Coconut oil is pretty hot right now – and no wonder. If you ask google and read the product marketing, coconut oil sounds amazing. But despite the fact that when you first google ‘coconut oil’ the top results are always “101 amazing uses for coconut oil” or “10 proven benefits of coconut oil” , the only top benefit I’d give coconut oil is that it makes roasted pumpkin taste amazing. Coconut oil is no superfood I’m afraid, and it’s not going to make you lose weight and drop belly fat.
Here’s what you need to know about coconut oil.
– Coconut oil is a medium chain triglyceride therefore metabolised differently to other fats.
Many of the claims about coconut oil rest around the above statement. I used to think this was correct, but after reading this review, it turns out it’s not really. All oils/fats are made up of different fatty acids. Coconut oil is high in the fatty acid called lauric acid which some classify as a medium chain triglyceride. However, according to this review lauric acid does not behave like a medium chain triglyceride in both it’s digestion and metabolism within the body.
In simple terms, medium chain triglycerides (fatty acids which have LESS than 12 carbon atoms) are able to diffuse directly through the cells which line the small intestine and are transported directly to the liver where they are converted reasonably quickly to energy (1). Because they are converted to energy quickly, they are more likely to be used as energy than stored as fat.
Lauric acid has 12 carbon atoms and is processed like a long chain fatty acid. Long chain fatty acids have a longer and more complex metabolism which you can learn about here if you are interested.
Composition of Coconut Oil
Coconut oil does contain some medium chain fatty acids – approximately 15% of coconut oil is are medium chain fatty acids (7.8% C8 and 7.6% C10). The rest are mainly long chain fatty acids.
*Coconut oil helps with weight loss
This statement comes down to the fact that people who write about coconut oil look at research about medium chain triglyceride (MCT) oil and extrapolate it to coconut oil. Medium chain triglyceride oil is actually made in a laboratory and is used medicinally for people have difficulty absorbing other fats due to illness. MCTs are made up of a mixture of c8 and c10 fatty acids – not c12 (lauric acid).
As mentioned above, coconut oil only contains only small amounts of medium chain fatty acids. While the small amounts of MCTs may be burned as energy faster than other fats, it doesn’t make them fat burning.
If you start eating tablespoons of coconut oil each day without making any other changes to your diet, chances are over time you will gain weight due to the extra calories you are consuming. I have seen this happen with clients. Yes, calories DO count! They’re not everything – there are plenty of other things to take into consideration, but they are still important in terms of fat loss and gain.
Even studies with MCT oil only show small benefits for weight loss. There have been a few studies showing that MCT can increase energy burned but it appears that these effects are only short lived. This study found that after 14 days, there were no significant differences in energy expenditure.
It curbs sugar cravings and energy slumps
The myth goes something like this. Because medium chain fatty acids go straight to your liver to be used as energy, coconut oil gives your body instant energy. As you now know, coconut oil only contains small amounts of medium chain fatty acids. Therefore it’s not going to give you an instant energy hit. If coconut oil helps you reduce your sugar cravings, then I can’t see why a little bit would hurt and it would be better than having a sugary refined snack. But as far as I can see there is no reason why coconut oil would have any special properties that would curb sugar cravings. My suggestion? Delay going for the sugary food and distract yourself. Get outside for 5 minutes of fresh air. You might find it passes without the use of coconut oil. I’d go for a handful of nuts over a tablespoon of coconut oil any day for a snack too. Tastier and more nutritious.
Just so you know, I’m not a coconut oil hater. I do use it sometimes – in baking, bliss balls and other sweet treats, and sometimes in cooking as it has a nice flavour. I prefer other oils though for the majority of my cooking, such as olive oil this has more proven health benefits.
Upsides on coconut oil
* It’s very stable. Because coconut oil is a saturated fat, it is less likely to oxidise and go bad.
* If you replaced butter with coconut oil, it would be better for cholesterol (but replacing unsaturated fats would have an even more positive effect).
* It makes a great hair conditioner for those with dry hair.
* It’s quite yummy!
Coconut oil isn’t a ‘superfood’. It won’t make you lose weight. It’s fine to use some, but I prefer other oils such as olive as my every day cooking oils as they have more evidence based benefits. Enjoy coconut oil in moderation, just don’t expect any miraculous benefits from it 🙂