At first glance, coconut oil and canola oil may appear fairly similar, as they are both fats derived from plant sources and contain a similar number of calories per serving. Aside from that, however, they have plenty of differences. This means that, depending on your goals, one may be more suitable than the other for your purposes.
Counting Your Calories
Both canola oil and coconut oil contain a very similar number of calories. Per tablespoon serving, canola oil has 120 calories, while coconut oil has 117 calories. The amount of fat in a serving is almost identical, too, with canola oil containing 14 grams of fat and coconut containing 13.6 grams. As far as these numbers stack up, it's an even game.
Big Fat Debate
The type of fat between the two oils differs greatly. Canola oil is 61 percent monounsaturated fat, 32 percent polyunsaturated fat -- with a mix of omega-6 and omega-3 -- and 7 percent saturated fat. Conversely, coconut oil contains 11.8 grams of saturated fat per tablespoon, which means it's around 90 percent saturated fat.
The monounsaturated fats in canola oil are where you'll find its benefits. A 2013 report from the "Nutrition Review" journal stated that when compared with other sources of dietary fat, canola oil may reduce levels of total and low-density lipoprotein, or "bad" cholesterol, as well as improve insulin sensitivity. Additionally, 1 tablespoon of canola oil provides around 15 percent of your recommended intake of vitamin E and around 12 percent of the recommended intake of vitamin K. Coconut oil is virtually devoid of both of these. While the saturated fat in coconut oil may appear to be a downside, it's slightly different than the saturated fat you find in animal products. Coconut oil contains medium-chain triglycerides, and this type of saturated fat could be beneficial for increasing energy without raising blood sugar levels, notes nutritionist Dr. Jonny Bowden.
The Final Word
Both oils are calorie-dense and should be consumed in moderation if your goals are weight loss or health-related. While coconut oil may offer some slightly different benefits than canola oil, it's still important to keep your saturated fat intake under control. The Department of Health and Human Services advises consuming less than 10 percent of your calories from saturated fat. A mix of both oils, within the calorie boundaries of your diet, is probably best, however. In "The Essentials of Sport and Exercise Nutrition," sports nutritionist Dr. John Berardi recommends getting your fats from a mix of roughly one-third monounsaturated fats, one-third polyunsaturated fats and one-third saturated fats.