Does Coconut Oil Help With Weight Loss?

Coconut oil with sliced coconut
Jessica Boone / Getty Images

Coconut oil is popping up everywhere these days, from hair products to skin creams. More than ever, people are using it as a go-to ingredient in the kitchen with hopes that it’ll help with weight loss. But will it?

The most cited reason for why coconut oil could be good for weight loss has to do with its chemical composition. Unlike most other cooking oils, coconut oil is made up of medium-chain fatty acids instead of long-chain fatty acids.

Why does that matter? The medium ones are metabolized differently from their longer counterparts. They travel to the liver faster which means they’re less likely to be stored as fat. Studies have found that participants who consumed medium-chain fatty acids burned more energy and absorbed less fat than those who consumed long-chain fatty acids.

Another popular assertion is that coconut oil helps suppress appetite. Some people go so far as to consume a couple of tablespoons straight each morning. Studies do show that coconut oil hinders the accumulation of body fat but that’s only compared to other oils. It’s definitely not magic! Simply adding coconut oil to your diet won't deter fat from accumulating.

The reason that coconut oil could suppress your appetite is that it's full of healthy fat and the calories that come with it. If you have a serving of coconut oil 20 minutes before a meal, you probably will eat less during that meal, mostly because you’ve already consumed a significant amount of fat.

If you decide to try using it as an appetite suppressant, pay extra attention to your overall food intake. 

So, it’s unlikely that adding coconut oil to your diet without making other healthy food, exercise, or lifestyle changes will help you lose weight. And since coconut oil is pretty calorie dense - each tablespoon has around 120 calories and 14 grams of fat - it could actually cause you to gain weight if you just tack it onto your daily food consumption.

Think of coconut oil as a replacement for other calorie sources, not an addition to them:

  • Try replacing olive oil with coconut oil in your recipes. The two are basically identical in terms of fat and calories and both have a fairly mild taste.
  • Use it in a stir-fry made with healthy foods that are low in calories. If you’re counting calories or watching your weight, it’s probably not a good idea to add coconut oil to a skillet meal made with salmon and walnuts (both of which are pretty dense in calories and fat). Instead, start with lean protein, like skinless chicken breast, tilapia, or shrimp. Then add your favorite fresh vegetables - mushrooms, sugar snap peas, or bell peppers. Whatever you like! Add a tablespoon of coconut oil and stir-fry it up.
  • For a taste of coconut oil without the calorie commitment, try Pam’s Simply Coconut Oil Spray.  A 1/4-second spray is officially calorie-free and without fat, but a 1-second spray is likely to have 5-10 calories and 0.5-1g fat.

Tip: Another food that’s high in calories but rumored to help with weight loss?


Beauty Bonus: Coconut oil is an excellent moisturizer for hair and nails - and you won’t consume any calories by spreading it onto your face and fingers! 

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