Q. Can Coconut Oil Help You Lose Weight?

By Joyce Hendley, January/February 2009

Can Coconut Oil Help You Lose Weight?

A. There is science to suggest that the tropical oil may cause a slight (temporary) boost in your metabolism.

Anytime you eat, the process of digesting food burns off about 10 percent of the calories you consume. For example, if you consume 500 calories in a meal, your body uses about 50 of those calories to transform food into the energy that fuels your body. But theoretically if you eat a 500-calorie meal and replace the fat from oils or butter with coconut oil, your metabolism will speed up and burn more like 15 percent, or 75 calories.

It comes down to the molecular structure of the oil and how the body digests it. The fatty acids in coconut oil (called medium-chain triacylglycerols, or MCT) are shorter and more water-soluble than those in other oils, such as olive or canola. “So they’re more directly routed to the liver, where they’re readily burned for fuel,” explains Peter Jones, Ph.D., professor of food science and nutrition at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Canada. Therefore, they have less opportunity to be deposited in fat stores.

But there is no scientific evidence to show that consuming coconut oil helps people lose weight. There is one recent study, however, using an MCT oil, which suggests coconut oil may work in the same way. In the study, 31 overweight men and women followed a low-calorie diet that included just over a tablespoon for women and just under two tablespoons for men each day of either an MCT oil or olive oil. After four months, the MCT-oil users lost an average of 7 pounds; the olive oil group just 3 pounds. The investigators suggested that the metabolic boost produced by the MCT oil likely played a role.

Even if coconut oil does help people lose weight, few nutrition experts recommend it, since coconut oil is loaded with saturated fat: 12 grams in 1 tablespoon versus 7 grams in a tablespoon of butter.

Bottom Line: The extra calorie burn produced by coconut oil might give you a slight edge, but only if you make room by eating less of something else. A tablespoon of any oil sets you back around 120 calories.

Download a FREE 5-Day 1,500-Calorie Meal Plan to Lose Weight!


Coconut oil used to be regarded as oil, high in saturated fat and therefore not good for our diet. But recent studies have shown that the coconut oil is a different sort of saturated fat that reacts differently in our bodies. It’s all to do with the type of fat molecule that is present in the oil. Since coconut oil is composed predominately of medium-chain fatty acids, most of the saturated and unsaturated fats found in our daily diet consist of long-chain fatty acids (LCFA). MCFA are very different from LCFA. They do not have a negative effect on cholesterol and actually help to protect against heart disease. MCFA help to lower the risk of both atherosclerosis and heart disease. It is primarily due to the MCFA in coconut oil that makes it so special and so beneficial. There are only a very few good dietary sources of MCFA. By far the best sources are from coconut and palm kernel oils.


04/08/2010 - 4:37pm

I use coconut oil as a healthy natural substitute for shortning in baking. My brother is chef of his own catering company and uses it for several of his best recipes. I gave him a subscription to Eating Well magazine and he is always trying the recipes! He is impressed as I am maintaining a weight loss of over 60 pounds by eating healthier than him!


04/08/2010 - 4:44pm

I don't know about the science of coconut oil and losing weight... However, I remember a Hawaiian gentleman I worked with when I was in the U.S. Air Force many years ago. He had the most beautiful, silky hair I have ever seen! One day I asked him what the secret was to his silky hair. He told me that he massaged a dab of coconut oil to his hair every day and that's what made his hair so wonderful.
So, if you got sucked into the Coconut Oil diet idea and now are having second thoughts about ingesting that oil--maybe you want to see what it might do for making your hair look healthy? Maybe a hot oil treatment for hair? --nuke it a few seconds first, for the hot oil effect. Just an idea! ;-)


04/08/2010 - 7:58pm

In response to anonymous..i have read very recently that non hydrogenated margarines containing palm oils are very dangerous and should be avoided..although trans fat free , are very high in saturated fats and are being held responsible in part to our clogging arteries...manufactures are using this oil because they can legally claim it trans fat free .


04/08/2010 - 8:57pm

Years ago, Mediteranians used to be very thin and healthy. Why? Coconut oil. They didn't have the health problems we Americans do either. Somewhere along the line someone talked the Mediteranians into thinking coconut oil was bad for them. I'll stick with my coconut oil.


04/09/2010 - 10:05am

A fat is a fat is a fat. We need to be sure we do not consume too much of any of them, less that 20% of our daily calories for optimal health. Having said that, however, there is a difference between plant based and animal based fats. Palm and coconut oils, even though saturated, do not raise cholesterol in the same way that animal fats do. But, again, too much is too much, regardless of the source.

Only a small portion of coconut oil is made from medium chain fatty acids. The majority of the fatty acids in coconut oil are long-chain fatty acids, such as lauric, myristic and palmitic acids.

Be well. DMc


04/09/2010 - 4:27pm

This topic is very interesting and I have read extensively about the use of coconut oil. I would suggest anyone wanting to gather more information seach "coconut oil" using the internet. Looking at our western diet and then at the diets of the people in the areas of the world that use MCFAs exclusively, I have concluded that the western diet is mostly devoid of MCFAs and loaded with LCFAs resulting in the pervasive heart diseases including high blood pressure. BUT considering the fact that those cultures include a large amount of vegetables and lighter use of red meat as well as a much higher level of physical activity, leads me to think that improved diets and increased activity overall are the solution to healthier bodies.


04/10/2010 - 4:13pm

If you want to lose weight, reduce the use of ANY oils/fats. FAT = FAT. Just because some oils are "healthier" than others, does not mean they are to be used like a condiment. If you consume more calories and fat than what your body can burn, then you're going to gain weight. That's the truth.
Maria B.


04/10/2010 - 7:17pm

I am a caregiver an about six years ago my patient skin had a bad breakout in which the doctors said she have dermertytis an all the medication the doctors give her makes her skin condition worse an here is where i prove coconut oil is very good I use coconut oil on her skin an it brings her skin very clean an smooth an I continue to use coconut oil on her skin she is 91 years old an her skin is smooth,clean,soft and looking very young.


04/13/2010 - 10:06pm

my mom had really bad psroaisis and she used cocunut oil and all of it is gone and her skin is soft and nice...u can also use on your hair ..she has no grey hairs and her hair grew a lot it works try it


05/27/2010 - 2:38pm

Get a full year of EatingWell magazine.
World Wide Web Health Award Winner Web Award Winner World Wide Web Health Award Winner Interactive Media Award Winner