Whether it’s coconut oil, coconut water, coconut meat, or coconut milk, everyone, it seems, is cuckoo for coconuts. Coconut oil has seen a particularly bright spotlight shone on it as a result of promises that this oil--extracted from the meat of a mature coconut--can actually help with weight loss. But is this true? What do scientists, doctors, and nutritionists think about using coconut oil for weight loss?
Does Coconut Oil Help with Weight Loss?
Here's what we know: One reason that coconut oil works for weight loss is that if you want to lose weight in general you need to use fat for energy rather than depending on carbohydrates. According to holistic nutritionist, Dr. Elizabeth Pavka, PhD, RD, LD/N, when you eat too many carbs it creates more insulin, which causes the body to store fat.
“A paradigm shift is taking place in the understanding of what truly makes us fat. We used to think that eating fat made us fat,” says Dr. Pavka. “Now as we understand the biochemistry of the body better, we know that eating too many carbohydrates causes obesity, as well as diabetes, insulin resistance, and many other chronic diseases.”
When it comes to weight loss, some research has shown that coconut oil can be effective for weight loss. A study published in the March 2008 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that coconut oil was more effective at promoting weight loss than olive oil. The small study followed 49 overweight men and women over a 16-week weight loss program and found that those using coconut oil instead of olive oil lost more weight.
Another study, published in the December 2003 issue of the International Journal of Obesity found that medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) like coconut oil were less likely to be stored in the body and more likely to be used for energy compared to long chain fatty acids like olive oil.
The main concern with coconut oil and weight loss is that it's a saturated fat. Saturated fats are fat molecules that have no double bonds with carbon molecules because they are saturated with hydrogen molecules. Because saturated fats have no gaps (or double bonds) they are able to pack together really tightly so when they enter the bloodstream, they tend to raise low density lipoprotein (LDL) or bad cholesterol. This can be bad for heart health.
However, notable research has shown otherwise. A study published in the October 2008 edition of the Journal of the American College of Nutrition found that MCTs weren’t the same as other saturated fats when it comes to heart health and they did not impact blood cholesterol.
That said, these studies have all been short term. We have no long term studies on the health impact of consuming coconut oil on heart health. That’s why doctors like Dr. Walter C. Willett from the Harvard School of Public Health contend that while coconut oil does give good cholesterol a boost, it should still be used in moderation until long term studies are available.
The Smart Way to Use Coconut Oil
Amie Valpone, nutritionist, celebrity chef, and author of Eating Clean: The 21-Day Plan to Detox, Fight Inflammation and Reset Your Body, recommends adding 1 teaspoon of coconut oil to your coffee or tea in the morning. She also adds it to hot cocoa made with almond milk, cocoa powder, cinnamon and one teaspoon of organic coconut oil. It's a great way to reap the benefits of this healthy oil, which is great for balancing hormones and gut health. Here are some other smart ways to cook with coconut oil for weight loss:
- Toss seasonal veggies in coconut oil and roast until caramelized
- Scramble eggs in coconut oil
- Add a teaspoon to your morning coffee
- Cook bananas in coconut oil and then sprinkle with nutmeg and ginger
- Add to a salad dressing
- Use to sauté your favorite stir fry
Or try this simple and delicious red curry recipe:
Thai Red Curry Recipe
Image of red curry via Shutterstock
1 cup brown basmati rice
2 3/4 cups water, separated
1/2 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. coconut oil
1 small white onion, diced
1 Tbsp. finely grated fresh ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 red bell pepper, sliced into thin 2-inch long strips
2 cups cauliflower, broken into florets
1 carrot, peeled and sliced
2 Tbsp. Thai red curry paste
1 can full-fat coconut milk
1 tsp. coconut sugar
2 tsp. soy sauce
2 tsp. rice vinegar
Garnish with cilantro and Thai red chili sauce
To cook the rice, first rinse and then combine the cup of rice with two cups of water and ½ teaspoon of salt, and bring to a boil. Stir once, cover, and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook for 40 minutes. Remove from heat and let sit for ten more minutes.
Add coconut oil to a skillet over medium heat. Once it heats up, add onion and a pinch of salt and cook until translucent. Add in garlic and ginger. Add bell peppers, carrots, and cauliflower and cook until fork tender.
In a separate small bowl, add curry paste to coconut milk and whisk well. Add the combination to your sauté.
Add water as needed (about ¾ cup) and sugar. Cook until the veggies are tender but not overcooked. Remove from the heat and add soy sauce and rice vinegar. Garnish with cilantro and red chili sauce.
Recipe adapted from Cookie and Kate.
Where to Buy Coconut Oil
In most recipes, it’s best to choose unrefined, virgin or extra virgin, organic coconut oil. You also want to choose a brand that’s either raw, cold pressed, or centrifuge extracted. Both processing methods ensure that most of the coconut’s nutrients remain intact. Some good choices include Carrington Farms at around $16 for 54 ounces, Nature’s Way, which is more expensive at $16 for just 32 ounces, and Viva Labs at $15 for 32 ounces.
Do you use coconut oil for weight loss? Does it work? Tell us what you think via Twitter @OrganicAuthorit.
Image of coconut oil from Shuttershock