The ketogenic (also known as keto, or low carb-high fat) diet has been growing in popularity as a way to help with anything from weight loss to athletic performance. One food that has become synonymous with the ketogenic diet is coconut oil. In this article, we’ll answer the question “Can I use olive oil instead of coconut oil in the ketogenic diet?”
Why would I follow a ketogenic diet?
Far from being a new invention, the ketogenic diet has been around from the 1920s as a treatment of epilepsy1 before the development of medications.
In recent years, the ketogenic diet has been used for a range of medical conditions. An increasing body of evidence supports the use of this diet in the portfolio of resources to help weight loss2,3, type 2 diabetes4, adult and childhood intractable epilepsy5 and potentially has a use alongside medical oncology treatments6. Although current evidence to support the use of ketogenic diets to improve athletic performance is less clear,8.
What is the ketogenic diet?
The principle of the ketogenic diet is that it promotes the use of fat as an energy source for the body instead of carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are the favoured energy source for the body, but when fat is converted to ketone bodies, these can be used for energy instead. It’s the change in energy source and the production of ketone bodies that are thought to be some of the reasons for the health effects of the ketogenic diet9.
A diet that creates ketone bodies is high in fat and low in carbohydrate and protein. For the body to use ketones as the energy source, carbohydrate intake must be around or below 20g daily, with a fat intake of around 70 per cent of energy intake.
Extra fat has to be added to the diet to achieve such a high daily intake. This is where coconut oil has been promoted to fill the fat gap.
What’s the difference between olive oil and coconut oil?
Coconut oil is a popular fat used by people following a ketogenic diet. The reason for this is that coconut oil is a rich source of medium-chain triglycerides (MCT), containing around 54 per cent10. Choosing MCT fats in a ketogenic diet is thought to help produce ketones as they are easily absorbed and less likely to be stored as fat than other fatty acids11.
You can read more about the differences between coconut oil and olive oil in this article. https://olivewellnessinstitute.org/article/how-does-olive-oil-compare-with-coconut-oil/
- Mainly monounsaturated fats
- 36 polyphenolic compounds12
- High in vitamin E13
- Mainly MCT’s and saturated fats
- 6 polyphenolic compounds14
- Low in vitamin E
The health benefits of olive oil versus coconut oil
Results of research has shown that 25-50ml of extra virgin olive oil a day can help reduce cardiovascular disease risk factors, prevent or reduce type 2 diabetes, reduce obesity, prevent mood disorders and reverse fatty liver. (find out more about the health benefits of extra virgin olive oil here, including references https://olivewellnessinstitute.org/extra-virgin-olive-oil/health-benefits-of-extra-virgin-olive-oil/ ). It is the polyphenolic compounds and antioxidants (such as vitamin E) found in extra virgin olive oil that are thought to be responsible for the health benefits15.
Coconut oil on the other hand is high in saturated fats (82% saturated fat compared with 14 per cent for olive oil)16. Results of systematic reviews have indicated that reducing dietary saturated fat and replacing it with polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fat (for example extra virgin olive oil) may reduce cardiovascular risk by around 30%16. Coconut oil is also lacking in the bioactive compounds that make olive oil such a super food.
Can I use olive oil instead of coconut oil in the ketogenic diet?
There’s nothing in the rule book that says coconut oil is the only fat to use in a ketogenic diet.
Results from small studies where olive oil has been the primary fat used in a Ketogenic Mediterranean Diet with Phytoextracts (KEMEPHY) showed that weight loss could be achieved without raising LDL cholesterol, triglyceride levels, while reducing blood pressure and improving fasting blood sugar levels.17,18 However other studies have found the higher amounts of MCT in coconut oil may result in slightly increased weight loss11.
So, can you use olive oil instead of coconut oil in the ketogenic diet? The answer is yes. You can use olive oil instead of coconut oil in a ketogenic diet. In fact, given the overall health benefits of extra virgin olive oil, it may be the better option to choose.
How to incorporate extra virgin olive oil into your ketogenic diet
Extra virgin olive oil is incredibly versatile and can be easily used in a ketogenic diet.
- Use extra virgin olive oil as a dressing on vegetables (cooked or raw)
- Add a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil to a smoothie or shake
- Choose extra virgin olive oil as your primary cooking oil
- Replace coconut oil in your bliss balls or energy bites with extra virgin olive oil
- Olive oil swaps out for coconut oil in most keto recipes, except fat bombs where the hardness of the coconut oil still makes a better product.
- Kossoff EH, McGrogan JR. Worldwide use of the ketogenic diet. Epilepsia. 2005 Feb;46(2):280-9.
- Castellana M, Conte E, Cignarelli A, Perrini S, Giustina A, Giovanella L, Giorgino F, Trimboli P. Efficacy and safety of very low calorie ketogenic diet (VLCKD) in patients with overweight and obesity: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Reviews in Endocrine and Metabolic Disorders. 2020 Mar;21(1):5-16.
- Bueno NB, de Melo IS, de Oliveira SL, da Rocha Ataide T. Very-low-carbohydrate ketogenic diet v. low-fat diet for long-term weight loss: a meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. British Journal of Nutrition. 2013 Oct;110(7):1178-87.
- Meng Y, Bai H, Wang S, Li Z, Wang Q, Chen L. Efficacy of low carbohydrate diet for type 2 diabetes mellitus management: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Diabetes research and clinical practice. 2017 Sep 1;131:124-31.
- Liu H, Yang Y, Wang Y, Tang H, Zhang F, Zhang Y, Zhao Y. Ketogenic diet for treatment of intractable epilepsy in adults: a meta‐analysis of observational studies. Epilepsia Open. 2018 Mar;3(1):9-17.
- Klement RJ, Brehm N, Sweeney RA. Ketogenic diets in medical oncology: a systematic review with focus on clinical outcomes. Medical Oncology. 2020 Feb 1;37(2):14.
- Kang J, Ratamess NA, Faigenbaum AD, Bush JA. Ergogenic Properties of Ketogenic Diets in Normal-Weight Individuals: A Systematic Review. Journal of the American College of Nutrition. 2020 Feb 10:1-1.
- Murphy NE, Carrigan CT, Margolis LM. High-Fat Ketogenic Diets and Physical Performance: A Systematic Review. Advances in Nutrition. 2020 Aug 31.
- Freeman JM, Kossoff EH, Hartman AL. The ketogenic diet: one decade later. Pediatrics. 2007 Mar 1;119(3):535-43.
- USA FoodData Central accessed October 2020 https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/789034/nutrients
- Mumme K, Stonehouse W. Effects of medium-chain triglycerides on weight loss and body composition: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 2015 Feb 1;115(2):249-63.
- Cicerale S, Lucas L, Keast R. Biological Activities of Phenolic Compounds Present in Virgin Olive Oil. Int J Mol Sci. 2010;11:458-79.
- Food Standards Australia New Zealand. NUTTAB 2010 [Available from: http://www.foodstandards.gov.au/science/monitoringnutrients/nutrientables/Pages/default.aspx
- Marina AM, Man YB, Nazimah SA, Amin I. Antioxidant capacity and phenolic acids of virgin coconut oil. Int J Food Sci Nutr. 2009;60 Suppl 2:114-23.
- Jimenez-Lopez C, Carpena M, Lourenço-Lopes C, Gallardo-Gomez M, Lorenzo JM, Barba FJ, Prieto MA, Simal-Gandara J. Bioactive compounds and quality of extra virgin olive oil. Foods. 2020 Aug;9(8):1014.
- Sacks FM, Lichtenstein AH, Wu JH, Appel LJ, Creager MA, Kris-Etherton PM, Miller M, Rimm EB, Rudel LL, Robinson JG, Stone NJ. Dietary fats and cardiovascular disease: a presidential advisory from the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2017 Jul 18;136(3):e1-23.
- Pérez-Guisado J, Muñoz-Serrano A, Alonso-Moraga Á. Spanish Ketogenic Mediterranean Diet: a healthy cardiovascular diet for weight loss. Nutrition Journal. 2008 Dec 1;7(1):30.
- Paoli A, Cenci L, Grimaldi KA. Effect of ketogenic Mediterranean diet with phytoextracts and low carbohydrates/high-protein meals on weight, cardiovascular risk factors, body composition and diet compliance in Italian council employees. Nutrition journal. 2011 Dec 1;10(1):112.