Coconut oil is the world’s most weight-loss-friendly fat. It contains a unique combination of fatty acids with powerful effects on metabolism. Several studies show that just by adding coconut oil to your diet, you can lose fat, especially the “dangerous” fat in the abdominal cavity.
Let me explain how that works…
It‘s High in Medium Chain Triglycerides & Fatty Acids That Boost Metabolism
Coconut oil is vastly different from most other fats in the diet. Whereas most foods contain predominantly long-chain fatty acids, coconut oil consists almost entirely of Medium Chain Fatty Acids (1). The thing with these medium chain fatty acids, is that they are metabolized differently than the longer chain fats. They are sent straight to the liver from the digestive tract, where they are either used for energy right away or turned into ketone bodies. These fats are often used by epileptic patients on a ketogenic diet, in order to increase ketone levels while allowing for a bit more carbs in the diet (2).
There is also some evidence from animal studies that medium chain fats are stored less efficiently than other fats. In one study, rats were overfed with either long chain or medium chain fats. The rats fed the medium chain fats gained 20% less weight and 23% less body fat (3).
It Can Boost Metabolism, Making You Burn More Calories at Rest
A calorie is not a calorie. Different foods and macronutrients go through different metabolic pathways. The different types of foods we eat can have a huge effect on our hormones and metabolic health. Some metabolic pathways are more efficient than others and some foods require more energy to digest and metabolize.
One important property of coconut oil is that it is “thermogenic” – eating it tends to increase energy expenditure (fat burning) compared to the same amount of calories from other fats (4). In one study, 15-30 grams (1 to 2 tablespoons) of medium chain fats per day increased energy expenditure by 5%, totaling about 120 calories per day (5). Several other studies confirm these findings. When humans replace the fats they are eating with MCT fats, they burn more calories (6).
Therefore, a calorie from coconut oil is NOT the same as a calorie from olive oil orbutter (although these fats are perfectly healthy too).
It Can Reduce Appetite, Helping You Eat Less Without Trying
“Weight loss is all about calories in, calories out.”
Even though I think this is a drastic oversimplification, it is mostly true. If your body expends more energy (calories) than it takes in, then you will lose fat. But even though it is true that we need to be in a calorie deficit to lose weight, it doesn’t mean that calories are something that we need to count or be consciously aware of. Humans are very capable of remaining lean and healthy in their natural environment. The obesity epidemic didn’t start until 1980 and we didn’t even know what a calorie was back in the day.
Anything that reduces our appetite can make us take in fewer calories without having to think about it. It appears that coconut oil has this effect. Many studies on medium chain fatty acids show that, compared to the same amount of calories from other fats, they increase feelings of fullness and lead to an automatic reduction in calorie intake (7).
This may be related to the way these fats are metabolized. It is well known that ketone bodies (which the liver produces when you eat coconut oil) can have a powerful appetite reducing effect (8, 9, 10). Whatever the mechanism is, it works. In one study of 6 healthy men, eating a high amount of MCTs caused them to automatically eat 256 fewer calories per day (11). In another study of 14 healthy men, those who ate MCTs at breakfast ate significantly fewer calories at lunch (12).
So… coconut oil boosts fat burning (increases “calories out”) and it also reduces the appetite (reduces “calories in”).
It Can Help You Lose Abdominal Fat
If coconut oil can boost metabolism and reduce appetite, then it should help you lose fat over the long term. In fact, there are several studies that support this.
In one study, 40 women were given either 30 grams (2 tablespoons) of either coconut oil or soybean oil for 28 days. They were instructed to eat fewer calories and walk every day. These were the results (13):
- Both groups lost weight (about 2 pounds).
- Only the coconut oil group had decreased waist circumference (belly fat) while the soybean oil actually had a mild increase in belly fat.
- The coconut oil group had increased HDL (good) cholesterol levels, while the soybean oil had reduced HDL and increased LDL.
In this study, coconut oil did not cause overall weight loss compared to soybean oil, but it did lead to a significant reduction in belly fat. In another study in obese men, 30 grams of coconut oil for 4 weeks reduced waist circumference by 2.86 cm, or 1.1 inches (14). There are also other studies showing that medium chain fats lead to weight loss, reduced waist circumference and various improvements in metabolic health (15, 16).
The weight loss effects of coconut oil don’t appear to be fairly mild, except for the abdominal fat. Abdominal fat, also called visceral fat or belly fat, is the fat that tends to lodge around your organs and cause inflammation, diabetes and heart disease. Any reduction in abdominal fat is likely to have very positive effects on your metabolic health, longevity and drastically reduce your risk of chronic disease.
These results are far from being dramatic, but consider that all these people are doing is adding coconut oil to their diet. Combined with other proven weight loss strategies (like cutting carbs and increasingprotein), all of this can add up to a significant amount. Therefore, coconut oil can support a healthy, real-food based weight loss diet, but don’t expect it to work any miracles on its own.
If you’re interested in even more research on coconut oil, then you can find a very impressive collection of studies here.
What About The Calories?
It’s important to keep in mind that coconut oil is fat. Fat has 9 calories per gram… and coconut oil is no exception. Therefore, if you are eating a fixed amount of calories and then add coconut oil on top of that, then it’s likely to make you gain weight, not lose. However, most people aren’t counting calories and eating a fixed amount per day. In these cases, adding coconut oil to your diet will reduce your appetite and probably make you eat less of other foods instead. So this really is not about adding fat calories to your diet, it is about replacing some of your other cooking fats with coconut oil.
It’s also important not to go overboard and think you need to add tons of coconut oil to your diet to reap the benefits. The studies above used about 30 grams per day, which equals 2 tablespoons. Even if coconut oil is good for cooking and has some powerful health benefits, your diet should still consist primarily of whole, nutritious foods like plants and animals.
You can read more about the other amazing health benefits of coconut oil here.
Article by Kris Gunnars