The vegan advantages are more obvious, but eliminating refined fats like heart healthy olive oil may seem counter-intuitive.
What about the Mediterranean Diet which is supposedly good for you?
The respected researcher and author Dr. Michael Klaper describes it this way (1):
“Compared to a Standard American Diet that pours a lethal stream of heavy fats, hydrogenated oils, refined sugars, and artery-injuring proteins through one’s blood stream, the Mediterranean Diet, which relies heavily on vegetables, fruits, pasta and fish, is certainly an improvement. It’s healthier because it’s a mostly vegetarian diet, largely free of red meat and dairy products.”
In other words, it’s the other characteristics of the Mediterranean diet which are healthy, not the use of oils.
And yes, it is true that olive is “heart healthy” as a monounsaturated fat (MUFA), but that’s relative to other types, like trans and most saturated forms (2).
More accurately said, it’s healthier for your heart, but not the healthiest.
That would be oil-free.
If you’re a regular reader of Superfoodly, you already know we agree with the same doctors Bill Clinton listened to, like Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn of the Cleveland Clinic, who wrote the New York Times bestseller Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease. In all caps, he says “NO OIL!”
High calories are only the second worst thing about oils and to be honest, that aspect is non-issue if you frequently exercise.
The number one problem with them is that they contribute to atherosclerosis (3).
That is an irreversible condition, where fats and other substances accumulate on your artery walls and permanently stiffen them. Atherosclerosis can cause heart attacks and strokes (4).
Why it worsens atherosclerosis is fairly intuitive when you think about it.
Highly refined oils are not natural foods. Yes, since the beginning, humans have been eating high fat foods such as nuts, which are up to 93% fat content. Oil and butter is 100% fat, which is almost the same thing. So why is one considered healthy for you and the other isn’t?
Because of the way oil is digested.
When you eat nuts and most other solid fats, they take more time to digest. When you eat refined oils, they can hit your blood stream immediately, even before digestion.
Don’t believe us? You can watch it happen in real-time with an animal in Dr. Klaper’s Salt, Sugar, and Oil video.
While they may not be as new as refined sugars in the human diet, refined oils were not around from day one. It’s no surprise that the side effect of arterial wall buildup can result. That blast of liquid fat is comparable to the sugar rush we get from soda… it’s foreign to our body.
Is coconut butter the same as coconut oil?
Why the most popular of these is called paleo is beyond comprehension.
Comparing these two fats can be confusing. Neither is in liquid form like extra virgin olive, canola, soybean, sunflower, sesame, hemp and most other culinary types. Both are solid at room temperature, which means they both are similar butters, right?
Nope. They are not the same thing.
There is a big difference between coconut oil and coconut butter. It’s how they’re made and what nutrients they contain.
Once you understand the science, the better choice for you will be obvious.
What is coconut butter?
How it’s made is similar to nut butters. The entire flesh of the coconut is ground up to create a creamy paste. Contrast that to coconut oil, in which solvents and/or heat are used to extract the pure fatty acids, while the rest of the flesh gets discarded.
As a result, with the butter about 90% of the calories come from fat, compared to 100% with the refined oil. 90% may sound high – and it is – but consider that whole pecans are 93%, walnuts are 87%, and almond are 76%. The healthiest nuts by fat percentage are cashews and pistachios, yet even those are 67% and 72%, respectively.
That other 10% of calories in coconut butter are from complex carbohydrates and a little protein. You also are getting a high amount of dietary fiber – 3 gram per tablespoon equals 10% of your daily value.
How many calories there are in the butter is 20% lower than coconut oil (105 vs. 130 per tbsp).
Now you can’t claim that makes it “good” for weight loss, because calorically dense foods in general should be minimized during dieting, because they don’t offer much satiability. You would have to eat a lot of them to feel full. But still, fewer calories is better than more!
Is creamed coconut the same as coconut butter?
Both are made using the whole ground flesh and yes, for the most part they are the same. However depending on the brand, there will be one or two differences.
Since creamed coconut is more directed towards the baking and cooking crowd, they may not be as healthy. The brands you see selling it are not emphasizing health benefits and almost none are organic. Don’t be surprised if they used chemical solvents or high heat in their production processes.
For brands like Artisana Organics (which is raw) and MaraNatha, the health benefits of coconut butter are top priority. They know what their customers want and it’s not using hexane, chloroform, or petroleum ether. In addition to some creamed versions, those solvents may be used in some coconut oil production, too (5).
The other big difference with creamed coconut is there tends to more water in the packets. What’s in the jar of a quality butter is solid, not watered down.
In short, the oil is 100% fat which has been highly refined. Butter and creamed is refined, but it’s closer to being a whole food.
Is it good for you?
It’s hard to deny that coconut butter is good for your skin, as its lauric acid does an excellent job at moisturizing when applied topically.
Doing so can clog pores and cause acne or blackheads for some people. It is a comedogenic oil. For that reason, it tends to be more appropriate for use on the skin of the body and as a hydrating lip balm, rather than a face cream.
When it comes to eating it, there is both good and bad news to report.
The high calorie aspect we’ve already talked about. The other drawback is that while it is less refined than oil, it still is a refined fat since the fleshy pulp has been ground to a creamy consistency.
No matter how much you chew whole raw coconut meat, the stuff you swallow would not be as broken down as the creamy stuff in these jars.
So why is lauric healthier for you? Because it’s a medium chain fatty acid.
Not to get too technical, but its tail is a chain of 12 carbon atoms. Most others in your diet are way more, up to 22 or even greater.
Why does medium chain matter? Because they are directly absorbed in the liver, instead of the thoracic duct lymphatic system which is needed for anything long chain (9).
This means they get processed and burned more efficiently.
That’s energy you’re more likely to use, if you eat them for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
Contrast coconut butter vs. butter from a cow. By the time the latter gets metabolized after dinner, you may already be sound asleep. You don’t need much energy then, so it will get converted to fat stores for later use.
To sum up the difference of coconut oil vs. butter made from the ground flesh:
- Since it is less refined than the oil, the butter is closer to a whole food.
- Being rich in MCT oil or fat means the butter is more readily available for energy, rather than hours later.
- Its smoke point is better than unrefined flax, sunflower, and dairy butter. That makes it safer for cooking, to minimize the creation of dangerous advanced glycation end products.
It is worth mentioning that the smoke point for the fatty acids in coconut are only medium; 351 °F (177 °C) when pure. Since the butter is not pure, it will likely be 20-50° F lower than that.
Neither form of this vegetable fat should be used for higher temperature frying. That is one benefit extra virgin olive oil has going for it, as its smoke point is 350° to 410° F depending on its quality.
When you need a purified or semi-purified fat for a recipe, then coconut butter is often the best option.
What does it taste like?
Regardless of whether it’s plant or animal derived, pure 100% fat actually has no taste.
Fat is detectable by the tongue and that is what you are experiencing. Three molecules of fatty acids join together to form triglycerides, which is what creates the smooth creaminess we all love. These triglycerides have no flavor in and of themselves, only a texture (10).
Since it’s more than a 99% pure fat, there is less flavor in coconut oil vs. butter. With the latter being only 90% fat, you have more taste since the other 10% includes more of the flavor compounds; saturated delta-C8, C10, and C12 lactones. Those are what’s responsible for distinct and subtly-sweet flavor of coconut. Therefore what coconut butter tastes like is the same as the oil, but with a more robust flavor. (11)
That’s probably why flavored oils have been coming to market. Because when they’re so highly refined, they taste nasty on their own (tasteless).
On the left you have Nutiva organic buttery coconut oil. Same as their regular, but flavored. They’ve been peddling that pretty hard lately for popcorn, etc.
On the right you have Artisana organic raw coconut butter. Ignoring the color for a moment (since Nutiva has yellow coloring), the biggest visual difference between them is their texture.
One is creamy right out of the jar (Nutiva) and the other is a pile of flakes which loosely stick together. At room temperature, that won’t be as easy to spread.
Fortunately, it melts easily. For non-hydrogenated, which is the type we hope you buy, the melting point of coconut butter is only 76° F (24° C). That’s the temperature at which it liquefies.
Just a warm day without AC is enough to accomplish that!
If you want to make it spreadable like real butter is, just give it a little heat. Stove top, microwave, or a dish in the oven for a brief stint all will get the job done.
Our favorite method for making it a smooth buttery spread is also the least appropriate for table manners. But we don’t care.
Scoop a dollop onto your [clean] fingers and begin spreading the butter on your bread or other food. Since your body temp is 98.6° it’s plenty sufficient for liquefying. It will melt within seconds as you spread it onto your food.
Try putting some of those flaky chunks in your palm. That’s what it will look like after 30 to 60 seconds!
Coconut butter vs. Coconut Manna
This trademarked name is owned by Nutiva. It was launched several years ago but even at stores which carry the Nutiva brand, you won’t always see Manna for sale.
For all intents and purposes, it is the same thing as coconut butter. The difference is how they make it. Nutiva’s manna is non-GMO and organic, but it’s not raw. They make it using dried coconut flesh and after grinding it, presumably they reconstitute it with water.
The end result is a nutrition label which is virtually identical to Artisana, the bestselling brand of the butter.
Reviewing both side by side in a blind taste test, you will notice their taste is almost indistinguishable. But we said almost. It’s not the flavor, but the texture which differs. Coconut Manna isn’t as smooth on your tongue. It has a little grittiness. Both are excellent choices but if you can afford it, Artisana is raw and creamier at temperatures above its melting point (76° F).
What to do with it
Like we said, it may not be the most perfect ingredient in your diet, but the coconut butter substitute – in lieu of the less healthy fats – makes a lot of sense. This is our favorite way to use it…
All of the following coconut butter uses are easy to implement:
- In place of regular butter or Earth Balance
- As a binding agent in cookies and other baked goods
- Ghee alternative in Bulletproof coffee recipes
- Natural lip balm
- Natural pomade or hair texturizer
- Long-lasting moisturizer for cracked heels and callus feet
- In lieu of chemical-filled massage oils
- Diabetics who want quick energy with low glycemic impact
- Bodybuilders on low carb and ketogenic diets
- Healthier fat for use in homemade protein bars
For the last thing on the list, we are too lazy to make our own, but here are the best protein bars you can buy that make use of coconut.
One thing we do make, because it’s super simple, is this vegan protein pancake recipe (pictured above).
Where to buy
Given its superfood status among the masses, these days you can find the oil almost anywhere. Everyone from Walmart to your dumpy supermarket will stock it.
Finding where to buy coconut butter is much more challenging. At Trader Joe’s you will strike out and even at Whole Foods, you may or may not have luck. Few brand make it.
The photo you see here was taken by one of us at a major health food store in west LA. There’s a different brand of organic extra virgin oil for every day of the week. The same can’t be said about the butter.
Here are the best options on Amazon: