How Effective is Coconut Oil for Weight Loss?

by Marixie Ann Obsioma, MT, undergrad MD on February 10, 2021
Last updated on May 23, 2021

From bulletproof coffees to hair masks to cooking sprays, there is certainly no doubt coconut oil is among the trendiest sources of fat on the market. Survey says that 72 percent of people consider the oil to be healthy, which explains why there’s so many health and beauty products enriched with the magical ingredient.

How Effective is Coconut Oil for Weight Loss?

Researchers have also concluded coconut oil can help with fat loss, especially around the abdominal area. These findings have definitely helped the marketing of coconut oil as the miracle fat to lose fat. The popularity of this statement has stimulated many people to use coconut oil as a supplement to reduce body fat.

But can we really classify it as a health food? Coconuts are excellent sources of naturally occurring MCTs, but they do contain other types of fats. And how much coconut oil do you need to have in a day to lose weight? Is it really effective? Are there any risks involved? Read on to know more. 

What is Coconut Oil? 

Coconut oil is extracted from the meat of mature coconuts. Although it is called an oil, it’s solid at room temperature, similar to the texture and consistency of vegetable shortening. It contains approximately 82-92% of saturated fat. A single tablespoon of coconut oil has 11 grams of saturated fat. 

Knowing that it contains high amounts of healthy saturated fat, it has drawn too much attention, especially in the health industry. Several health advisories were against eating it regularly in the past. However, new evidence showed that there is no association between saturated fats and heart diseases (1). 

The saturated fats present in coconut oil are known as MCTs or medium chain triglycerides. Science confirms that these are different from diet-based fatty acids commonly seen in cheese and steaks, which belongs to the long chain variety. Our body metabolizes the medium chain type differently than the long chains (2). 

How Can Coconut Oil Help You Lose Weight? 

Studies have found associations between coconut oil and weight loss, mostly focused on the fact that it can promote satiety, increase your metabolism, and blast belly fat. But of course, experts advise people to proceed with extreme caution. 

1. It Boosts Metabolism 

MCTs are found in coconut oil and they are believed to reduce fat accumulation in the body. 

The body can metabolize MCTs faster because of their shorter carbon chains. Unlike long chains, they need are transported directly to the liver, bypassing the lymphatic system. They are then converted into energy and ketones. The latter are byproducts of fat metabolism. Some people think that ketones are better sources of energy than glucose, which we use normally as our main fuel source. 

Since our body uses MCTs almost immediately, they may have a thermogenic effect, enhancing our ability to burn fat. Evidence showed that replacing LCTs with MCTs in the diet can lead to modest reductions in body weight and body fat, especially visceral fat (3). 

Another study found that 15-30 grams of MCTs can help increase 24-hour energy expenditure by 5% — that is 120 calories per day (4). 

2. It Enhances Satiety 

In its oil form, coconut is known to satiate the hunger for longer periods of time compared to other fats. Evidence showed that consuming virgin coconut oil daily can help increase your HDL cholesterol to enhance satiety. The respondents in the study consumed 30 grams or 30 ml of coconut oil daily for 8 weeks, which is approximately 26 grams of saturated fat (5). This is almost twice the amount of the recommended daily intake of saturated fat (6). Hence, cardiologists are concerned about the possibility of increasing cholesterol levels. It is always advised to work with a doctor and consume fats in moderation.

This effect may also be related to the way the fats are metabolized. Ketones are known to have an appetite reducing effect (7). Varying amounts of medium and long chain triglycerides were given to healthy men. Those who had the most MCTs ate 256 fewer calories daily, on average (8). Another evidence showed that those who had the most MCTs during breakfast ate fewer calories at lunch (9). 

These studies, however, only involved small groups and were only done for short periods. If these effects were to persist long-term, coconut oil can really help reduce body weight for years. 

3. It Blasts Belly Fat

Coconut oil also appears to be specifically effective at reducing belly fat, which lodges in the abdomen, surrounding different vital organs (10). This is considered the most dangerous of all fats and is highly linked to several chronic Western illnesses. 

Waist circumference can be easily measured and is an excellent marker for the amount of fat in the abdomen. Research has discovered that consuming coconut oil can help burn belly fat, which is dangerous for the heart. Women who were given 40 grams of coconut oil for 28 days had lost weight, including belly fat (11). But again, 40 grams of coconut oil contains approximately 35 grams of saturated fat, which is way above the recommended amount by the AHA. 

Another study on women with abdominal obesity showed that daily supplementation with 30 ml or 2 tablespoons of coconut oil for 12 weeks can lead to a significant reduction in both waist circumference and BMI (12). In males, a reduction of 1.1 inches in waist circumference was also noted after consuming 30 ml or 2 tablespoons of coconut oil daily for 4 weeks (13). 

It is important to remember, however, that coconut oil is still high in calories so you must not add a ton of it in your diet. Replacing some of your other cooking fats with coconut oil will be good to gain weight loss benefits. 

Other Health Benefits of Coconut Oil

Aside from weight loss, coconut oil can offer you a slew of health benefits: 

1. It Improves Brain Function In Patients with Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s disease is known as the most common cause of dementia and it primarily affects the elderly. Among patients with Alzheimer’s, there appears to be a reduced ability to use glucose for energy in specific parts of the brain. 

Experts have speculated that ketones can give an alternative energy source for these malfunctioning brain cells and help reduce the symptoms of the disease (14). True enough, the consumption of MCTs, which is present in coconut oil, has helped improve the brain function of patients with milder forms of Alzheimer’s (15). 

2. It Helps Reduce Seizures 

The ketogenic diet is currently being studied to help treat several conditions. The best known therapeutic application of this diet by far is treating drug-resistant epilepsy in kids (16). 

This diet involves the consumption of very few carbs and large amounts of fat, significantly increasing ketones in the blood. For some reason, this diet has helped reduce the rate of seizures in epileptic kids, including those who weren’t successful with other drug therapies. 

Because the fatty acids in coconut oil, when transported to the liver, are turned into ketones, they are often used in epileptic patients now to induce ketosis while allowing for a bit more carbs in their diet (17, 18). 

3. It Kills Harmful Microorganisms 

Nearly 50% of the fatty acids present in coconut oil are 12-carbon lauric acid. When digested, they form a substance known as monolaurin. Both lauric acid and monolaurin can kill harmful pathogens such as bacteria, fungi, and viruses (19). Evidence showed that they are effective against bacteria Staphylococcus aureus, a very dangerous pathogen that can cause minor skin infections, boils, cellulitis, folliculitis, abscesses, pneumonia, endocarditis, toxic shock syndrome, and sepsis. It can also protect against Candida albicans, which commonly causes yeast infection in humans (20, 21). 

4. It Is Good For Your Mouth Teeth, Hair, and Skin 

You can also gain other benefits from coconut oil without eating it. Many people use it for cosmetic purposes and to improve the health and appearance of their hair and skin. 

Pieces of evidence showed that coconut oil can help improve the moisture content of your skin. It can also reduce the symptoms of eczema (22, 23). It is also protective against hair damage and may work as a sunscreen, blocking approximately 20% of the sun’s harmful UV rays (24, 25). 

Others use it as a mouthwash too! This can help kill some bacteria in the mouth, improve dental health, and prevent bad breath (26, 27, 28). 

5. It is Healthy 

Coconut oil is considered an exotic food in Western countries, primarily consumed only by health conscious people. However, in some parts of the world, it is a dietary staple that has thrived on for many generations. For example, Tokelauans, who live in the South Pacific, are eating over 60% of their calories from coconuts. When studied, they were found to be in good health, with low rates of heart disease (29). Another group that is eating a lot of coconuts that remained in excellent health is the Kitavans (30). 

How Much Coconut Oil per Day? 

Now that you have read several studies and learned about how healthy coconut oil is, you may be wondering how much you should really eat daily to reap those health benefits. 

Studies have found that 30 ml or 2 tablespoons of coconut oil appears to be an effective dose. This has shown to benefit weight, reduce belly fat, and improve other health markers (31, 32). Other studies would suggest up to 2.5 tablespoons daily, depending on calorie intake (33, 34, 35, 36). 

Two tablespoons will give you approximately 18 grams of MCTs, which is within the range of 15-30 grams that has been shown to boost metabolism (37). Eating this amount daily is a reasonable amount that leaves room for other healthy fats in your diet, including avocados, virgin coconut oil, and nuts.  

However, some may experience nausea and loose stools after high intake of coconut oil, so you have to start slowly. Take 1 teaspoon initially, then increase to 2 tablespoons per day over 1-2 weeks. 

6 Best Ways to Consume Coconut Oil

There are several ways to include this oil in your diet. Here’s what you need to keep in mind. 

1. Use It for Cooking 

Coconut oil is perfect for cooking because the majority of its fatty acids, 90%, are saturated, making it very stable at high temperatures. It also has a high smoking point of 175°C. 

Coconut oil is semi-solid at room temperature and melts at 24°C. Instead of refrigerating, store it in a cupboard to keep it pliable. In colder months, it can become solid and difficult to scoop out of the container. Whip it in a mixer or blender. 

Here are some delicious cooking ideas: 

  • Add 1-2 tablespoons of coconut oil to sauté or stir fry meat, fish, eggs, and vegetables
  • Drizzle melted coconut oil on air-popped popcorn or stove-top popcorn recipe
  • Coconut oil can also be used to coat meat or poultry before adding seasonings for baking 

You may also use coconut oil as a substitute to butter in a 1:1 ratio in most recipes. Just make sure to let cold ingredients such as milk or eggs to come to room temperature before blending it in to prevent clumping. 

When melted, it can be added to smoothies and protein shakes gradually.

2. Add to Hot Water or Tea

Looking for an easy way to ingest coconut oil? Try adding a spoonful to hot water or herbal tea in the morning. Coconut oil is initially solid, but it will melt into your drink as you stir. If cooking with coconut oil seems intimidating, this is an easy way to add it into your diet.

3. Add it to Salads 

Liquid coconut oil is perfect for salad recipes or homemade mayonnaise to help digestion and maximize nutrient uptake. 

4. Try It with Rice 

Did you know that you can add coconut oil to the boiling water of your cooking rice? Adding a teaspoon for every half cup of rice can help reduce the number of calories your body takes in by as much as 50-60% (38). Let the coconut oil water and rice simmer for 20-40 minutes, and then refrigerate it for 12 hours. 

5. Make Coconut Candies

Coconut oil candies are by far the most delicious way to enjoy coconut oil! This is also the most effective way to get your kids to eat coconut oil! 

6. Drink as A Supplement 

The most important thing to keep in mind when it comes to coconut oil is moderation. Coconut oil helps curb your appetite, but that isn’t to say coconut oil doesn’t have calories of its own. Like any other oil, coconut oil contains saturated fats. Start by consuming one tablespoon a day. Users sometimes report feeling an initial queasiness with coconut oil, so ease your body into it. Even after an adjustment period, your intake should still be limited to two to three tablespoons daily.

Are There Any Risks Involved? 

Again, coconut oil still consists of saturated fats, which can have adverse health effects, such as increased cholesterol levels. Experts suggest that saturated fats should only account for less than 10% of one’s daily calorie intake (39). 

Also, as mentioned earlier, taking more than a tablespoon or two daily may cause stomach problems. 

Again, everything in moderation can be good and healthy. It is best to consult a doctor or a dietician. 

The Bottom Line 

Studies about the potential benefits of coconut oil are showing very promising results. However, more research is needed with larger study groups and long-term follow-ups to draw further conclusions about the impact of coconut oil on weight loss, blood cholesterol levels, and cardiovascular risks. 

Although eating coconut oil in moderation and using it to replace calories from other cooking fats is healthy, you still have to stick to the basics. Never forget that the most effective way for you to lose weight does not end in reducing your calorie intake. You have to eat a balanced and healthy diet and engage in regular physical activities. 

References

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