Olive oil versus sunflower oil, coconut oil and rapeseed oil
We all want to feel good. You want to be healthy and stay healthy. So you try to make more conscious choices and choosing healthy food is one of them. The first question is: How healthy is a product? In this article we look at several different oils such as olive oil, coconut oil, sunflower oil and coleseed oil. We measure healthiness based on a number of essential factors: fats, antioxidants, vitamins, ‘the wheel of five’ and the health score on the nutritional value table.
Before we take a closer look at the oils, let’s start with some general information. You obviously want to know which fats and nutritional substances are found in the oil and whether they are healthy or unhealthy. Let’s examine each type of oil individually.
You need to limit your intake of saturated fats to keep your blood vessels healthy. This is because they increase the level of LDL cholesterol, which is the cholesterol which isn’t very healthy. Scientific research reveals1 that high LDL cholesterol increases the risk of heart attack or stroke. The American Heart Association even states that, when looking at the total body of scientific research, there is strong evidence suggesting that replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats lowers LDL cholesterol, which is positive for coronary health.2
“In order to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, the Health Council of the Netherlands recommends replacing saturated fat with unsaturated fat as much as possible. This can be done, for example, by replacing butter with margarine, low-fat margarine or oil.”
Unsaturated fats are positioned on the healthy side of the fats. They come in mono and poly forms. Omega 9 is, for example, a monounsaturated fat. It is the most important oleic acid. Your body can, in principle, produce Omega 9 itself, so it’s not necessarily essential. But you can effectively supplement it by eating foods that contain Omega 9. It is found in foodstuffs including nut oil, rice oil, olive oil and peanut oil.3
Polyunsaturated fats such as Omega 3 and Omega 6 are essential for good health because your body cannot produce them itself. Omega 3 and Omega 6 come in the form of meat and vegetables. The vegetable-based form is the most important and is called alpha-linolenic acid (Omega 3) and linoleic acid (Omega 6). Omega 3 is found in fatty fish such as salmon, herring and mackerel and vegetable oils such as linseed oil and soy oil. Omega 6 is found in many vegetable oils including sesame oil, corn oil and sunflower oil.
It is very important that your omega 3 to omega 6 ratio is in balance. Back in the day, this ratio used to be 1-1. Currently, it is recommended to ensure your balance is about 5 omega 6 to 1 omega 3. However, on average, due to our Western diet, we have a lot of omega 6 but not enough omega 3, leading to an imbalance (15 to 1). Eating fatty fish twice a week can help. Are you a vegetarian or vegan? Recommendations are to use supplements.4
“The Health Council of the Netherlands recommends that adults consume 200 milligrams of Omega 3 from fish daily. Eating a portion of fatty fish once a week is insufficient. Fish oil capsules and margarine enriched with fish oil are also available on the market. With respect to the consumption of Omega 6 (linoleic acid), the Health Council of the Netherlands recommends that it accounts for 2% of your daily calorie intake. You can consume sufficient linoleic acid by using healthy oils to prepare foods or by spreading it on bread. But it’s important to note that too much Omega 6 is unhealthy and is related to an increased risk of mortality and heart disease. And no one wants that.5”
Trans fats are primarily found in animal-based products or in industrially processed products. There unfortunately isn’t anything good to say about these fats. They fall into the category of unhealthy fats due to the chemical structure. This is because trans fats are inflexible. As a result the body has difficulty processing this type of fat. Trans fats are even less healthy than saturated fats. This is because trans fats increase the level of harmful LDL cholesterol and lower the level of good HDL cholesterol, which increases the risk of cardiovascular disease. Since trans fats are unhealthy for this reason, it is recommended to limit their consumption as much as possible.
“The Health Council of the Netherlands recommends that trans fats should make up no more than 1% of your daily calorie intake. With an average intake of 2,000 calories a day, this is equivalent to approximately 2 grams of trans fat a day”
We’ve all heard of antioxidants. It is a collective term for vitamins E and C, beta-carotene, the body’s own glutathione, trace elements of selenite and zinc and bioactive substances such as flavonoids found in fruits and vegetables. It important to consume sufficient amounts of antioxidants because they protect tissue and DNA against free radicals. Free radicals are formed as part of the normal metabolism, so there is always a small amount present.
However, your body produces more free radicals as a result of smoking, sunbathing or the natural response to infections. This can give rise to too many free radicals, which can lead to oxidative stress. This is a metabolic condition whereby an abnormal physiological amount of reactive oxygen compound is formed or present in the cell. It has been proven that this can over a prolonged period increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and cause damage to the nervous system. There is also evidence that this accelerates the ageing process. Want fewer wrinkles? Get plenty of antioxidants!6
Free radicals are not, however, necessarily always negative. They can be produced by your body to kill unwanted bacteria. In short: it’s important to have some free radicals in your body, as long as they are in balance. And this is when a varied diet comes into the picture. Because it promotes a good balance of free radicals. It used to be thought that you needed to take supplements to achieve this balance, but that’s not the case. In fact, some research studies suggest that taking supplements for radicals has a negative effect. And that’s not what we want of course. So in summary it’s important that your diet contains natural nutrients containing antioxidants and that’s enough.
We’ve grown up with the idea that vitamins are good for us. Besides promoting good health, they’re necessary for normal growth and development. The body either cannot or cannot sufficiently produce vitamins. That’s why they are known as essential nutrients. Vitamins are found in small amounts in food and drinks. Vitamin E is found in oils and vitamin K is added to some oils.7,8
The wheel of five and the health score
We’ll look at the oils one by one in a moment. But let’s start by looking at the wheel of five9 and the nutritional value table. This table is determined by a representative and qualitative market survey of 1,200 consumers. A score is used to show how healthy Dutch consumers consider a product. Consumers say consuming enough essential nutrients and maintaining a healthy weight are the cornerstones of healthy nutrition. The table is based on the knowledge consumers have about the product in relation to the ingredients: the amount of sugars, (saturated) fat, salt, the number of calories, artificial aromas, colourings and flavourings, fibres, vitamins and minerals.
- Olive oil: Is part of the wheel of five, with consumers giving it a score of 8.3 on the nutritional value table.
- Coconut oil: Is not part of the wheel of five, with consumers giving it a score of 5.6 on the nutritional value table.
- Sunflower oil: Is part of the wheel of five, with consumers giving it a score of 7.2 on the nutritional value table.
- Coleseed oil: Is part of the wheel of five, with consumers giving it a score of 6.9 on the nutritional value table.10
Olive oil versus sunflower oil, coconut oil and rapeseed oil
Let’s now discuss the different oils one by one. We’ll give you an overview of the main advantages and disadvantages and present a conclusion:
- When to use and when not to use olive oil?
- Is it healthy?
- Extra virgin olive oil offers a number of health benefits. Extra virgin olive oil contains 75% monosaturated fats and 10% polysaturated fats. These fats are very stable when heated, which means you can heat olive oil up to no less than 207 degrees Celsius!11 Extra virgin olive oil also contains polyunsaturated fats such as Omega 3 and 6. As we stated above, these are important nutrients for your body. Extra virgin olive oil is also exceptionally healthy because it contains very little unhealthy unsaturated and trans fats. Other healthy plus-points are the high level of vitamin E12 and the presence of antioxidants such as polyphenols. Consuming these antioxidants gives your body the building blocks it needs to fight free radicals.1
- Health disadvantages can only arise if chemicals are used in the production of olive oil or if there is soil erosion.
Did you know that…
“Gkazas Olive Oil is 100% organic. This means no pesticides or similar substances are used in its production. Manure resulting organically from natural goat and sheep grazing is the only means applied. What’s more, we use only captured natural rainfall to water the olive trees. Gkazas doesn’t remove too much natural overgrowth to prevent soil erosion. While you see more and more mechanised production these days, you won’t see it at Gkazas Olive Oil. We pick the olives by hand and press them in a factory that we share with our fellow farmers.”
You can use extra virgin olive oil for just about everything. It’s delicious in cold dishes, but you can also use it for braising, frying and deep-frying up to 207 degrees Celsius. Like we said, it offers a range of health benefits. You also see this reflected in the wheel of five and the fact that it’s given the highest health score.
Coconut oil versus olive oil
- There are no scientifically substantiated articles that conclude that coconut oil provides health benefits. But there is a sourceq4 that is extremely positive about coconut oil. It claims coconut oil can kill bacteria, support your immune system and even help you lose weight. It’s interesting information, but we do question the validity of these findings. A big plus-point of coconut oil is that it does not contain trans fats. And the oil contains medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs), which the liver uses as an energy source.15
- Refined coconut oil contains high levels of saturated fats. These fats remain relatively stable when heated. This means it can be heated to higher temperatures.16
- Coconut does, however, also have a number of disadvantages. It contains only very small amounts of vitamin E and K and, as already stated, lots of saturated fat (85%). As a result coconut oil is considered17 the least healthy oil. The biggest disadvantage by far is the potential for large-scale deforestation to clear land for coconut plantations, the large-scale use of pesticides and the vast amounts of water required to irrigate plantations.18
Unfortunately, we cannot say definitively whether coconut oil is healthy or not. This is simply because some research studies contradict each other. There are, for example, studies that say that the high level of saturated fat is unhealthy, while others state that this is not the case. We can share one piece of advice: it’s important to ensure you eat a balanced diet. So occasionally deep-frying in coconut oil cannot do much harm. The presence of so much saturated fat does have one advantage: you can heat coconut oil to high temperatures and deep-fry with it because saturated fat is stable.
- Let’s now look at sunflower oil, which has a relatively large number of advantages. Sunflower oil is made up of approximately 90% saturated fats, 20% of which are monosaturated and 60% are polysaturated fats19. The product does not normally speaking contain trans fats and only small amounts of saturated fats and is rich in vitamin E.20 Sunflower oil has a high smoke point of 232 degrees Celsius, but this does only apply to the unrefined version.15
- Besides the advantages, sunflower oil also has multiple disadvantages that you should consider. Sunflower oil can, for example, still contain trans fats through hydrogenation. Hydrogenation is the process whereby an unsaturated bond is converted by adding and using hydrogen gas in a saturated bond.21 Large quantities of Omega 6 are found in sunflower oil, with excess amounts being linked to infections. Extensive use of sunflower oil extensively is consequently not recommended22,23. But this isn’t the only reason because sunflower seeds must be heavily processed in order to make sunflower oil. Machinery, high temperatures, solvents and bleach must all be used in the process. These are clearly not healthy additions for people and the environment. In relation to broiling and frying, sunflower oil is suitable for heating to a high temperature, but be careful not to exceed this maximum. This is because when sunflower reaches the smoke point, it quickly starts to release harmful substances. You should not heat polyunsaturated sunflower at all because it is unstable.24 So pay close attention to which type of sunflower oil you are using.
Sunflower oil has a neutral taste and is consequently suitable for use in cold dishes. You can also fry, braise and deep-fry with sunflower oil, but we don’t wholeheartedly recommend it. This is because of the potential risk of toxic substances being released during heating.
When you consume sunflower oil, make sure to balance it with other foods. This balance is very important. You don’t want to consume too much Omega 6 if it isn’t in balance with Omega 3. In part due to the lacking balance between Omega 3 and Omega 6, the chemical substances it may contain resulting from the production process and the risk with heating, we cannot conclude that sunflower oil is the healthiest alternative. But sunflower oil is not a bad addition to a balanced diet. So occasionally frying in sunflower oil or using it in a salad dressing is perfectly fine, but just don’t overdo it.
- The advantages of coleseed oil start with the good fats.25 Coleseed oil contains 60% monosaturated fat, 27% polysaturated fat and only 11% saturated fat. It contains lots of vitamin E26 and K and antioxidants27. The most striking feature is the oil’s high smoke point at 240 degrees Celsius.
- Coleseed oil does have one big drawback. The oil is separated from the seeds at high temperatures via a chemical process. Hexane solvent is used for this, which is a flammable, irritating and hazardous substance for the environment and health. It is clearly not 100% vegetable based.28 This is because, the industrial processing that coleseed oil undergoes means that it always contains both trans-fat residues and toxic substances found in the plant itself.29
Coleseed oil is suitable for frying due to the high smoke point. It is also relatively inexpensive. But if you’re planning to fry with an oil, we recommend only buying and using oil that is 100% organic and unrefined. This way you can be certain that the production process is not overly chemical. Coleseed does, however, naturally have a characteristic taste, which makes it less suitable for cooking or as a flavouring for cold dishes.
You’ve just read an overview of the advantages and health disadvantages of different types of oil. We’ve compiled a table based on the information showing the differences in the oils at a glance.
Each olive in the table indicates the amount of a nutrient in each oil. One olive indicates a low amount, while three olives represent a high percentage. We’ve already established that saturated and trans fats are bad for you and antioxidant and unsaturated fats are essential and good for you. As you can see in the table, none of the oils contains noteworthy amounts of trans fats. They may, however, be present in oils that have been processed during the production of, for example, sunflower oil and coleseed, but the percentage is too low to be ‘ticked’ in this table.
The four types of oil and their pros and cons:
- Olive oil also comes out on top in our research. Just like coleseed oil, olive oil has a good ratio of unsaturated fats and antioxidants. But what makes olive oil even healthier is the fact that it contains hardly any saturated fats.
- Coconut oil is the least healthy of the four types of oil. This is because it contains a lot of saturated fats and very few healthy unsaturated fats.
- Sunflower oil does receive a slightly higher score than coleseed oil in the nutritional value table, but we reach a different conclusion. This is due to the disproportionate amount of Omega 6 compared to Omega 3 that could lead to health disadvantages and because sunflower seeds are processed heavily during production. This increases the risk of the presence of trans fats and toxic substances.
- Coleseed oil contains large amounts of unsaturated fats and antioxidants. This makes it a very healthy oil. The only disadvantage is that coleseed oil also undergoes a chemical process, which means it may contain residues of trans fats and toxic substances from plants.
“While we can conclude that each product has its healthy advantages, the most important thing for your health is a balanced diet. So if you must choose one, Gkazas Olive Oil is your best choice. ;)”