamin E and vitamin K, but it’s absolutely loaded with antioxidants.
Two of the primary polyphenols in olive oil have shown to protect LDL cholesterol from oxidation (1, 2). That’s critical, because only oxidized LDL (low-density lipoprotein) is harmful to your health. That’s a crucial factor that’s often ignored during the annual physical exam and blood work.
Depending on the brand of oil, most extra virgin olive oil has a smoke point of around 400 degrees Fahrenheit, which is generally high enough (even for frying).
According to the International Olive Oil Council, “when heated, olive oil is the most stable fat, which means it stands up well to high frying temperatures. Its high smoke point (410ºF or 210ºC) is well above the ideal temperature for frying food (356ºF or 180ºC). The digestibility of olive oil is not affected when it is heated, even when it is re-used several times for frying.“
That statement may be in contradiction to what you’ve been told about olive oil. But just like the lipid hypothesis, it’s a myth and science shows that it’s perfectly safe to cook with extra virgin olive oil.
Unlike avocado oil, olive oil has a distinctive taste profile that not everybody likes. It can range from bland to buttery to almost spicy, depending on an array of factors including the quality of the olives, its age, and the method by which it was processed.
Both avocado and olive oil have a very similar fatty acid composition, containing over 70 percent monounsaturated (healthy) fat. Both oils have a relatively high smoke point, and you can use either of them for cooking and frying. Avocado oil may fare a bit better in the vitamin department, but olive oil shines as a rich source of anti-inflammatory antioxidants.
According to thepaleodiet.com, both olive oil and avocado oil have less than favorable omega-6/omega-3 ratios of 11.7 and 13.5. That’s usually more of an issue with oils high in polyunsaturated fatty acids, which is not true of either avocado oil or olive oil. But thepaleodient.com still recommends ensuring an adequate intake of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids of 0.5-1.8 grams of EPA-DHA per day from either fish or fish oil capsules.
That brings us to taste, which is arguably the biggest difference between the two oils. I like the taste of olive oil, but not everybody does. If you’re not a fan of the taste of olive oil, I recommend sampling a few different oils. A couple of weeks ago, I tasted different olive oils (from olives grown in various countries and regions) at the Alpharetta Farmers market, and I was surprised by the variety in taste. If you don’t like one olive oil, you may very well like another. Otherwise, I’m afraid that you will have to stick to avocado oil or other types of healthy oils (macadamia nut, flaxseed oil, coconut oil, etc.). For frying, your best option is probably coconut oil or ghee.
At the Kummer home, we use both avocado oil and olive oil for a variety of dishes, and we supplement our diet with fish oil capsules. Both oil options have substantial health benefits when used as cooking oil, especially when compared to cheaper and much less nutritious options like corn oil and grape seed oil (which has extremely high polyunsaturated fat content).
I was born and raised in Austria. I speak German, English, and Spanish. Since moving to the U.S., I have lived and worked in the greater Atlanta area. In my twenties, I was a professional 100m sprinter. These days I do mostly CrossFit. I'm a technologist and Apple fan. I love science and don't believe anything unless there is proof. I follow a Ketogenic Paleo diet and intermittently fast every day. I'm married and have two trilingual kids. My goal with this blog is to share what I learn so that you can spend time on something else. Check out my latest Diet, Fitness, and Technology articles.