Coconut oil is heavily promoted as a health food that aids in weight loss. But don’t buy the hype because these claims are based on poorly designed studies and faulty presumptions. To date, there is no credible evidence proving that coconut oil is more beneficial than a placebo at reducing belly fat.[i] Don’t believe me? Let’s examine the evidence…
The Origin of the Coconut Oil/Weight Loss Myth
Coconut oil became popularized as a health food when population studies found that Pacific Islanders who ate more traditional, coconut-based diets were slimmer and had an infinitely lower risk for cardiovascular disease, than populations who shared the same genes but ate modern diets with fewer coconut products.[ii] Somehow the coconut became credited for the slimmer waistlines and better heart health, but that presumptuous is ridiculous and if you compare the two diets you’ll understand why.
The traditional diet is wholefoods based, and centers around fruits, vegetables, potatoes and fish. The modern diet on the-other-hand, is characterized by a high intake of processed and fast foods, sausages, eggs and soft drinks; and rich in refined grains such as potato chips, instant noodle soup, and pancakes.[iii] The traditional diet is far healthier than the modern diet and would result in slimmer waistlines and healthier hearts with or without the inclusion of coconuts. Also worth noting, extracting the oil is a relatively new phenomenon, and coconuts are primarily consumed in their whole form in the traditional diet. Separating the oil for the meat causes it to lose its fiber and many beneficial nutrients, and transforms it from healthful to harmful in the process.
The Invalid Clinical Evidence
One of the earliest clinical studies cited by coconut enthusiasts who claim the oil helps with weight loss was a study on rats in 1982. The rats were fed meals that consisted largely of either short- (SCT), medium- (MCT), or long-chain triglycerides (LCT). The rats in all three groups ended up consuming less food but there is no evidence that the same effects would occur in humans.[iv] Also, the rats were fed 100% MCT, and coconut oil only contains 14% MCT – there is no proof that coconut oil would have the same beneficial effect on rats or human.
Another study that fuels the coconut oil/weight loss myth, was published in the ISRN Pharmacology Journal, in 2011. The researchers fed 20 adult humans 2 tbsp. of coconut oil a day, for 1 month, and the men lost an average of 1 inch off their waistlines. This study falls short though because there was no control group in the study, and the men knew they were participating in a dietary study. [v] There is a well-recognized effect that occurs where the knowledge of being in a dietary study alone, leads to a reduction in caloric intake.[vi] As such, there is no way of knowing whether the coconut oil caused the weight loss, or whether it occurred because the participants where consuming less calories.
A final faulty study used as ‘evidence’ by coconut supporters, gave 100 men and women a tbsp. of coconut oil daily for 3 months. The participants lost an average of 1 inch off their waistlines. The problem with this study is that the participants were also advised to eat more fruit, and fruit has an anti-obesity effect.[vii]
Clinical Evidence Disproving the Myth
A study in 2008 gave participants either 2 tbsp. of coconut oil a day or 2 tbsp. of soybean oil for 12 weeks. There was no significant difference in the waistlines of the two groups at the end of the study. However, the group that was fed coconut oil experienced a significant increase in insulin resistance — a condition that vastly increases the risk for metabolic syndrome, obesity, and Type-2 diabetes.[viii] What’s scary is that the increase in insulin resistance occurred in spite of the fact that the participants were told to eat more fruits and vegetable, cut down on sugar and animal fat, and walk 50 minutes a day, 4 days a week. These lifestyle modifications should dramatically enhance insulin sensitivity, but their beneficial effects were somehow negated by the consumption of coconut oil.
In 2010 researchers compared the effects of SCT (dairy fats), MCT (coconut oil) and LCT (beef tallow) in humans. The 18 men were monitored for 3 days and were fed a breakfast that was high in SCT one day, MCT one day, and LCT one day. There were no differences in hunger, fullness, satisfaction or how much they went on to eat at lunchtime on any of the 3 days.[ix] The researchers concluded that MCT does not produce any beneficial effects over the other fats, when it comes to reducing appetite and food intake.
An additional study worth noting is a recent placebo controlled study, published in the Journal of Medicinal Food, in 2017. The researchers fed the participants either coconut oil or safflower oil (as the placebo) for 28 days and the coconut oil produced no weight loss or obesity fighting benefits over the placebo.[x] There was no significant changes in waist or hip measurements, in total fat, in android fat, or in gynoid fat.
How Coconut Oil Causes Weight Gain
As evidenced above, there is no proof that coconut oil causes weight loss, and consuming it for this purpose is completely counterintuitive. Coconut oil adds unnecessary calories to your diet and each tbsp. contains a whopping 112 calories.[xi][xii] It takes 3,500 calories to produce an extra pound of fat, and many advocates of coconut oil for weight loss recommend consuming up to 6 tbsp. a day.[xiii] If you were to follow there advice and change nothing else in your diet, you would gain a pound of fat in just 5 days!
What About Its ‘Beneficial’ Effects on Cardiovascular Health?
Coconut oil is often promoted for enhancing cardiovascular health, but those claims are invalid as well. Coconut oil contains a massive 13.5 grams of fat per tbsp., which to put into perspective, is more fat than a McDonalds cheeseburger or small fries. [xiv] Of those 13.5 grams of fat, 12.7 are saturated, and saturated fat is a known culprit of atherosclerosis, cardiovascular disease and stroke.[xv] In 2016 researchers compiled data on the effects of coconut oil from 21 different research papers. According to this large-scale analysis, there is no valid evidence that coconut oil enhances heart health but there is plenty of evidence showing it increases total and LDL cholesterol levels, which are two major risk factors for cardiovascular disease. The researchers concluded that coconut oil is not a heart friendly food and they recommended that it be eliminated it from the diet.[xvi]
How to Lose Weight Effectively
If you are serious about losing weight and enhancing heart health, cut out all oils; processed, fried, and fast foods; sugar and animal products from your diet. Consume at least 12 servings of fresh fruits and vegetables a day, and if it comes in a package, don’t eat it! If you want to avoid feelings of boredom and deprivation on this diet get your hands on a copy of the Simply Healthy Cookbook. This book is loaded with nutritious recipes from around the world that are easy to make and sure to delight your taste buds!