Coconut Oil for Weight Loss?

Coconut oil has long been demonized for being high in saturated fats, and therefore inherently “unhealthy”. People in the integrative medicine community have long known how great coconut oil is recently its reputation is starting to catch up with the mainstream. (I gave it a “star” in “The 150 Healthiest Foods On Earth”!)

Now researchers are investigating the potential effects of coconut oil on weight loss.

Is there anything to this?

Let’s take a look.

The saturated fat found in coconut oil is a particular type of fat known as MCTs (medium-chain triglycerides). MCTs are metabolized in the body differently from other saturated fats. They’re rarely stored as body fat- the body prefers to use them for energy, almost like carbohydrates– though they don’t raise blood sugar the way carbs do.

One study in the International Journal of Obesity and Metabolic Disorders

found that the MCTs in coconut  increased fat burning and calorie expenditure in obese men and also led to diminished fat storage. Another study in the same journal found that consumption of coconut oil fats over the course of 27 days increased both fat burning and calorie expenditure in women as well. However these studies used a very high percentage of calories as MCTs (30% of total calories consumed in the case of the latter study), an amount which is hardly practical for most people.

Nonetheless, there seems to be something to the idea that coconut oil, with its rich concentration of MCTs, may increase fat burning and calorie expenditure, especially if MCTs replace other fats in the diet such as safflower oil, soybean oil and other typical high omega-6 vegetable oils. (No one suggests that they should replace omega-3’s!)  Researchers writing in the Journal of Nutrition called MCTS “potential agents in the prevention of obesity”, noting that they induce satiety (fullness) and may facilitate weight control, especially when used as a replacement for other oils.

Research on coconut oil goes back to the 1980’s. Scientists studied the Trobriand Islanders, who consume about 80 percent of their calories from coconut and coconut oil, and found vanishingly low levels of heart disease. More recent studies have investigated the population of Kitava, another area in the Trobriand Islands where coconut and coconut oil is consumed in large amounts, and noted the virtual absence of stroke and ischemic heart disease as well as the extreme leanness of the residents.

Coconut oil contains some very healthy fatty acids, among them the highly anti-microbal lauric acid (which has even been shown to be effective against against H. Pylori) and capric acid (which has very strong yeast-fighting properties).  Moreover, a diet high in MCTs (known as a ketogenic diet) has long been known to be an effective treatment for childhood epilepsy, and is in use at many of the major hospitals in the US, including Johns Hopkins. Eric Kossoff, MD, assistant professor of neurology and pediatrics at Johns Hopkins told me that “most docs know it’s an effective therapy for epilepsy”.

While there aren’t a whole lot of studies testing coconut oil specifically for weight loss, the studies that have investigated its effects on metabolism seem to point to the conclusion that coconut oil can be a valuable addition to the diet of people trying to lose weight. How much of it you need is still unknown, though Sally Fallon of the Weston A. Price Foundation suggests one tablespoon with every meal. Coconut oil can certainly fit into a moderate calorie diet for weight loss. And it just may have the additional benefits of increased fat burning, calorie expenditure and reduced hunger.

Coconut oil has a nice taste, and can stand pretty high heat.  I use it for sautéing vegetables, and even for scrambling eggs (sometimes I mix the coconut oil half and half with butter). Sure it’s as high in calories as any fat, but as part of a calorie balanced diet it definitely deserves a reputation as a “good fat”.

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  • Jeri Hurd

    Actually, after reading your book, I bought some coconut oil at the health food store–though old habits die hard! I look at that congealed stuff and think to myself “that CAN’T be good! ” : )

    So, along with olive oil and avocado, how would you recommend working coconut oil into the weekly routine. And nuts! If you eat all the different types of fats recommended– Three tablespoonsful a day seems on the high side. That’s 42 gm of fat, which doesn’t leave much room for any other fats.

    grin–or am I being obsessive? This low carb eating is new for me, so I’m still trying to wrap my head around all the ins and outs!

  • Richard Perlmutter

    I want to point out the discrepancy between MCT’s (medium chain triglycerides) and coconut oil. I checked all three journal articles that you cited and the MCTs used in all three was all or almost all C-8 and C-10 chain length fats. Only 25 percent of the fats in coconut oil is C-8 and C-10. As I am sure you know lauric acid (C-12) is the major coconut oil fat.
    So I wonder how relevant the MCT findings are to coconut oil.

  • mark

    I was morbidy obese, now I am not. I love coconut oil and use it as much as i can. I don’t care what the mainstream says, I am lean as hell. Thank you Johhny. -Mark

  • Amy H

    I have been using coconut oil for a few years now to cook my eggs, meat, or vegetables in on the stove. I recently have been adding some to my hot tea as a way to get a bit more into what I eat.

  • Suz

    I use coconut oil to cook with and use olive oil and avocado oil for salads. I do oil pulling every morning with coconut oil. It’s great on popcorn too for a snack. My cholesterol hasn’t changed since I have been doing this — a few years.

  • Thanks so much for this very informative article!! I get so frustrated sometimes as everyone seems to run screaming from the room when you mention coconut oil in a favorable context! I used coconut oil very successfully during one of my pregnancies – curbed my cravings beautifully and I only gained 25 pounds the entire time!

  • Kim

    I found this article very interesting, but I keep searching and can’t seem to find the answer to a question I have. I’m hoping that someone here will be able to answer it for me.
    So I know the wonderful benefits of coconut oil and that one may be weight loss, however, I noticed that the oil is about 130 calories per Tbl spoon. With that said, are the people who are losing weight on this cutting food calories to make room for the ones from the oil. Because if the recommended dose is 3tbls a day, that’s almost 400 extra calories a day, and I’m not looking to totally change my diet. I just want to add a little something that is good for me to it. Please someone help me!

    • Robby

      The thing is about calories that people do not understand, is that calories are actually good for you as long as they are not empty calories. Calories, and fat is good for you as long as its the nutritious kind. MCT are a type of very healthy fat, and a good source of healthy calories. Cutting calories can give temporary benefits in weight loss, but overall is not healthy for your body, and is temporary. Your caloric intake is your energy intake, and while you do need to have enough, you shouldn’t have that much more than you use, because the excess is turned into a storable energy source, which is fat. The best bet for losing fat, is gaining lean muscle mass, which will help your body work to its potential, it will burn more calories, and you will feel better. But like I was saying, calories are your energy source, so you need a certain amount, based of your body, to have your body fed, so you are not sluggish and tired, and you stay healthy. People assume you only need nutrients to be healthy, which in a way is true, but they dont think of calories, or fat as a nutrient, which isn’t necessarily true, can easily be true. Lastly to lose fat, do not cut calories, eat healthy foods, and healthy portion sizes, not too big(average american portion size is too large) and not too small, because with too few calories, your body will go into a so-called “starvation mode” where it will store all the fat it can, for future use, and survival. So eat healthy, and add the coconut oil to your servings, instead of replacing something in it. I also suggest looking up the paleo diet, as it, in my opinion is the healthiest. most effective diet, because its not just a diet, it is almost a lifestyle, and it isn’t designed to cut fat, its designed to make your body work the way it should, based on how it has evolved, and what our ancestors consumed, which is what our body absorbs the best. I personally suggest instead of the basic paleo diet, which while it is really good, it isn’t perfect, that you try the ‘bulletproof diet’ which is a paleo diet which has been upgraded in a sense. While nothing is perfect, this is better than most, if not all others, that I have heard of.

  • Have you ever tried coconut oil in your coffee? It’s amazingly sweet.
    I do get tired of the controversy over using coconut oils. Yes, it is a saturated fat BUT it is a medium chain triglyceride. Even if it’s only 25% MCT (according to Mr. Perlmutter’s post). It goes directly to the liver to be burned off as energy not stored as fat. Thanks for the insight.

  • I use coconut oil to cook with and use olive oil and avocado oil for salads. great tips and appreciate you

  • dave

    Dr Bowden, Please help!! I read today in our sunday paper about the Five Food Felons and how very bad palm and coconut oil are for you (as well as any saturated fat from 4 or 2 legged animals). I’ve always understood that coconut oil is great for you and would not contribute one bit to hardening of the arteries. That it was mostly mct’s and lauric acid and was metabolized differently than other saturated fats. Please set me straight on this advice from Dr Oz’s advice in his weekly column. Thank you for your knowledge and help!

  • Hey Suz, I am encouraged by your way of using coconut oil. I also heard about teeth whitening benefits of it. How’s about that.. sounds weird?

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