Coconut Oil: Weight Loss Miracle or Myth?

May 16, 2018

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blog_coconutThere always seems to have been too much weight loss information to digest. Whether it’s different diet fads or using wraps to burn fat, there’s always a “next big thing” in weight loss. In our “Weight Loss Miracle or Myth” series, we will examine the latest trends, and decide whether they have scientific backing or are just a lot of hype.

The first of these trends is coconut oil, an apparent miracle when it comes to weight loss. Let’s find out if that’s really true.

Six years ago, Dr. Oz boldly declared coconut oil to be “the miracle fat that fights fat.” While there is such a difference between healthy fats and bad fats, where is exactly does coconut oil fall, and what would back up its claim as a “miracle” for weight loss? Some point to the type of fatty acids in coconut oil versus other oils.

Types of fatty acids, triglycerides in this case, vary by length of their chain, and can range from short-chain triglycerides to very long chain triglycerides. The vast majority of the fats and oils we consume are made up of long-chain triglycerides. However, coconut oil predominantly consisted of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs). This allows coconut oil to be immediately oxidized into energy you can use. Because of the MCTs, coconut oil does not get packaged into lipoproteins, so it is not stored as body fat. On the other hand, other oils contain long-chain triglycerides, which do get stored as body fat, so they can be seen as a worse option for fat loss.

Should you use coconut as a substitute for other types of oils to support weight loss?

In recent years, there has been a push in the weight loss community to use coconut oil when baking, mixed with granola, and added to smoothies. Due to a high concentration of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), which are fatty acids that can be broken down quicker than their long-chain counterparts, people believe that coconut oil is the perfect substitute for regular cooking oil or butter and have even begun adding it to food that wouldn’t usually include oil.

Utilizing small amounts of coconut oil as a substitute for other ingredients can be healthy, but you shouldn’t be adding unnecessary amounts to every meal you eat. Many recipes do call for different types of oil, and while better than some, coconut oil probably isn’t the best option available. As a general rule, sticking with extra-virgin olive oil will be better for you than trying to incorporate coconut oil. This doesn’t mean avoid coconut oil, or any foods, at all costs; it means be aware of the portions of which are consuming them and the impact they will have on your body.

Should you add coconut oil to foods to facilitate weight loss?

A 2017 American Heart Association study revealed that 72 percent of Americans believe coconut oil is a “healthy food.” That same study showed MCTs can increase fat burning and weight loss when consumed as part of an overall healthy nutritional plan. Coconut oil was also shown to have antioxidant properties, and could absorb the nutrients in other foods more quickly than regular cooking oil. This would then increase metabolism, and therefore affect fat and weight loss.

The problem is that the study was done with a specially designed oil containing 100% MCTs, while coconut oil contains about 13-15%. Even at the low percentage, the MCTs are still beneficial especially for retrieving energy from other food sources. The drawback of coconut oil exists in the rest of its 85%.

In addition, the main fatty acid in coconut oil behaves more like a long-chain triglyceride, which is why coconut oil can raise cholesterol levels. Furthermore, coconut oil is 82% saturated fat, which is higher than butter and lard, and 1 tablespoon contains 13.6 grams of fat and 117 calories. Some will argue that the high fat percentage is acceptable, because it is plant-based and from MCTs. The basic nutrition of coconut oil suggests it’s not the healthiest fat in the world, but there may be some benefits to the MCTs.  However, adding over a hundred calories in a tablespoon of anything can be inefficient for weight loss.

Is coconut oil a miracle for anything?

While not an elixir for weight loss, beauty and organic lifestyle experts laud coconut oil as a perfect alternative to pricey body and hair moisturizers. It has natural antibacterial and antifungal properties and no artificial chemicals. If you are looking to add coconut oil to your life, but are fearful of the additional calories, using it to add some shine to your appearance may be a good bet.

You might also use coconut oil to improve your dental health. Coconut oil is used in oil pulling, a practice that involves swishing the oil in your mouth for about 20 minutes, then spitting it out. Recent studies have shown the practice helps fight against gingivitis, plaque, and microorganisms that cause bad breath.

The bottom line…

As much as you might want to believe in coconut oil as a silver bullet for weight loss, don’t fall for it. The science shows that its health benefits don’t outweigh its downside.

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