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Is Coconut Oil Our New Dietary Saviour?

Every once in a blue moon, a new life-saving phenomenon will come along to end worldwide disease, mortality and love handles. A panacea for all if you will.

When I see this I immediately know that somebody is getting very rich.

Today I want to discuss coconut oil. It's most likely something that you have heard of before and maybe something that you use for cooking or dollop in your black coffee.

There's no doubt that coconut oil has risen to fame in the last decade and is usually hyped up by fitness celebrities (and no surprising sometimes sponsored by said companies) it's hard not to find modern cook books and dishes without the use of coconut oil.

Here's my objective take on coconut oil broken down for you. I'm strictly talking about coconut oil rather than coconut in it's unrefined form. That also means no mention of cosmetic coconut products. This is a nutrition blog after all. Sorry ladies!

What is it?

One of the biggest selling points of coconut oil is the fact that it is predominantly made of lauric acid, or about 65% medium-chain triglycerides (MCT for short). If you have coconut oil handy go and check it now. More than likely it will state this on the packaging.

What this means to us is that coconut oil is made of triglyceride and fatty acids with a carbon chain length of 6-12. Does this help us in our journey to optimal health and performance? Well no not really.

Technically MCT's can be broken down a lot quicker and used as fuel rather than stored as fat over the longer chained triglycerides. They do not enter the cholesterol cycle to deposited in fat stores. However if you are eating too many calories this literally does nothing as calories are not being used for energy and will simply get stored as fat.

Just because something sounds very scientific does not necessarily mean that it is effective at doing something. We can all be fooled by clever marketing and I am myself are not innocent in thinking that these MCT's were magic creatures that were going to help me achieve my goals.

You hear this a lot but its so very important that I tend to repeat myself on the subject to get it across to clients. In order to lose body fat, the energy that goes in must be less than the energy that goes out. It doesn't mater that you only eat broccoli and chicken. If you eat too much broccoli and too much chicken you will gain weight!

Health benefits?

Ok so we know that we have to be in a caloric deficit in order to lose body fat but what about about coconut oil and our health in general?

Well studies have shown that MCT's can provide an increase in metabolic rate in overweight people with one study in females [1] and a waist reduction seen in male subjects [2] which is good, as a large waist circumference can be linked to cardiovascular disease.

Awesome right!? Unfortunately the research showed that it only really had benefits for up to 2 weeks with no further benefits after this period.

Two weeks in the grand scheme of a long term diet for someone that is overweight is nothing. The fact that it was only in overweight subjects could mean that there is little to no benefit in lower BMI individuals or athletes.

Oh well...

What about other oils?

In comparison to other oils coconut oil is popular, which usually means expensive. In comparison to other oils, you will sometimes be paying twice as much.

We have to remember that coconut oil is relatively new and people have only been using it as recently as 2011. Therefore you can make the argument that it has been under researched. Compare this to olive oil which has been researched a lot and has shown to be very beneficial to health. Think Mediterranean Diet.

We really want to ensure that most of our dietary fat come from monounsaturated sources such as olives, nuts and avocado followed by polyunsaturated sources, like fish (omega 3's) and seeds. Saturated fats should take up the remainder of our intake but should not really exceed the others. I won't go in to the whole saturated fat is bad for you debate as I want to remain on topic.

Are there any positives?

So far it's not looking like the amazing thing coconut oil is made out to be and I've criticised it a lot. So are there are any actual benefits to using it?

Well for one, if you have a diet deficient in saturated fats it's a great addition to have. This speaks mostly to vegans and maybe even some ovo-vegetarians (who eat eggs but no other animal products) where replacing coconut oil with olive oil will lower monounsaturated fats in favour of saturated fats (which isn't a bad thing as these diet populations should be getting plenty of mono fats from nuts and the like.)

The obvious caveat is that if you consume a lot of animal products then a case can be made that you don't want to add even more saturated fat to your diet. Stick with olive or nut oils.

If you like the taste of coconut and enjoy cooking with it then this shouldn't stop you using it occasionally. It does tend to be a lot more fun and an interesting addition to recipes as some other oils can be quite bland and tasteless.


Is coconut oil going to give you a six pack in time for the summer season? Probably not. If losing body fat is your goal then concentrate on lowering overall caloric intake. Ensure that you are getting good sources of non-refined fats like olives, nuts, seeds, fish and avocado.

So sorry but your coffee is not bullet proof!


[1] Papamandjaris AA, White MD, Jones PJ (1999) Components of total energy expenditure in healthy young women are not affected after 14 days of feeding with medium-versus long-chain triglycerides https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10348498

[2] Liau KM et al. (2011) An open-label pilot study to assess the efficacy and safety of virgin coconut oil in reducing visceral adiposity https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22164340

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