Coconut oil is unique because it can be used for energy just like carbs except that it doesn't provide the insulin response. In one study, after just 90 days of taking virgin CO versus Corn oil, body weight was reduced and insulin sensitivity increased in the CO group while the long-chain triglyceride group (corn oil) saw no significant differences (1b).
Moreover, coconut oil is extremely therapeutic. It is composed of about 50% lauric acid (more than any other oil) and this component is also found in human breast milk. Lauric acid is known for its antibacterial, anti-viral, and anti-fungal properties, which is most likely why we see a decreased rate of disease in breast-fed versus formula-fed infants (1c). It also stimulates the thyroid, regulating metabolism and increasing overall energy (2).
Coconut oil is also better for cooking as it is less likely to oxidize. The problem with unsaturated oils whether canola or olive, is that as soon as we heat them up they quickly go rancid, creating trans-fatty acids and free radicals in the body (which are known to provoke heart disease and premature aging). This is why the use of vegetable oils in our society has also seen a correlation with a rise in obesity and disease: because these oils are unstable and become so toxic when used for cooking. So olive oil is still healthful just when used raw as a dressing for salad because it remains stable at room temperature and will not oxidize.
A lot of you probably know that it is a good thing to keep our omega-6 intake down. Most omega-6s consumed today are in the forms of vegetable oils and margarine causing an increase in inflammation in the body (it is best to keep PUFA consumption low, but also balance it with a healthy amount of omega-3s). Well Coconut oil is almost all saturated fat so when consuming it, we don't have to worry about it affecting omega-6 intake. On the other hand, olive oil does have a slight presence of omega-6 though it is mostly negligible (still we should be aware of this when consuming any unsaturated oils).
On a last note, Coconut Oil favorably improves our blood lipid profile. A huge misnomer of CO is that it increases cholesterol. Actually this is true, it is just that health care professionals fail to see what part of the cholesterol it improves. CO has actually been seen to reduce oxidized LDL and VLDL [the "bad" cholesterol which clogs our arteries; high LDL isn't bad if it is the buoyant, puffy kind that floats through the blood-- a marker of our LDL status is the level of our triglycerides, lower=better]. CO lowers triglycerides and increases HDL, known to some as the best marker of heart health (3).
In a recent meta analysis of 60 trials measuring the effect of fatty acids + carbohydrates on cholesterol, the authors stated that when looking at the ratio of total:HDL cholesterol, lauric acid was more favorable than carbohydrates because it had the most positive effect on HDL than any other fatty acid (4).
In another study, men were fed either lauric acid (as I stated earlier, the main fatty acid in CO) or oleic acid (the main fatty acid in olive oil) until no longer hungry. At the end of the 3 day trial, the lauric acid group observed a more suppressed appetite and reduction in energy intake over the oleic acid group. This may suggest that CO not only advocates caloric restriction, but may also influence weight loss more than olive oil (5).
So overall, we see more benefits with CO in these trials. It is no wonder that Pacific islanders who are studied and consume coconut as a large percentage of their diet have much better blood lipid profiles. So coconut oil is the optimum oil to be consuming, especially for cooking, but olive oil is also okay when used at room temperature. I hope this article helped convince you a little more that saturated fats (at least those from CO) will not kill you and are actually favored by the body more than long-chain fatty acids. On that note, I am going to go make my sweet potato with coconut oil, write another health article soon!