Reseach: Does coconut oil assist with weight loss?

Research DefinitionResearch Definition

Does coconut oil help with weight loss or is it another fad?  

Coconut Oil

Coconut Oil

In recent years, coconut oil has been touted as one of the healthy fats and many think it is a cure for everything to include diabetes type 2, heart disease, metabolic syndrome, and obesity.  Currently, because of what I like to call the ketokraze, coconut oil is being widely promoted for weight-loss.  While I would not vilify coconut oil, the claims of benefits might be a tab bit outlandish.  There are only a few studies that have looked at the benefit of coconut oil on weight loss and, in my opinion, the results are spotty at best.

As a physician that is focused on controlling my own risk for heart disease and controlling my weight, I have serious concerns about eating too much coconut oil. Sure, coconut oil is a plant oil, but compared to other plant-based oils, coconut oil is higher in saturated fat.  Each tablespoon you eat has nearly 120 calories with 14 grams total fat, and 12 grams saturated fat per one tablespoon.  Leaving out the fact that 12 grams of saturated fat will add up to nearly 60% of your recommended daily intake, fat is dense in calories and can make a huge dent in your caloric intake.  

Coconut oil contains both medium-chain and long-chain fatty acids or triglycerides. The primary component is lauric acid. Based on its structure and function, lauric acid lands in the middle, behaving in some ways like a medium-chain fatty acid and other fats like a long-chain fatty acid.  In recent years, consumer interest in the benefits of coconut oil has skyrocketed.  There have been many claims of increased satiety and decreased waistline, but the research primarily consists of studies using medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) oil.  Although MCTs are found in coconut oil, there are other sources of MCTs and coconut oils contain different ingredients and additional types of fat. MCTs do not contain lauric acid for example.  It is still yet to be determined how much research on MCT oils can be applied to coconut oil.  

So what does the research show? One study in humans comparing coconut oil against long-chain fatty acid control from beef tallow noted that after fourteen days there was an increase in metabolic rate associated with coconut oil by 4.3% which was detected seven days after ingestion, but not at 14 days[1].   This result was confirmed by another study[2].  This transient effect muddies the water and makes it less likely to be a lasting effect.  

Another study looked at BMI and abdominal circumference. Researchers looked at women with abdominal obesity who were given either coconut oil or soybean oil for 12 weeks paired with a low-calorie,  carbohydrate-rich diet.  Both groups experienced a reduction in weight and BMI with only the coconut oil group reduced waist circumference[3].  Another study found that MCTs were associated with a decrease in waist circumference[4].  There is no evidence that this continues past 12 weeks.  

There is some evidence that coconut also helps with short-term satiety, but there is no evidence this last past 4-6 weeks.  

Although eating coconut oil in moderation is unlikely to result in harm to your health, but it is not a cure-all and it is unlikely to result in weight either.  I would stress the word “MODERATION”.  There is nothing wrong with adding a little to your diet, and it makes the best popcorn.  For long-term weight loss and maintenance, moderation and caloric reduction is essential.  Coconut oil is a source fo unneeded calories, so it is easy to reduce with a huge impact on nutrition.   If you like the flavor of coconut, I recommend fresh unsweetened coconut meat.  

The bottom line: Coconut oil does not currently have enough data for me to suggest using it as a weight loss supplement but I am not willing to call it a fad at this time. The evidence indicates a lack of consistent evidence on the topic of coconut oil causing increased satiety and weight loss.  The research is promising but is very short lived.  Research about the potential benefits needs to look at the potential for long-lasting satiety and weight loss. 

References

[1]
M. D. White, A. A. Papamandjaris, and P. J. Jones, “Enhanced postprandial energy expenditure with medium-chain fatty acid feeding is attenuated after 14 d in premenopausal women,” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, vol. 69, no. 5, pp. 883–889, May 1999 [Online]. Available: 10.1093/ajcn/69.5.883″ target=”_blank” rel=”noopener noreferrer”>http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/69.5.883
[2]
A. Papamandjaris, M. White, and P. Jones, “Components of total energy expenditure in healthy young women are not affected after 14 days of feeding with medium-versus long-chain triglycerides.,” Obes Res, vol. 7, no. 3, pp. 273–80, May 1999. [PubMed]
[3]
M. L. Assunção, H. S. Ferreira, A. F. dos Santos, C. R. Cabral, and T. M. M. T. Florêncio, “Effects of Dietary Coconut Oil on the Biochemical and Anthropometric Profiles of Women Presenting Abdominal Obesity,” Lipids, vol. 44, no. 7, pp. 593–601, May 2009 [Online]. Available: 10.1007/s11745-009-3306-6″ target=”_blank” rel=”noopener noreferrer”>http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11745-009-3306-6
[4]
M. Kasai et al., “Effect of dietary medium- and long-chain triacylglycerols (MLCT) on accumulation of body fat in healthy humans.,” Asia Pac J Clin Nutr, vol. 12, no. 2, pp. 151–60, Jan. 2003. [PubMed]
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About the Author

ChuckH
I am a family physician who has served in the US Army. In 2016, I found myself overweight, out of shape, and unhealthy, so I made a change to improve my health. This blog is the chronology of my path to better health and what I have learned along the way.

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