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Does Coconut Oil Help You Burn Fat?

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A big part of any lifestyle change is diet – what you eat and drink can have a big impact on not only your weight and body composition, but also your health as well.

One popular ingredient that seems to be everywhere these days is coconut oil. High in natural saturated fats, this specific food has been proposed to boost health and help change your body.

But can it really help you burn fat? In this article we’ll take a look:

  • What is coconut oil?
  • The science – can it help you burn fat?
  • Can it improve your health?

What is Coconut Oil?

Coconut oil from the Cocos nucifera is an edible, fatty acid-rich oil derived from the flesh of the coconut. Most commercially available oil comes from copra which is the extracted, dried kernel of the nut.

This particular food source contains a high proportion of medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) fatty acids, with half of the fat content coming from a type of saturated fat called lauric acid [1].

Over 80% of this fruits’ energy comes from fats, which explains why coconut oil is solid at room temperature.

MCTs provide less calories than long-chain fatty acids, and are structured chemically in a way that lets them pass directly into the liver and form ketones, making them very efficient for fuel and energy. This means that they are less likely to be stored as fat in the body [2].


Copra-and-Weight-Loss

Key Point: Coconut oil contains MCTs such as lauric acid that can be taken in by the liver and used for energy.


The Science – Does Coconut Oil Increase Fat Burning?

As we have seen on countless occasions in the research, a calorie deficit – eating less than you burn off – is effective for fat loss. However, the lack of energy obtained from this approach can often leave you feeling tired and sluggish.

A study by Hainer et al [3] found that by adding MCTs to standard fats within a very low calorie diet boosted energy in a group of 60 obese volunteers.

The researchers found that only 15ml of oil was enough to increase energy expenditure by 545 kJ/130kcal per day. Weight loss occured in the group and a decline in blood lipids was also evidenced, so there were no negative effects to adding this type of fat to the diet – only benefits.

Low to moderate intake of MCTs has also been found to help control body composition in a group of 8 healthy males [4]. In this study, each volunteer was given 30g per day of medium-chain oil, as well as long-chain oil as a comparison measure.

The results found that the MCT group increased their overall energy expenditure by 500kJ/120kcal, which equated to around 5%.

Likewise, a study published in Lipids [1] found that when 40 women were give either 30ml of soy bean or coconut oil, BMI and waist circumference reduced only in those receiving the copra fruit extract.

MCTs such as coconut oil have not only been seen to increase energy expenditure, they have also been shown to reduce appetite – an obvious benefit to those who wish to lose fat and improve body composition.

For example, a clever covert study published in the International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders [5] saw 6 healthy men choose from one of three diets, which to them were practically the same in terms of fat content. What they didn’t know was that one was high in MCTs, one was moderately high and the other was low.

The higher fat version of the diet saw the volunteers eat significantly less and lost significantly more weight too. On average, the high-fat eaters ate 256kcal less than the low-fat diet.

These results were echoed in another study that discovered a high-fat breakfast not only kept a group of healthy men fuller than a high-carb meal , but reduced the amount of food eaten at lunch whilst keeping blood sugar lower [6].


MCT-and-Health

Key Point: Research suggests that coconut oil can reduce appetite, boost energy and increase calorie expenditure.


Is Coconut Oil Good for Your Health?

Not only does this this food help you with weight loss but it can be good for your health too.

As we’ve just seen in the above studies, MCTs can help reduce blood sugar meaning that for diabetics the blood-glucose lowering effect are useful.

Although we have previously been told that high fat diets can contribute to artery and heart disease, there may be evidence that MCTs are beneficial for vascular health too – again, remember that MCTs act differently to other saturated fats.

Research published by Assuncão et al [1] found that not only was coconut oil superior to soybean oil in decreasing waist circumference, it also favorably reduced total and LDL cholesterol whilst increasing the healthy HDL cholesterol.

This oil has also been found to reduce the inflammation relating to autoimmune disorders such as arthritis [7], kidney infection and liver dysfunction. This is due to the ability of lauric acid to kill harmful organisms and boost the immune system. Once digested, this acid converts into monolaurin, which has been found to fight bacteria and pathogens.

Lastly, coconut oil has also been shown to reduce inflammation of the skin making it a great topical cleanser. It can also help to protect your skin from the harmful UV rays of the sun, help the symptoms of eczema, and the antioxidant content can help moisturize the skin too.


Summary – Coconut Oil Helps you Burn Fat and Improve Health

Coconut oil comes from the fatty acid-rich flesh of the coconut. It is high in medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) fatty acids, with half of the fat content coming from a type of saturated fat called lauric acid.

MCTs provide less calories than long-chain fatty acids, and are chemically structured in a way that lets them pass directly into the liver, making them very efficient for fuel and energy.

This food can help you burn fat by reducing appetite and improving body composition by increasing energy expenditure – MCTs are lower in calories than longer-chain fats and can be converted into ketones which help to fuel the body.

The oil from this fruit can also improve your health by reducing blood glucose and cholesterol, whilst at the same time boosting energy, your ability to fight off bacteria and viruses, and improving the condition of your skin.

Don’t forget however that this food is still high in fats. Whilst lauric acid and other MCTs might be beneficial to weight loss in modest amounts it doesn’t mean that more is better. At 9kcal per gram, fat is very energy dense so don’t go overboard.


References

  1. Assuncão, ML et al. Effects of dietary coconut oil on the biochemical and anthropometric profiles of women presenting abdominal adiposity. Lipids. 2009; 44: 593-601
  2. Ward, D et al. Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCTs). Nutrition Review. 2013. http://nutritionreview.org/2013/04/medium-chain-triglycerides-mcts/
  3. Hainer, V et al. The role of oils containing triacylglycerols and medium-chain fatty acids in the dietary treatment of obesity. The effect on resting energy expenditure and serum lipids. Cas Lek Cesk. 1994; 133(12): 373-5.
  4. Dulloo, AG et al. Twenty-four-hour energy expenditure and urinary catecholamines of humans consuming low-to-moderate amounts of medium-chain triglycerides: a dose-response study in a human respiratory chamber. Eur J Clin Nutr. 1996; 50(3): 152-8.
  5. Stubbs, RJ et al. Covert manipulation of the ratio of medium- to long-chain triglycerides in isoenergetically dense diets: effect on food intake in ad libitum feeding men. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 1996; 20(5): 435-44.
  6. Van Wymelbeke, V et al. Influence of medium-chain and long-chain triacylglycerols on the control of food intake in men. Am J Clin Nutr. 1998; 68(2): 226-34
  7. Vysakh, A et al. Polyphenolics isolated from virgin coconut oil inhibits adjuvant induced arthritis in rats through antioxidant and anti-inflammatory action. Int Immunopharmacol. 2014; 20(1): 124-30