There has been a lot of discussion about the effects of coconut oil and weight loss. You will very likely find a lot of information on the topic. Most of it is opinionated and do not provide conclusive scientific evidence to support the beneficial effects of coconut oil and weight loss or otherwise. With this in mind, this article attempts to provide a strong scientific analysis if there is indeed any merit in coconut oil and weight loss.
Table of Contents for Article
- 1 What is in coconut oil
- 2 Absence of conclusive coconut oil and weight loss research
- 3 Coconut oil and weight loss – Evaluating the effects of Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCTs)
- 4 Coconut oil and weight loss – Evaluating the effects of the mono-unsaturated component
- 5 Coconut oil and weight loss – Evaluating the effects of poly-unsaturated component
- 6 Coconut oil and weight loss – Evaluating the effects of saturated fat
- 7 Putting it all together – Is there merit in coconut oil and weight loss
- 8 There is a strong connection between coconut oil and weight loss
What is in coconut oil
- Medium-chain triglycerides (MCT)
- Saturated fat
- Mono-unsaturated fat
- Oleic monounsaturated C18 – 6.2%
- Poly-unsaturated fat
- Linoleic polyunsaturated C18 – 1.6%
Medium-chain triglycerides (MCT) essentially have a fatty acid chain length varying between 6 and 12 carbon atoms. Long chain triglycerides (LCT) have more than 12 carbon atoms. Short chain fatty acids have less than 6 carbon atoms. The different length of the fatty acid causes it to be metabolized differently when consumed.
Interestingly, the milk fats of humans are made up of long chain fatty acids. The milk fats of cows, sheep and goats largely contain short chain fatty acids. The milk fats of horses contain medium chain fatty acids.
Absence of conclusive coconut oil and weight loss research
The major constituents of coconut oil and their approximate breakdown is as follows;
- Medium-chain triglycerides (MCT) – Total of 68.2%
- Saturated Fat – Total of 29.5 %
- Mono-unsaturated fat 6.2%
- Poly-unsaturated fat – 1.6%
I could not find any coconut oil and weight loss research available in scientific journals. In the absence of coconut oil and weight loss research, we have to analyze the individual effect that each of the constituents has on the effort of losing weight. There is reasonable amount of research available on the individual effects of consuming MCT, saturated fat, mono-unsaturated fat as well as poly-unsaturated fat on weight loss. We need to then make a qualitative assessment on how the sum of these effects will affect the outcome of your weight loss effort.
Coconut oil and weight loss – Evaluating the effects of Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCTs)
Coconut oil contains almost 92% saturated fats. Although this is the case, 66% of coconut oil are Medium Chain Triglycerides or MCTs. These MCTs can be broken down to different types of Medium Chain Fatty Acids. These are Caproic Acid, Caprylic acid, Capric acid and Lauric acid.
Different fats are broken down differently by the body
The body does not treat all fats in the same way. As already mentioned, fats are differentiated in the body by the length of the fatty acid chains. MCTs are absorbed directly into the portal circulation and transported into the liver to be rapidly burned. Furthermore, MCTs do not require bile salt for digestion.
Long Chain Triglycerides (LCT) on the other hand, are absorbed into the lymphatic system. This results in a high probability that these fatty acids will be absorbed into the fatty tissue. These are really the fats that will end up in your belly, thighs and hips. Conventional sources of LCTs include soya oil (56.5% LCT), corn oil (57.8% LCT), sunflower oil (63% LCT).
Coconut oil and weight loss research – How MCT boosts metabolism
Almost all animal and human studies have found that MCT consumption increased daily energy expenditure. The animal studies were published in the Journal of Nutrition in 1992 and the Journal of Lipids in 1994. The researchers from the 1992 study concluded that replacing LCT with MCT over long periods could result in weight loss without affecting the amount of calories consumed. Our dietary fats are obtained mainly from LCTs. Sources of LCTs include soya oil (56.5% LCT), corn oil (57.8% LCT), sunflower oil (63% LCT).
Human studies have also had similar findings. A study was published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 1996. One of the main objectives of the study was to assess if medium to moderate amount of MCT consumption with meals could help boost metabolism. The outcome of the study was quite remarkable. There was a 5% increase in daily energy expenditure when participants consumed between 15 to 30 grams of MCT. Researchers also concluded that 15 to 30 grams of daily MCT consumption could have a noticeable impact on efforts to lose weight.
An article was published in the Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders in 2003. The objective of the study was to assess the effect of MCT consumption on the metabolic rate. The researches concluded that when MCT is consumed, the body will channel it towards fat burning rather than fat storage. The metabolic rate also increases. This effect would be more pronounced for someone with a lower body weight as compared to someone with higher body weight. This meant that the leaner you got, the more beneficial MCT was for weight loss.
An article was published in the Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders in 2003. The researchers found that long-term consumption of MCT enhances the metabolic rate and fat oxidation in obese women, when compared to LCT consumption. The researchers concluded that substitution of MCT for LCT may aid in preventing long-term weight gain via an increased metabolic rate.
As already mentioned, most of our dietary fats are obtained from LCTs. Sources of LCTs include soya oil (56.5% LCT), corn oil (57.8% LCT), sunflower oil (63% LCT). Based on the available research, it can be summed up that MCTs are effective for boosting the metabolic rate. The research on the subject is quite compelling.
Coconut oil and weight loss research – How MCT aids in weight loss efforts
An interesting article was published in the Journal of Nutrition in 2002 where researchers reviewed the effects of MCT as a potential solution for weight loss. From the literature reviewed, the researchers concluded that MCT consumption increased energy expenditure, resulted in faster satiety and facilitated weight control when included in the diet as a replacement for fats containing LCT.
A very new study was published in the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition in 2010. In that article researchers reviewed the beneficial effects of MCT on weight management and enhancing exercise performance. Although there was no visible effect on exercise performance, MCT increased fat oxidation and energy expenditure as well as reduce food intake. They also concluded that MCTs can beneficially alter body composition
An article was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2008. Forty-nine overweight men and women, consumed either MCT oil or olive oil for 16 weeks.. Subjects received weekly group weight-loss counseling. The researchers concluded that consumption of MCT oil as part of a weight-loss plan improves weight loss compared with olive oil. They recommended it to be included in a weight-loss diet.
An article was published in the Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2003. 93 subjects participated in this double blind study. Researchers concluded from the findings of the study that daily intake of a MCT based diet resulted in a reduction in body weight and in accumulation of body fat.
The research is compelling on the positive effects of MCT on fat loss efforts. There is indeed a lot of research that shows the beneficial effects of consuming MCT for someone trying to lose weight.
Coconut oil and weight loss – Evaluating the effects of the mono-unsaturated component
Mono-unsaturated fats are the second largest constituents of coconut oil. Mono-unsaturated fats have been touted for its many health benefits. It makes up 75% of olive oil and is the basis of the Mediterranean type diet. The Mediterranean diet is a dietary recommendation inspired by the dietary habits of the population of Southern Italy, Crete and Greece.
An interesting study was published in the Journal of Diabetes Care in 2007. 11 participants were given a diet rich in saturated fat, mono-unsaturated fat or carbohydrates. The researchers concluded that a diet rich in mono-unsaturated fats prevented fat gain in the abdominal section.
The Mediterranean diet has been well researched and has been shown to be an effective lifestyle for long term weight loss. Researchers have also found it to be effective to reduce the risk of metabolic syndrome. From the research available, it can be concluded that monounsaturated fat may help with weight loss efforts.
Coconut oil and weight loss – Evaluating the effects of poly-unsaturated component
The polyunsaturated fatty acid in coconut oil is linoleic acid. There is not much research available on the subject. Linoleic acid is an essential fatty acid and humans must consume it for good health. Since it makes up only approximately 1.6% of coconut oil, its effect can be assumed to be negligible.
Coconut oil and weight loss – Evaluating the effects of saturated fat
Most people keep away from saturated fat. This is because saturated fat is very calorie dense. It is synonymous with weight gain. It has been thought to add mindless calories to your diet. Saturated fat has also been vilified for its role in cardiovascular diseases even though this is being disputed in some of the latest scientific studies.
A lot of health experts are advocating healthy fat intake as compared to a low fat intake. One outcome of the New England of Journal Study was interesting. Those who were on the Mediterranean diet actually had the best weight loss maintenance. The participants on the low fat and high carb diet had the biggest rebound. One idea put forward was that you could probably get away with eating more fat even if it is saturated fat provided that you reduce the intake of refined carbohydrates.
Saturated fat is the weakest link in coconut oil. Coconut oil typically contains about 29% of saturated fat which is not made up of MCTs. Olive oil which is the basis of the Mediterranean diet contains approximately 7.5% to 20% saturated fat. With the high levels of success attained by the Mediterranean diet, we can make an assumption that the similar levels of saturated fat is not going to make a major dent on your weight loss efforts.
Putting it all together – Is there merit in coconut oil and weight loss
The biggest component of coconut oil are medium chain triglycerides (MCT). MCTs show tremendous promise in aiding weight loss efforts. It is speedily absorbed into the blood stream via the portal circulation and sent to the liver for burning. This phenomenon causes MCT to boost energy expenditure since MCT is so readily burned by the liver. It also helps weight loss if you displace your conventional LCT oils with MCT. There is a higher tendency for your body to store LCT fats in your body’s fat stores. Once again, conventional sources of LCTs include soya oil (56.5% LCT), corn oil (57.8% LCT), sunflower oil (63% LCT).
Mono-unsaturated fats also show great promise when it comes to weight loss. The Mediterranean diet has been shown to be one of the better diet options for weight loss. This shows that almost 70% of coconut oil is scientifically proven to help with your weight loss efforts.
As already mentioned, the weakest link is saturated fas. The amount of saturated fat in coconut oil is not much more that available in olive oil. I really do not believe that this will cause a negative impact.
There is a strong connection between coconut oil and weight loss
Some literature have misled into believing that the large amount of saturated fat in coconut oil is detrimental to weight loss efforts. This misinformation is even available from credible sources such as the Mayo Clinic article on coconut oil and weight loss. It is true that coconut oil has 92% saturated fat. What needs to be remembered is that 62% of it is MCTs which is dealt with very differently by the body. The MCTs have been shown to boost metabolism as well as aid in fat loss.
Summing up from the available scientific research, there is merit in coconut oil and weight loss. People should consider replacing their conventional soya, corn, palm, sunflower oils with coconut oil.