Coconut Oil for Weight Loss: Does It Work?
You may be hearing more about coconut oil for weight loss than ever before. Coconut oil is made from the dried fruit (nut) of the coconut palm tree. It is re-gaining popularity as a natural replacement for trans fats in processed foods. It is relatively cheap and gives foods a crispy texture. In addition, it is highly resistant to rancidity and lasts a long time. Fans of coconut oil claim that it has unique properties, including a superior flavor profile and contains natural compounds that promote health.
Coconut oil, like other tropical vegetable oils, is high in saturated fatty acids. It offers about the same amount of calories and fat as any oil or solid fat: one tablespoon contains 117 calories and about 13.6 grams of fat.
Claims regarding coconut oil and reduced body weight
Proponents of using coconut oil claim that though it has a high fat and calorie content, the predominant type of saturated fatty acid it contains is a healthier one than other saturated fatty acids. Your body burns it more readily for energy, which aids in weight loss. Proponents also say that coconut oil boosts your metabolism, gives you extra ‘energy,’ enhances satiety and improves thyroid function. However, there have been few research studies that have examined coconut oil specifically and these studies have shown mixed results in regards to weight loss.
What makes coconut oil different from other oils?
Coconut oil is the most saturated (90%) of all oils, even more so than butter. There are different types of saturated fatty acids. Coconut oil contains several saturated fatty acids, including myristic and lauric acids. Coconut oil contains more lauric acid (about 50%), a medium chain triglyceride, than other oils. Medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) are more readily broken down and used as energy or stored as fat versus accumulating in the arteries or in adipose tissue.
Unlike long chain triglycerides, MCTs are actually quite soluble in water and rapidly absorbed. They are transported in the bloodstream through the portal system to the liver for more efficient use. According to a review published in the International Journal of Food Science and Nutrition in November 2010, MCT increase fat oxidation (burning) and energy expenditure (calorie output). In addition, they may reduce food intake and beneficially alter body composition. While there have been many studies on the advantages of MCTs, there are very few studies available on coconut oil and weight loss, just a few animal studies.
Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) is a substance naturally found in food such as meat and dairy and is added to many weight loss supplements and food products. It has been studied for its effectiveness in reducing body fat and increasing lean muscle mass. The objective of a study conducted on mice in 2005 by the University of Nebraska was to examine if feeding mice either coconut oil or soy oil along with CLA enhanced fat loss. Mice fed coconut oil or fat-free diets along with CLA were leaner than those raised on the soy oil plus CLA diet.
What is the coconut oil diet?
A coconut oil diet or simply a coconut diet is suggested for overall health. There is not a specific or official ‘Coconut oil weight loss’ plan but there are publications such as ‘Coconut Oil Diet Secrets’ and ‘The Coconut Diet: How Coconut Oil is Changing People’s Lives.’ The typical suggestion is to consume up to 3 tablespoons of ‘pure’ coconut oil daily and substitute it for other fats and oils you might normally use for baking or cooking. Some publications or sources go into more detail, suggesting pairing the coconut oil with a low carbohydrate diet. Other coconut oil diets require you to proceed through several stages, any of which may include carbohydrate restriction and detoxification practices, such as colon cleansing.
For most individuals, consuming coconut oil over the short-term and/or in moderation isn’t harmful to health. However, there is not adequate research available to prove conclusively that this is effective for weight loss or safe over the long term. Keep in mind that coconut oil is more saturated than lard or butter and provides the same number of calories and grams of fat as other fats and oils. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends limiting total calories from saturated fat to 10%. On a 2,000 calorie diet, this would be 20 grams (g). You are likely to exceed that amount early in the day following a coconut oil diet. For successful weight loss, consume a calorie-controlled nutrient-dense diet and exercise regularly.
- KM Hargrave et al. Dietary coconut oil increases conjugated linoleic acid-induced body fat loss in mice independent of essential fatty acid deficiency. Biochim Biophys Acta. 2005 Oct 15; 1737(1):52-60.
- ME Clegg. Medium-chain triglycerides are advantageous in promoting weight loss although not beneficial to exercise performance. Int J Food Sci Nutr. 2010 Nov; 61(7):653-79.
- U.S. Department of Agriculture Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005: Fats.
- KM Zelman. The Truth about Coconut Oil. WebMD: Healthy Eating and Diet.