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While the days of demonizing fat are thankfully behind us, it can still be difficult to determine which fats are good for us.
With differing properties and molecular makeups, choosing the right oil to cook with can feel like more of a chemistry lesson than a cooking class.
Experts tend to agree that avocado oil and olive oil are two of the healthiest fats we can use for cooking—but does one outperform the other?
The short answer is that both avocado and olive oil are incredibly healthy fats, with slight differences in nutritional profiles and smoke points that affect their ideal cooking methods.
In this article, we’ll take a look at the nutritional profiles of avocado oil and olive oil, the health benefits of the two, and when to cook with one or the other.
Avocado oil is pressed from the green flesh of the avocado fruit.
While avocados are best known for topping toast in millennial brunch spreads and being mashed into guacamole, their versatility increases when pressed into an oil.
Avocado oil can be either refined or unrefined.
Refined avocado oil uses heat or chemical solvents to extract the oil, followed by a bleaching and deodorizing process to eliminate the chemical taste and smell.
Conversely, unrefined (also known as cold-pressed or extra-virgin) uses mechanical extraction—imagine a machine pressing down on the avocado to squeeze out the oil.
As you can imagine, unrefined, cold-pressed avocado oil is a healthier option, as its natural color, flavor, and nutrients are retained.
There are several health benefits of avocado oil, including reducing VLDL and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and triglyceride levels, which are markers of heart and metabolic health.
Research has also shown avocado oil consumption to reduce C-reactive protein (CRP) levels, which indicates inflammation in the body.
Olive oil is unsurprisingly made from pressed olives, with similar varieties to avocado oil, including extra-virgin, virgin, and refined or pure olive oil.
Extra-virgin olive oil is the highest potential grade, which is made from the first mechanical cold-pressing of the olives with no chemical solvents or treatments.
This type of unrefined oil is considered superior in taste and quality and must have a free acid count of less than one percent.
Virgin olive oil is quite rare and is still unrefined but has a slightly higher acid level than extra-virgin olive oil.
Refined or pure olive oil is actually anything but pure—it’s made by blending refined olive oil with a small amount of extra virgin olive oil, and it has three to four times the amount of oleic acid as extra virgin olive oil.
There are substantial health benefits of olive oil, which have been recognized ever since its first purported use thousands of years ago in Mediterranean countries.
With its high levels of antioxidants and healthy fats, olive oil benefits heart, metabolic, and cognitive health—it may even reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
Olive oil consumption may also contribute to a longer lifespan, as seen in a 28-year-long study that found those who consumed the most olive oil had a 19% reduced risk of death—especially when the olive oil replaced butter, margarine, or mayonnaise.
There are not too many nutritional differences between avocado oil and olive oil, as they have similar fat profiles and antioxidant levels.
But, there are some differences in their smoke points, which affects which oil should be used for what cooking methods—we’ll get more into smoke points in the next section.
Both avocado oil and olive oil are high in unsaturated fats, especially monounsaturated fat (MUFAs).
The specific type of fat predominantly found in both oils is oleic acid, a beneficial monounsaturated omega-9 fatty acid.
They have very similar nutritional profiles, although the saturated fat in avocado oil is slightly lower, and the polyunsaturated fat (PUFAs) are a bit higher.
Here is the nutritional breakdown for a standard one tablespoon serving of each oil:
|Avocado oil||Extra virgin olive oil|
|Fat||14 grams (g)||14 g|
|Protein||0 g||0 g|
|Carbohydrates||0 g||0 g|
|Saturated fat||1.6 g||1.9 g|
|Monounsaturated fat||10 g||10 g|
|Polyunsaturated fat||2 g||1.5 g|
|Vitamin E||23% of the Daily Value (DV)||10-33% of the DV|
There are some reported differences in vitamin E content, which acts as an antioxidant to fight cellular oxidative stress and free radicals.
Some research states that avocado oil and olive oil contain 23% and 33% of the daily value (DV) for vitamin E in the form of tocopherols, respectively.
However, other studies show that olive oil has much less vitamin E, at about 10% of the DV.
These differences might arise from the processing method of the oils, as well as exposure to light, as vitamin E degrades quickly upon light exposure.
Despite this, the antioxidant activity of avocado oil is similar to that of olive oil.
Olive oil has a high concentration of polyphenols, such as tyrosol, hydroxytyrosol, and oleuropein, while avocado oil contains the phytosterols campesterol and stigmasterol.
Both polyphenols and phytosterols are beneficial for supporting cardiovascular and metabolic health.
However, hydroxytyrosol in olive oil is a more potent antioxidant than the others, providing anti-cancer, neuroprotective, and antimicrobial effects.
Avocado oil tends to be best for higher-heat cooking because it has a greater smoke point.
Smoke points are the temperature at which an oil or fat will start to smoke, which is a sign of degradation and the release of harmful free radicals that cause oxidative damage.
Reaching an oil’s smoke point can also change the flavor due to the release of a chemical called acrolein, giving the oil an acrid taste and smell.
Unrefined, extra-virgin avocado oil has a smoke point of 482°F, and refined avocado oil’s smoke point can exceed 500°F.
However, olive oil’s smoke point is much lower, showing signs of smoking and degradation at 375°F.
Due to its higher smoke point, it’s best to use avocado oil instead of olive oil for high-temperature cooking methods, including:
Avocado oil tends to have a neutral and mild taste, allowing you to use it in recipes without changing the flavor of your food.
However, cold-pressed and extra-virgin avocado oil can sometimes give off a buttery and grassy flavor reminiscent of the avocado fruit itself.
One high-quality avocado oil on the market is Primal Kitchen, one of the first brands to popularize using this type of oil for both cooking and in products like mayonnaise.
Conversely, olive oil is best for low-heat cooking, salad dressings, or drizzling on a meal after it’s finished cooking.
Olive oil—especially cold-pressed, extra-virgin olive oil—tends to have a stronger flavor than avocado oil, providing subtle fruity, herbal, grassy, or even slightly bitter tastes.
For these reasons, some people avoid using olive oil in some recipes, especially with baking or meals where olive oil would alter the flavor profiles.
Yes, avocado oil is an incredibly healthy oil to consume.
As with all fats, it’s best not to overconsume avocado oil because it is calorically dense—just two tablespoons of avocado oil would equate to about 250 calories and 28 grams of fat.
Plus, you miss out on the fiber and protein that comes with eating the whole avocado fruit, so just consuming the oil will lead to lower satiety.
The bottom line is that avocado oil is a highly nutritious oil that is versatile for various cooking methods and is unlikely to produce harmful free radicals from reaching its smoke point.
Yes, olive oil is also very healthy.
With its high levels of antioxidants, oleic acid, monounsaturated fat, and vitamin E, olive oil is thought to be one of the healthiest fats in the world.
Like avocado oil, eating too much olive oil is possible, as overconsumption can lead to excessive caloric intake.
Avocado oil is not necessarily healthier than olive oil.
Both oils are extremely nutritious and loaded with antioxidants and healthy fat, making them beneficial choices for heart and cognitive health.
One caveat is that avocado oil is a healthier option when cooking at high-heat temperatures because olive oil will reach its smoke point sooner and begin to release harmful free radicals.
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