When Dr. Bruce Fife told the world that coconut oil can burn fat and help lose weight in 2001, hardly anyone believed. But over the years, those who're willing to give coconut oil a shot have lost a significant amount of fat mass after incorporating coconut oil into their diet. How does coconut oil achieve that? Very simple. It helps to lose weight by:
- Reducing your calorie intake.
- Increasing your metabolism.
1. How coconut oil reduces your calorie intake
Did you know that coconut oil has earned its reputation as the world's only natural, low-calorie fat?
If you pick a few brands of virgin coconut oil and calculate their energy value (calories) contained in one gram of fat, you would have gotten a range of 9 kcal give or take few percent, which has pretty much the same calorie per gram (i.e. 9 kcal/g) as animal fats and other vegetable oils.
In fact, coconut oil carries fewer calories because it contains medium-chain fatty acids that are smaller in size than the fatty acids in animal fats and other vegetable oils.
For example, MCT (medium-chain triglyceride) oil has an effective energy value of 6.8 kcal/g. It carries only caprylic and capric acids – the 2 medium-chain fatty acids that are also found in coconut oil.
But because coconut oil also contains the relatively longer medium-chain lauric acid and other long-chain fatty acids such as myristic, palmitic and oleic acids etc (these fatty acids have energy values ranging from approx. 8 to 9.4 kcal/g), the overall actual energy value of coconut oil becomes roughly 8.6 kcal/g.
That's just a few percent lower than the actual energy values in animal fats and other vegetable oils, which I think is the reason why coconut oil manufacturers simplify the caloric calculation by rounding it up to 9 kcal/g and make coconut oil appear as having somewhat similar energy value as those in animal fats and other vegetable oils.
Apparently, this small discrepancy in energy value is not significant enough for coconut oil to get its low-calorie reputation as a fat. It actually attributes to coconut oil's inherent fat-burning characteristic that makes it well-known as a low-calorie fat. Let me explain.
Suppose your daily calorie intake includes 500 kcal of fat coming entirely from 4 tablespoons of olive oil added to your meals over the day. (Olive oil comprises entirely long-chain triglycerides, aka LCTs.)
3 long-chain fatty acids (LCFAs) joining together via a glycerol molecule form a long-chain triglyceride (LCT).
What your body does upon ingesting olive oil is that it'll first break down the LCTs in the oil into smaller individual fatty acids (LCFAs) in your small intestine. It then absorbs the LCFAs through the intestinal wall and from there, reassembles them into LCTs again and package them together with phospholipids, cholesterol and proteins into chylomicrons, which then enter your bloodstream through your lymphatic system. (See LCFA vs MCFA for full illustration.)
If your body does not use the LCFAs in the bloodstream immediately to fuel your metabolic and physical activities because it still has sufficient carbohydrates (derived from food) on tap, the LCFAs will eventually end up in your fat cells.
Our body uses carbohydrate (carb) as the primary energy source and LCFA as secondary energy source because carb converts to energy very much faster than LCFA. So, when there is sufficient carb, LCFA will normally be shoved into reserves.
Unless you raise your physical activity to the point where your body needs to burn more calories to fuel the activity, your body fat remains "untouchable". In other words, the fat you eat is literally the fat you wear, even if the fat you consume comes from the health-beneficial olive oil.
But when you eat coconut oil instead of olive oil, you'll dramatically reduce your fat deposition because our body metabolizes the fats in coconut oil very differently.
Unlike olive oil (and most other dietary oils, as well as animal fats) that composes entirely of LCFAs, coconut oil contains about 64% medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs), which are smaller in size.
Coconut oil also contains less than 1% of short-chain fatty acids, which are even smaller in size. But due to their insignificant contribution to weight loss, we'll focus mainly on medium-chain fatty acids.
Because of their smaller size, our body digests MCFAs very quickly (just as it does to carbs)... so quickly that our body prefers to use them as immediate energy source by shuttling them directly to the liver for energy production and to cells for fueling metabolic activities after they're broken down from medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) in our small intestine, rather than packing them away as body fat reserves like LCFAs.
That means, MCFAs do not practically contribute to fat gain and cause weight gain as a result.
Assuming the same 500 kcal daily fat intake but this time around coming entirely from coconut oil, now you have 64% less calorie stashed in your fat stores. That means, you cut your fat gain by 320 kcal (64%) up front.
That's a massive reduction of effective daily calorie intake. Isn't that amazing?
That's not all. According to numerous studies and researches, MCFA encourages the burning of LCFA too. So chances are, before the remaining LCFAs (about 35%) from coconut oil land in your fat stores through the bloodstream, they could have already been utilized and burned off as fuel too, leaving even lesser contribution to your body fat.
Dr. Julian Whitaker, a well-known authority on nutrition and health says, "LCTs are like heavy wet logs that you put on a small campfire. Keep adding the logs, and soon you have more logs than fire. MCTs are like rolled-up newspaper soaked in gasoline. They not only burn brightly, but will burn up the wet logs as well" (Murray, 1996).
LCT (long-chain triglyceride) is made up of various types and sizes of LCFAs. Animal fats and most vegetable oils contain 99% or 100% LCTs. MCT generally refers to oil that contains entirely of MCFAs.
I'm not finished yet.
All dietary fats induce appetite-suppressing hormones, that's why you feel more easily satisfied with fat added to your diet. As dietary fat also delays the emptying of stomach, you get to forestall hunger longer. In addition to these "special features" that all dietary fats possess, MCFA creates a more satisfying experience and thus, makes you feel full even longer than any other dietary fats.
Here's a study that proves the point:
In a group of women, some were fed MCT drink while the rest LCT drink. 30 minutes after the drink they were allowed to choose and eat as much as they wanted for their lunch. Those who had the MCT drink before the meal ate lesser than those who took the LCT drink.
If you're not convinced, another study involving a group of normal-weight men shows the same result. Men who took breakfast that contains MCT ate less at lunch. What's even more encouraging is that these men who ate less at lunch did not make up for the lower calorie intake at lunch by eating more at dinner. Why?
That's because MCTs or MCFAs in coconut oil can enter cells with absolute ease to supply quick energy. When these cells feel satisfied, your body will respond by slowing down the absorption of sugar into your bloodstream (i.e. stabilizing your blood glucose levels), thus releasing a steadier and longer supply of energy to fuel your cells and keep you satisfied longer.
When your blood glucose levels stabilize and you feel full longer, you won't crave sugar and feel hungry easily. These could also help to control your binge eating, resulting in overall lower calorie intake.
So that's how coconut oil earns its reputation as a "low-calorie fat".
Now you know how coconut oil helps you consume less calorie without you having to force it on purpose, let's move on to see how coconut oil boosts your metabolism at the same time for a more complete and effective weight loss.
2. How coconut oil increases your metabolism
Bustling cells rev up metabolism. Any food you eat can raise cellular activity. But no food can boost your metabolism to the level where your body can burn fat all day long like coconut oil. Here's why.
Carbs and LCFAs from food generally take only one path (by traveling through the bloodstream) to energize our cells and hike cellular activity. But MCFAs in coconut oil use two approaches to accomplish the same mission. How so?
Our body essentially breaks MCFAs into 2 groups, ferrying one group directly to the liver via hepatic portal vein for energy conversion while transporting the other group via bloodstream to each and every cell of our body.
You'll feel the burning sensation somewhere close to your stomach and below your chest when MCFAs are burned in the liver as fuel and heat is produced (thermogenesis). The feeling is particularly more apparent in cooler environment and of course, when you consume more coconut oil.
Energy conversion (burning of MCFAs) in the liver produces heat (thermogenic effect), which in turn excites the entire body cells (cells that are closer to the liver get more heat energy). Just like when you heat up water its molecules move rapidly (molecules that are closer to the fire move faster).
At the same time, MCFAs in bloodstream also enter directly into other cells of our body to give an extra energizing boost to our metabolism.
When cellular activity increases, your cells naturally demand more energy to stay at that level. MCFAs alone can't sustain for long. In view of that, your body will obtain energy from carbs and LCFAs via the food you consume. It'll draw on energy from your fat stores as well, resulting in body fat burning.
This chain reaction will continue as long as you keep your MCFA supply incessant. Just one meal alone can activate your metabolism and keep it elevated for several hours (of course, depending on the amount of coconut oil you eat with that meal).
MCFA, though can boost your energy level, does not interfere with your sleep. Otherwise, I would have been sleepless for the past several years since I'm taking coconut oil every day.
Imagine you include coconut oil in every meal you eat, you're literally putting your body on a full-day fat-burning mode, even while you're sleeping like a bear.
This unique way of handling MCFAs by our body makes coconut oil a perfect metabolism booster for those who need to lift up their metabolism for weight loss, regardless of whether their sluggish metabolism is caused by low thyroid problem, genetic issue, diabetes, age, fatigue or something else.
3. How to use coconut oil for weight loss?
I've had people asking me whether they can use coconut oil topically by massaging the oil into their skin and get the same fat-burning effect as eating the oil.
Well, I did come across people who rub coconut oil on their belly get 1-2 inches off after many weeks of sheer topical application. But not all get the same result. Some reported the exact same waistline before and after the rub but almost all experienced the same thing – their belly skin felt smoother and softer than before.
That's because coconut oil speeds up the removal of dead cells on the outer surface of our skin, allowing new cells to quickly take their place. It also helps to hold water in the skin. So when you use coconut oil on your skin, it actually benefits your skin more than it does for weight loss.
For those who do really get some inches off their waistline, I think the act of massaging itself is more likely the "culprit" that helps to "scrape" some inches off as massage might break down the fibrous tissue that holds the fat in place, dispersing (not burning) the fat as a result. Additionally, repetitive massaging encourages your lymph glands to flush out excess fluid, which might also have a slimming effect on your belly.
Having said that, don't be surprised to rub off some belly inches even when you use other oils or just normal cream on your skin instead of coconut oil because it is essentially the act of massaging that works.
You might argue that the MCFAs in coconut oil can enter our body via the skin and offer the same weight loss benefits as eating it. I don't deny that fact, but there's only that much coconut oil your skin can absorb and it's definitely not enough to boost the metabolism of all your cells to achieve the same level of fat-burning effect as eating the oil.
Actually, if you want to use coconut oil for weight loss, why not just eat it? It's so much easier and convenient that way! Most important of all, eating the oil definitely works to help you lose weight more effectively since you can eat more of it to raise its fat-burning effect on your body fat. Already tested and proven by many overweight people!
4. How to eat coconut oil for weight loss?
Here are the few points you must take note before you start taking the first dose of coconut oil for weight loss:
- Use virgin coconut oil (best, organic) because this type of coconut oil best benefits both weight loss and health as it contains the best combination of various MCFAs for boosting metabolism and toughening immunity.
If you want to soar your metabolism to greater heights, add MCT oil to your virgin coconut oil diet. This is because MCT oil carries only caprylic and capric acids, which are very short medium-chain fatty acids (usually extracted from coconut or palm kernel) that can infiltrate into your cells easily and then convert to energy quickly, thus providing an immediate boost to your metabolism.
For that reason, some people eat only MCT oil for weight loss. But I do encourage making virgin coconut oil as the staple in your weight loss diet and MCT oil a supplementary for weight loss because virgin coconut oil really provides plenty of health benefits besides its fat-burning property. MCT oil can never match up to the health benefits of virgin coconut oil.
Because I advocate healthy weight loss, I want you to lose weight and gain health at the same time.
Another thing is, if you find the distinctive natural coconut scent in virgin coconut oil a bit too strong for your liking, either you learn to like it or instead, use RBD coconut oil that is odorless and as a matter of fact, contains slightly lesser health properties.
- No matter how many extra pounds you wish to lose, whether 20, 50 or even 100 pounds, don't consume too much coconut oil in one go. True, the more coconut oil you eat, the more fat you can burn. But because coconut oil has bowel-loosening effect, it's best to start with 1/2 to 1 tablespoon daily for a few days first to allow your body to adjust itself to the oil and prevent diarrhea-like symptoms from occurring before your next increment.
- You can consume coconut oil on its own if you don't mind its greasy feel in your mouth (I've tried before and find eating this way a bit disgusting, but when added to my food and beverages – Yummy!). However, based on my own experience as well as feedback from people whom I recommended the oil to, eating the oil on its own produces more potent bowel-loosening effect than mixing it with food. That's why I always suggest people to cook their food with it (substitute coconut oil for whatever cooking oil you're using now), or add it raw to their food or beverages (juices, smoothies etc). Doing so enhances the flavor of your food and drinks too.
- Don't expect the weight loss benefits of coconut oil to manifest after eating it for only a few days or so. The toxic buildups in your body over the past years due to animal meat and junk food consumption can hamper the releasing of fats from your tissues for burning. As coconut oil has potent detoxifying properties, it'll deal with your toxins first before it can draw on the fats from your fat reserves and use them as fuel at its disposal. Therefore, it takes regular (i.e. every day for best result) consumption for at least 2 to 3 weeks before you can notice the difference on your weighing scale.Of course, if you manage to detox well with coconut oil, the scale should show a dramatic drop of few pounds in a week, but that's only "weight loss" due to the removal of waste that may weigh several pounds and not fat loss yet. True weight loss is burning off of excess fat that results in weight loss. So, please take note of this.
- There's simply no restrictions on how much or how many doses of coconut oil you can or should take for weight loss. That depends on how well your body can adapt to the oil's effect. If your body can only take up to 2 Tbsps daily after several weeks of gradual addition of coconut oil to your diet, so be it. But generally, most people can take up to 3 or 4 Tbsps every day, which are what I would recommend for weight loss.
- Make sure you cut back on the calorie intake of other food while increasing your doses of coconut oil because excess calorie when not used as fuel will still convert to body fat. For example, instead of a bowl of oatmeal every morning, trim the portion by ¼ upon adding coconut oil initially. Cut it down by half straight when you mix more oil into the food. This ensures you won't pile up extra calories on your plate but yet still able to feel full longer. Remember... calorie always counts when it comes to losing weight. (See Why coconut oil causes weight gain)
- One study shows that after consuming a meal containing medium-chain fats, normal-weight people increase their energy expenditure by 48%, but obese individuals increase their energy expenditure by an amazing 65%. In other words, the more excess body fat you have, the stronger will be the fat-burning effect of coconut oil on your body. That means, you may come to the point where coconut oil starts burning lesser body fat even though your metabolism remains optimally elevated. That's good news because that shows you're getting closer to a normal BMI.
- Don't limit yourself to just eating coconut oil. You can also include any coconut product such as coconut meat, coconut butter and coconut cream or milk in your diet so that you'll never fall short of MCFAs to help keep your metabolism active at all times. Even when making snacks or desserts you can sprinkle desiccated coconut over to enhance the mouth-feel and flavor of your sweet treats. Isn't that cool?
In short, increase your coconut oil intake progressively to the point that it becomes a natural part of your diet and lifestyle because we're talking about long-term weight management, not short-term weight loss. If you treat coconut oil as a temporary weight loss solution, you're likely to fail on your quest to get down in shape and stay slim for good.