From keeping your skin soft and supple to lowering your blood sugar levels, coconut oil is associated with numerous health claims.
Weight loss is also among the list of benefits linked to coconut oil intake. As such, many people looking to shed excess weight add this tropical oil to their meals, snacks, and beverages, including coffee drinks and smoothies.
However, like most ingredients advertised as a magic bullet for weight loss, coconut oil may not be the easy weight loss solution it’s cracked up to be.
This article reviews whether coconut oil can help you lose weight.
While there’s no doubt that coconut oil is a healthy fat, it’s unclear whether this popular product is as effective for weight loss as many people claim.
Coconut oil vs. MCT oil
The belief that this oil benefits weight loss is mainly based on the claim that it may decrease hunger, as well as the fact that coconut products contain specific fats called medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs).
MCTs are metabolized differently than long-chain triglycerides (LCTs), which are found in foods like olive oil and nut butter. MCTs include capric, caprylic, caproic, and lauric acid — though there is some controversy over including lauric acid in this category.
Unlike LCTs, 95% of MCTs are rapidly and directly absorbed into the bloodstream — specifically the portal vein of the liver — and used for immediate fuel (
MCTs are also less likely than LCTs to be stored as fat (
Although MCTs naturally comprise around 50% of the fat in coconut oil, they can also be isolated and made into a stand-alone product, meaning coconut oil and MCT oil are not the same things (
Coconut oil consists of 47.5% lauric acid and less than 8% capric, caprylic, and caproic acids. While most experts classify lauric acid as an MCT, it behaves like an LCT in terms of absorption and metabolism (6).
Specifically, only 25–30% of lauric acid is absorbed through the portal vein, compared with 95% of other MCTs, so it doesn’t have the same effects on health. This is why its classification as an MCT is controversial (
Also, while some studies have found that MCT oil increased feelings of fullness and enhanced weight loss, they used oils high in capric and caprylic acid and low in lauric acid, which is unlike the composition of coconut oil (6).
For these reasons, experts argue that coconut oil should not be promoted as having the same effects as MCT oil, and results from MCT studies related to weight loss can’t be extrapolated to coconut oil (
May enhance feelings of fullness
Coconut oil may increase feelings of fullness and enhance appetite regulation.
Research has shown that adding fat-rich foods like coconut oil to meals may increase stomach volume, inducing greater sensations of fullness than low fat meals (
Some research has also shown that eating foods rich in saturated fats may induce greater fullness than eating foods rich in monounsaturated fats. However, other studies have concluded that feelings of fullness aren’t influenced by fatty acid saturation levels (
Therefore, it’s unclear if choosing coconut oil over other types of fats is any more beneficial for inducing feelings of fullness.
Finally, food companies and the media routinely use MCT oil studies to back claims regarding the fullness-promoting qualities of coconut oil. Yet, as stated above, these two products are not the same (
Coconut oil may promote feelings of fullness, and it contains fats known as MCTs, which are linked to health benefits. However, coconut oil should not be confused with MCT oil, as these oils are different and don’t provide the same benefits.
Research has shown that eating coconut oil may decrease inflammation, raise levels of heart-protective HDL cholesterol, and promote insulin sensitivity (
Still, while many studies link MCT oil to weight loss, research on coconut oil’s effect on weight loss is lacking.
Numerous human studies have found that MCT oil consumption may promote feelings of fullness and that replacing LCTs with MCTs may lead to modest weight loss (
But remember, results from MCT oil studies should not be applied to coconut oil (
In fact, only a few studies have investigated whether coconut oil can curb appetite or enhance weight loss, and their results aren’t promising.
Effects on fullness
Studies do not support the claim that coconut oil can substantially decrease hunger and increase fullness levels.
For example, one study in 15 women with excess weight found that eating breakfast with 25 ml of coconut oil was less effective at reducing appetite 4 hours after the meal, compared with eating the same amount of olive oil (
Another study in 15 children with obesity demonstrated that a meal containing 20 grams of coconut oil didn’t induce greater feelings of fullness than consuming the same amount of corn oil (
Additionally, a study in 42 adults found that coconut oil was significantly less filling than an MCT oil composed of high amounts of caprylic and capric acids, but slightly more filling than vegetable oil (
Researchers have concluded that results from MCT studies shouldn’t be applied to coconut oil and that there is little evidence to support using it to promote feelings of fullness.
Effects on weight loss
While many people believe that consuming coconut oil is a healthy and effective way to shed excess body fat, there is little evidence supporting this theory.
The few studies that have investigated the potential of this oil to enhance weight loss have not shown promising results.
For example, a 4-week study in 91 adults found no significant differences in body weight between groups that consumed 1.8 ounces (50 grams) of either coconut oil, butter, or olive oil per day (
However, some research suggests that coconut oil may decrease belly fat. A 4-week study in 20 adults with obesity observed that taking 2 tablespoons (30 ml) of this oil daily significantly reduced waist circumference in male participants (
Similarly, some studies in rodents have shown that coconut oil may help reduce belly fat. However, research in this area is still limited (
Another 8-week study in 32 adults showed that taking 2 tablespoons (30 ml) of coconut oil daily did not affect weight loss or weight gain, suggesting that this oil may have a neutral effect on your weight at best (
Although coconut oil is often suggested to boost weight loss and feelings of fullness, current research does not support using it as a weight loss tool.
Coconut oil is not the weight-loss-enhancing wonder ingredient it’s portrayed to be, and more research on its potential to promote fat loss and feelings of fullness is warranted.
Nevertheless, though it may not enhance weight loss, it is a healthy fat that can be consumed as part of a well-balanced diet and utilized for a wealth of other purposes.
Still, it’s important to note that like all fats, coconut oil is high in calories. When trying to reach your desired weight, use it in small amounts to enhance the taste of your foods while keeping your calorie intake in check.
In general, rather than relying on single ingredients to drop excess pounds, it’s more beneficial to concentrate on the overall quality of your diet by consuming whole, nutrient-dense foods and practicing portion control.