Coconut oil vs. Palm oil — Health Impact and Nutrition Comparison
Coconut oil and palm oil are both high-calorie foods, consisting primarily of fats.
They completely lack protein and carbohydrates and are low in micronutrients. However, palm oil is relatively richer in vitamin E and vitamin K when compared to coconut oil.
Research suggests that palm oil is a healthier choice than coconut oil for cardiovascular health due to its lower saturated fat content. Both can have positive effects for people with diabetes type 2.
Overall, these oils can be healthy when used in moderation and as part of a healthy diet.
Table of contents
Coconut oil and palm oil are both edible vegetable oils derived from palm fruits that are also widely used in personal care.
In this article, we will discuss how these oils are produced and talk about their nutritional composition and impact on health, comparing them along the way.
The initial substance in coconut oil production is, naturally, a coconut. After cracking the coconut, the white endosperm is removed and dried. This dried coconut meat, also known as copra, undergoes solvent extraction or is pressed with a special tool to attain the unrefined oil. To then produce refined oil, the initial oil goes through more steps: it is mixed with agents to change the texture of the oil, and chemical solvents are added to remove free fatty acids. Later, this substance is filtered through clay and, finally, heated to remove the remaining scent.
Palm oil is primarily made from the African oil palm (Elaeis guineensis). Oil can be produced from both the palm fruit and the crushed kernel; however, kernel oil has different qualities compared with palm fruit oil. First, the palm fruits are steamed and pressed to remove the solids from the oil. Then this oil is processed and refined to remove impurities from it. Later, this refined oil is fractionated into liquid and solid fats. Each fraction is used to produce various products.
Taste and Use
Vegetable oils are very versatile. They are used in numerous industries as ingredients in food, cosmetics, and even as biofuels.
Coconut oil is predominantly used as cooking oil, body and hair oil, and industrial oil. It is also used in the manufacture of sweets, margarine, as well as paints, and pharmaceutical agents (1).
Palm oil is said to be present in half of the products on supermarket shelves. You can find it in most foods, cosmetics, and hygiene products.
Depending on the type of coconut oil, it can taste different. Unrefined coconut oil does have a taste of coconut, whereas refined coconut oil does not and, therefore, has a more neutral flavor.
The taste of palm oil is often sweet, similar to carrots, or neutral and mellow.
Coconut oil comes in three forms, depending on the processing method: unrefined, also known as virgin or extra virgin, refined, and partially hydrogenated. Unrefined coconut oil is made by pressing the oil out of the coconut meat. Based on the method, unrefined coconut oil can also be expeller-pressed or cold-pressed. This oil has a stronger coconut taste and scent, as well as a lower smoke point.
Refined coconut oil does not have a coconut flavor or odor but has a higher smoke point, which makes this oil more appropriate for cooking with high heat.
Partially hydrogenated coconut oil is the most processed version of the three. The process of hydrogenating the oil turns the unsaturated fats into saturated fats, creating unhealthy trans fats along the way. This oil has a longer shelf life and a more solid form at room temperature.
Palm oil can be classified into three common types based on the part of the palm used in its production. Oil derived from the palm fruit is simply named palm oil, while oil made from the palm seed or stone is called palm kernel oil. By further processing palm kernel oil, fractionated palm kernel oil is produced.
Just like the coconut oil, palm oil can also be classified as crude, semi- and fully refined. Refined palm oil undergoes processing, which deodorizes the oil, and gives it a neutral flavor.
Compared to unrefined coconut oil, unrefined palm oil has a much higher smoke point (2). Whereas palm oil can be used for both shallow and deep frying, light coconut oil is more suitable for shallow frying.
Depending on the level of processing and type of the oil, the nutritional composition may vary.
Macronutrients and Calories
Edible oils are overall not very diverse in nutrients, they also contain negligible amounts of water.
Coconut and palm oil have equal serving sizes: one tablespoon weighing 13.6g.
Vegetable oils are very high in calories. Coconut and palm oil contain similar amounts of calories.
One serving size of coconut oil contains 121 calories, while palm oil contains 120.
Edible oils consist primarily of fats.
Coconut oil consists of 99% fats, whereas palm oil is nearly 100% fat. This means that one serving size of coconut oil (13.6g) contains 13.5g of fats.
The fat in coconut oil consists of 91% saturated fatty acids. Next by portion are monounsaturated fatty acids, and last, polyunsaturated fatty acids.
Palm oil contains a lot more monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids. However, saturated fat still makes up the majority.
You can find the fat composition chart of these two oils below.
Fat Type Comparison
The fat composition changes for partially hydrogenated oils, as poly- and monounsaturated fats turn into saturated fat.
Both palm and coconut oils contain no cholesterol.
Protein and Carbohydrates
Coconut and palm oil contain no protein or carbohydrates.
Both oils contain only two vitamins: vitamin K and vitamin E, although the amounts are negligible in coconut oil.
Meanwhile, one tablespoon of palm oil provides about 14% of the recommended daily intake of vitamin E.
Please note: the charts below are given for 300 grams of serving.
The amount of minerals in coconut and palm oils is negligible.
As both coconut oil and palm oil contain no carbohydrates, their glycemic indices are equal to 0.
Raw coconut is alkaline; however, through heating and further processing, coconut oil becomes acidic with an average pH ranging from 3.5 to 5.5 (3).
Palm oil is also slightly acidic, on average, its pH value equals 6.34 (4).
Another way to look at the acidity of a food is by looking at the potential renal acid load (PRAL), which shows the capacity of the food to produce bases or acids.
The PRAL value for both coconut oil and palm oil is 0, making these oils neutral.
Both coconut and palm oils are very high in calories due to their high-fat content. One tablespoon of these oils contains around 120 calories.
Despite its high caloric value, coconut oil is often claimed to aid weight loss. Most research doesn’t support the idea that coconut oil can lead to weight loss when used on its own. When used as part of a low-calorie, balanced diet, coconut oil could increase high-density lipoproteins and decrease the total cholesterol/high-density lipoprotein ratio in men with obesity (5).
However, many studies have concluded that there is not enough consistent evidence that coconut oil has beneficial effects on energy metabolism, satiety, or weight loss (6, 7, 8).
Studies on the association between palm oil consumption and weight loss have not achieved significant results as well. There is also insufficient evidence to claim palm oil’s superior qualities over other vegetable oils in obesity management (9).
In this section, we will discuss what effects coconut oil and palm oil have on human health and how these effects compare to each other.
One meta-analysis concluded that while coconut oil raises high-density lipoproteins (also known as “good” cholesterol), this benefit does not outweigh the negative impact it causes by also elevating low-density lipoproteins (also known as"bad" cholesterol) (10). In contrast, another study found that daily consumption of moderate amounts of coconut oil raises high-density lipoproteins and shows no significant harmful side effects (11).
In the first study, coconut oil also significantly increased total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol concentrations, compared with palm oil and other vegetable oils, due to the high saturated fat content (10).
However, in comparison to animal oils, coconut oil demonstrated more favorable changes in blood lipid profile, lowering low-density lipoproteins. Virgin coconut oil showed the best results (12).
Some research carried out on animals has concluded that coconut oil is associated with an improvement in antioxidant activity, lipid profile, blood pressure, blood sugar, and abdominal body fat (13). These effects still have to be studied in humans.
Meta-analyses on the topic of palm oil consumption have concluded that it does not have incremental risks for cardiovascular disease or cardiovascular disease-related mortality (14, 15).
Multiple studies have found that coconut oil, especially virgin coconut oil, may ameliorate lipid profiles in diabetes mellitus type 2 (16, 17), support normal glucose homeostasis, and modulate the immune response (18). Virgin coconut oil may also be used as a functional food to prevent the development of diet-induced insulin resistance and associated complications, potentially due to its antioxidant qualities (19).
Some studies show that substituting red palm oil as an antioxidant may reduce blood glucose in diabetic patients (20, 21). However, others have not found significant effects of palm oil on biomarkers of glucose metabolism (22).
Coconut oil has expressed antiproliferative and pro-apoptotic responses in tumor cells (23). Virgin coconut oil, as well as processed and fractionated coconut oil, have shown anticancer activities, especially against liver and oral cancer (24). Moreover, virgin coconut oil consumption during chemotherapy may also improve the quality of life for breast cancer patients (25).
As for palm oil consumption and cancer correlation, there is no evidence associating palm oil intake and a higher risk of cancer, or improved outcomes (26).
Downsides and Risks
American Heart Association states that due to high saturated fats, coconut oil raises low-density lipoproteins, which can pose a risk for atherosclerotic cardiovascular diseases (10).
The use of repeatedly heated palm oil, as well as other oils, is also a predisposing factor of atherosclerosis and the consequent cardiovascular issues (27).
The widespread palm oil production can cause environmental hazards that negatively affect not only our health but also nature. Large-scale palm oil production leads to deforestation, destruction of the habitats of endangered species, and an increase of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, further contributing to climate change (28).
Comparison summary table
|Lower in Saturated Fat|
|Lower in price|
|Rich in minerals|
|Lower in Sugar||Equal|
|Lower in Sodium||Equal|
|Lower in Cholesterol||Equal|
|Lower in Glycemic Index||Equal|
|Rich in vitamins||Equal|
All nutrients comparison - raw data values
|Omega-6 - Linoleic acid||1.676g|
|Omega-3 - ALA||0.019g|
Which food is preferable for your diet?
|Low Fats diet|
|Low Carbs diet||Equal|
|Low Calories diet|
|Low Glycemic Index diet||Equal|