Does Coconut Oil Make You Fat or Lose Weight?

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Just how great is coconut oil? (Image: nadisja/iStock/GettyImages)

Coconut oil is a barrel of contradictions. Every health professional seems to have an opinion on it, so it's hard for the everyman (or woman) to know if it's worth including in their daily diet.

Much ado has been made about coconut oil's effect on a person's health, including if it has any impact on weight loss or weight gain. What's the right answer? It depends.

Basic Nutritional Facts

Here's the nitty-gritty nutritional info of coconut oil: It contains 121 calories per tablespoon, as well as 13 grams of fat, 11 of which are saturated. 121 calories per tablespoon with 13 grams of fat, 11 of which is saturated — that's about 85 percent saturated fat.

The American Heart Association says that too much saturated fat in your diet can increase LDL cholesterol levels, or the "bad" cholesterol. This increases risk of heart disease. The saturated fat in coconut oil is a specific type, medium-chain triglycerides, also known as medium-chain fatty acids. Other types of saturated fat are long-chain fatty acids.

Effect on Weight Loss

A number of studies have to been to determine if coconut oil can have an effect on weight loss. While there have been generally positive results, none have shown that coconut oil has a significant effect on weight loss.

For example, a study published in 2009 in the journal Lipids compared the effect on coconut oil or soybean oil on 40 women. Both groups of women lost about 2 pounds, but the coconut oil group experienced a decrease in waist circumference, while the soybean group experienced a minor increase in waist circumference.

Another study published the same year in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition compared participants who consumed MCT oil and olive oil. The participants who consumed the former lost most fat mass than those who consumed the latter.

However, this study used 100 percent MCT oil — not standard coconut oil. Typical coconut oil only contains 13 to 14 percent medium-chain triglycerides. Therefore, study author Marie-Pierre St. Onge told the American Heart Association, a person would have to eat a significant amount of coconut oil daily — more than what's considered reasonable — to reproduce the effects of the study.

Finally, research published in 2011 in ISRN Pharmacology studied obese men who were given 30 grams of coconut oil daily. The men showed reduce waist circumference by 1.1 inches at the end of the study; however, the researchers acknowledge that the study was limited in time and participants, and conclude that more research should be done.

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