Can coconut oil help me lose weight?

Answers from Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D.

The few small studies that have looked at coconut oil for weight loss suggest that coconut oil may help reduce waist size, but it doesn't lead to significant weight loss or improved body mass index (BMI).

Coconut oil is a tropical oil that's made from the dried fruit (nut) of the coconut palm tree. Proponents say that it contains a healthy type of saturated fatty acid (lauric acid) that your body quickly burns for energy.

The oil extracted from fresh coconut contains a relatively large amount of medium-chain fatty acids, which don't appear to be stored in adipose tissue as readily as do long-chain fatty acids. This in part is why some people started looking at coconut oil as a weight-loss aid.

However, coconut oil is still high in calories and saturated fat. Coconut oil has more saturated fat than lard does. Short-term studies have suggested medium-chain fatty acids, such as lauric acid, do not raise serum low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol as much as do long-chain fatty acids. However, there are few long-term studies looking at the relationship between coconut oil and heart health. In addition, 1 tablespoon contains 13.6 grams of fat and 117 calories.

Consuming too much will give you extra calories — and that can signal to your body that it's time to store more fat. Even if the stored fat doesn't come directly from the coconut oil, high doses of coconut oil could still indirectly contribute to the very problem you are trying to address.

Although eating coconut oil in moderation isn't going to result in great harm to your health, it's not likely to help you lose weight either. For successful, long-term weight loss, stick to the basics — an overall healthy-eating plan and exercise.

June 26, 2015 See more Expert Answers