If you’re living with diabetes, you likely know just how important it is to switch up your diet by swapping processed foods, refined grains, and sugary snacks for healthier, more nutrient-dense alternatives.

You may also want to consider replacing the fats you use in your cooking.

While you may have heard that coconut oil is a good substitute for other types of fat, you might be wondering how it can impact blood sugar control and diabetes.

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This article will take a closer look at what you need to know about coconut oil and diabetes.

Coconut oil, also known as copra oil, is made from the meat of mature coconuts. The oil is rich in antioxidants and energy-boosting triglycerides, plus low in cholesterol.

Not only does coconut oil have a sweet, nutty flavor, but it also leaves behind very little grease.

For this reason, people commonly use it to replace butter and olive or vegetable oils when baking or cooking.

Coconut oil also has many cosmetic uses, such as:

  • a natural skin moisturizer
  • a leave-in conditioner for your hair
  • an ingredient in homemade soap scrubs and lotions

Coconut oil contains several types of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs). These are a type of fat that metabolizes differently than long-chain triglycerides (LCTs).

In particular, coconut is composed of the following MCTs (1):

  • Lauric acid: 47.5%
  • Caprylic acid: 8%
  • Capric acid: 7%
  • Caproic acid: 0.5%

Your body rapidly digests and absorbs MCTs. It uses them as a quick source of energy. Compared to LCTs, they’re less likely to be stored as fat and may be beneficial for weight loss (2, 3).

However, unlike MCT oil, which is composed of 100% MCTs, coconut oil has only about 62% MCTs (1).

Furthermore, there’s some controversy about whether coconut oil should be considered a good source of MCTs.

This is because lauric acid, the main MCT found in coconut oil, is digested and absorbed very slowly and behaves more like a LCT in the body (4).

For this reason, it’s important to keep in mind that studies evaluating the potential benefits of MCT oil specifically may not apply to coconut oil.

Summary

Coconut oil is rich in antioxidants and low in cholesterol. It’s commonly used as a replacement for butter and olive or vegetable oils. Additionally, it contains several types of medium-chain triglycerides, which are associated with health benefits. However, it is essential to note that they are different, and potential benefits may not be interchangeable.

Coconut oil has been linked to a few key health benefits.

Supports weight management

Several studies show that coconut oil could help promote weight loss when consumed as part of a well-rounded diet.

For instance, one small study found that consuming coconut oil was more effective at increasing fat-free mass than peanut oil over an 8-week period (5).

In another older study. men who consumed 2 tablespoons (30 ml) of virgin coconut oil for 4 weeks experienced significant reductions in belly fat (6).

On the other hand, some research has found that coconut oil has no impact on weight loss or body fat compared with other types of healthy fats (7, 8, 9).

All in all, more studies are needed to determine how coconut oil may impact weight management.

Rich in antioxidants

Some test-tube studies have found that virgin coconut oil may contain antioxidants, which are compounds that help neutralize harmful free radicals and protect against cell damage (10, 11, 12).

Antioxidants also play a central role in health and disease and may help prevent chronic conditions like (13):

  • obesity
  • heart disease
  • type 2 diabetes

Generally, virgin coconut oil is considered any type of coconut oil that is unprocessed and hasn’t been refined, bleached, or deodorized.

However, keep in mind that the term “virgin” isn’t regulated, meaning that it can vary widely across manufacturers.

Summary

Coconut oil has been linked to key health benefits. It can protect against cell damage and may help prevent chronic conditions like obesity, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes.

Some evidence suggests coconut oil could be beneficial for type 2 diabetes.

A 2016 animal study found that adding virgin coconut oil to a high fructose diet improved blood sugar and antioxidant levels, compared with a control group (14).

Another small study in 9 healthy men showed that consuming coconut oil for 8 weeks enhanced insulin sensitivity, which can support healthy blood sugar levels by improving your body’s ability to use insulin to transport sugar from the bloodstream to the cells (5).

Furthermore, an older animal study found that rats with type 2 diabetes that consumed coconut oil had lower cholesterol levels and improved glucose tolerance (15).

Still, more research in humans is needed to evaluate the effects of coconut oil on type 2 diabetes. Additionally, there isn’t currently any research available on how coconut oil may affect people with type 1 diabetes.

Summary

Some studies suggest coconut oil could be beneficial for type 2 diabetes, but more research including humans is needed to confirm these effects. Additional studies are also needed to determine how coconut oil affects type 1 diabetes.

Despite its potential benefits, it’s important to remember that coconut oil is still considered a saturated fat.

Although studies show that saturated fat consumption is not directly linked to a higher risk of heart disease, it can increase cholesterol levels, which is a risk factor for heart disease (16, 17).

Furthermore, compared with consumption of nontropical vegetable oils like avocado and olive oils, ingesting coconut oil can lead to significantly higher low density lipoprotein (LDL) levels. LDL is sometimes called “bad” cholesterol because it can lead to a buildup of cholesterol in your arteries (7).

According to the most recent U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, saturated fat intake should be limited to less than 10% of your total daily calories (18).

Replacing saturated fats with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats in your diet, like olive oil and vegetable oil, may be associated with a reduced risk of conditions like heart attack and stroke (19).

Furthermore, keep in mind that coconut oil is high in calories. So, if you’re consuming high amounts of coconut oil without making any other changes to your diet, it could potentially lead to weight gain over time.

Summary

Although coconut oil has health benefits, it is a saturated fat that can increase cholesterol levels. Plus, it is high in calories, so if you’re consuming high amounts of coconut oil without adjusting your diet, it could lead to weight gain over time.

If you do decide to add coconut oil to your diet, it may be best to do so in moderation. Every once in a while, consider substituting your usual oil with coconut oil when sautéing vegetables or mixing cookie dough.

If you want to substitute coconut oil in a baking recipe, make sure to melt the oil to its liquid state. The other ingredients should be kept at room temperature, which will prevent the oil from quickly solidifying into clumps.

Coconut oil packs a flavorful punch, so be careful not to use more than one serving. A standard serving size of coconut oil is about 1 tablespoon (15 ml).

Summary

Coconut oil can be a part of a well-balanced diet when consumed in moderation.

Coconut oil does have its perks, but it’s still a saturated fat, which can increase cholesterol levels. It’s also high in calories, which could contribute to weight gain if consumed in high amounts.

Although animal studies have shown some benefits, there’s very little human research on how coconut oil affects diabetes.

For this reason, it may be safer to stick with heart-healthy fats, such as olive oil, and enjoy virgin coconut oil in small amounts as part of a healthy, well-rounded diet.