Can Coconut Oil Help You Lose Weight?
Pictured Recipe: Coconut-Sesame Cashew Butter
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.