Our nutritionist answers your top questions.
If you’ve been following the news about coconut oil, you might be a little confused: Is it a miracle food, capable of helping you lose weight and lower your cholesterol? Or is it an over-hyped fad, laden with saturated fat, that you should immediately cut from your diet?
If you’ve got questions, you’re not alone—lots of people are turning to Google to get the scoop on this highly-debated oil. Below, you’ll find my answers to five of the top-searched topics:
Does coconut oil help you lose weight?
Maybe, but the research is very limited. One study, published in the journal Lipids, tested the effects of consuming about one ounce of either soybean oil or coconut oil over a 12-week period in women with abdominal obesity. The ladies were instructed to follow a balanced diet designed to maintain weight, and walk for 50 minutes a day. Both groups lost weight, but only the coconut oil eaters experienced a reduction in their waist measurements. Another more recent study in older men and women with heart disease also found that those given coconut oil experienced a reduction in both their body weight and waistline.
Intriguing research, but it is scant. And it’s important to note that not every study that asked people to add coconut oil resulted in weight loss or reduced belly fat.
Even if there is an effect, it doesn’t mean that downing coconut oil, without making any other changes to your eating pattern, will suddenly cause weight to fall off your frame. It also doesn’t mean that you should exclusively switch to coconut oil. That said, if you struggle with belly fat, and you want to try using virgin coconut oil as one of your fat sources, go for it. Just be sure it’s in moderation, and not the only or even primary fat you use (more on this below).
Is coconut oil good for your heart?
Probably not, but there are caveats. In both of the studies mentioned above, the coconut oil eaters saw a boost in their levels of “good” HDL cholesterol. Another study, published in BMJ, compared the impact of coconut oil, butter, and olive oil on heart disease risk factors in men and women. The participants were divided into three groups and ate 50 grams (a little under two ounces) of one of the three fats daily for four weeks.
By the end of the study period, the butter group had experienced a rise in “bad” LDL cholesterol levels. But the participants in the coconut oil group, meanwhile, had increased HDL levels compared to the participants in the other two groups.
The researchers concluded that while coconut oil is predominantly saturated fat (about 90%), which is generally believed to raise LDL, perhaps not all saturated fats are created equal; in other words, coconut oil may not cause a spike in LDL because of its specific chemical makeup.
That’s a very different conclusion, however, than that of the American Heart Association (AHA). In a 2017 report, the AHA stated that an increase in HDL alone can no longer be directly linked to positive changes in cardiovascular health. The organization also cited a handful of studies that…