Many individuals wishing to lose weight prefer to lean into the idea of - ‘as much as possible, in the quickest amount of time’. Such aspirations are not necessarily realistic (certainly not for the long-term) or a healthy way to go about it.
Now, before getting too excited about shedding kilos in the double figures and heading out to ‘bulk buy’ the stuff, it is wise to draw realistic conclusions right from the get-go. Cholesterol and heart health aside, coconut oil for weight loss may just be a ‘big fat misunderstanding’. Has the marketing mania around it given the stuff more credit than it deserves?
We’ve determined that coconut oil is a fatty and high caloric substance, so is weight loss achievable when consuming it?
About a tablespoon of coconut oil contains around 117 calories and 14 grams of (total) fat7. It’s common sense to assume that a high consumption of coconut oil will elevate calorie intake and thereby begin to impact weight in the opposite direction. In general, increased fat and higher calories will be more easily stored than burned off, resulting in unwanted weight gain.
Yes, there have been clinical studies that have looked at potential weight loss capability of MCFA oils compared with olive oils, and it appears that some reduction may be possible8. Others disagree – research using coconut oil directly for weight loss assessment appeared to be inconsistent and requires more long-term evaluation. Thus, coconut oil may not be a reliable weight loss enabler9.
Observational comparisons have looked at the dietary habits of Pacific island and Western nation populations too as a way to find answers. There are numerous diet style differences between these populations. Is the key in the diet? Is it the consumption of coconut oil or a combination of other foodstuffs?
Populations that consume higher quantities of coconut products do not appear to have as high a rate of general digestive problems (like constipation), high blood cholesterol (hypercholesterolemia), colitis (inflammation of the colon), colon cancer, appendicitis, diverticulosis (a condition where bulges develop in the digestive tract), haemorrhoids (piles) and other heart related ailments like atherosclerosis (plaque build-up inside the arteries), which are seemingly more common among Western populations.
It is worth pointing out that any weight loss observed in participants during study was not through the use of MCFA substances alone. Overall diet and physical activity also prominently feature in the mix – something that does directly correlate with overall health (both good and bad).
Studies aside, it may be safe to assume that including coconut oil in any diet is not likely to have a massive impact on overall BMI (body mass index) or serve as the miracle ingredient that will help one to achieve significant weight loss (particularly around the middle / belly region). No such thing has yet been conclusively proven.
It could be that coconut oil can help contribute to a centimetre or two of weight lost, reducing a person’s waist circumference. It could also be that a daily 20 to 30-minute brisk walk does the trick, along with the incorporation or more healthy proteins and plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables.
In terms of what may contribute to weight loss goals, the lauric acid content in coconut oil may be of interest for further, more detailed studies in human beings. Since it’s not a stored saturated fatty acid, the body may be able to metabolise it (consumption can potentially speed up basal metabolic rates) and burn it off fairly quickly – if it’s not being stored, it’s being used, but can this contribute to actual weight loss? Perhaps.
One study looked at 30ml coconut oil dosages taken 3 times daily, half an hour before each meal of the day for a period of 4 weeks. The number of participants was small, however – 20 in total. The research team concluded that 30ml was a tolerable dosage which also provided the equivalent of 24g of lauric acid (a similar amount that is found in a breastfeeding mother’s milk). In terms of weight loss, reductions in waist circumference were noted – about 2.86 cm, but there was no significant change in lipid profiles. Reductions were more noticeable in male participants than females – the reason for which has not been precisely identified10.
Good-quality, larger-scale studies are needed to help better identify just how coconut oil related weight loss may be successfully possible. If weight loss is possible, studies can also help to determine in what quantity coconut oil should be consumed and with which other factors (like overall diet and exercise) it should be combined in order to achieve realistic weight loss goals.
For now, coconut oil on its own can’t be expected to cancel out other bad eating habits or help anyone shed significant kilos.
In terms of long-term weight loss success, a balanced nutrition plan and regular exercise regimen has proven far better results than the capabilities of coconut oil alone. That said, moderate consumption of coconut oil shouldn’t have a terribly negative impact on anyone’s overall health.
‘The coconut diet’?
The marketing hype around coconut oil and other products hasn’t exactly taken scientific discrepancies too seriously it would seem. There are countless products available for purchase over-the-counter. Edible products are often marketed as suitable for vegans and vegetarians, or anyone with a preference to substitute it for cooking and baking purposes – swopping it out in place of other oils.
With physical health and weight ever-popular areas of focus for the general public, it’s no surprise really that any possible weight loss benefits have caught on in this regard and gained some momentum. Yes, there is such a thing as ‘the coconut diet’. So, what is it? Does it work?
The diet leans towards ‘the pro-coconut oil camp’ and the positives which have thus far been noted in studies. The diet is centred around the eating habits of Pacific island populations and the assumption that the consumption of higher or regular quantities of coconut contributes to fewer health conditions and associated risk factors (irrespective of what other factors may contribute to this).
Improved metabolism and digestive function are also promotion points of the coconut diet. The other theory on which this diet is based relates to MCFA content and the idea that those found in coconut oil are better metabolised than other oils or fatty products.
The overall diet in itself is fairly low-carb and encourages regular exercise. High carbohydrate foods like potatoes and refined grains do not feature all that much in this diet plan. Sugar and alcohol are also discouraged. The diet does, however, encourage the consumption of lean proteins and anti-oxidant-rich fruits and vegetables. Such a plan is not too different from a variety of others. What sets it apart is… you guessed it… the addition of coconut oil – a whole 2 to 3 tablespoons of virgin coconut oil taken daily. Hence, the name ‘the coconut diet’.
Like most diet plans, this one too appears to come with a timeline – something that appeals to the general public. Having a timeline allows goals to be set, which promotes expectations. As with any diet, this is what ‘makes it’ or ‘breaks it’. If the selling point promise works within that time frame, brilliant. If not, no one will sing its praises.
The coconut diet promises a higher amount of weight loss during the initial few weeks (as much as 4 to 5 kilograms or 10 pounds), after which smaller numbers can be achieved (half to 1 kilogram or 1 to 2 pounds) per week and eventually an ideal weight maintained. The diet also promises to ensure a ‘you that is healthier than you’ve ever have been before’ once you’ve kickstarted it. So, what kind of commitment is involved?
How the coconut diet works
The coconut diet plan works in phases11:
1. Kick-off – 21 days to weight loss
The author labels the initial phase of the plan as the strictest. By strict, we mean a serious change in what is and isn’t allowed to be consumed. The author doesn’t outright promise an exact 4 to 5 (or 10 pound) loss of weight during the initial 21 days but does set the expectation that it is likely.
Virgin coconut oil is introduced right from the beginning. The only other oil permitted for use is olive oil. What else is allowed on the diet?
- Lean proteins: Meat products include chicken, turkey, fish and beef. Eggs, nuts and cheese are other protein sources permitted in the diet.
- Vegetables: Brightly coloured vegetables that are high in antioxidants, like spinach, kale, broccoli and beets. A ‘one-day vegetable juice cleanse’ is an optional feature which can be incorporated once during each week of the kick-off phase. The author of the diet promotes this cleanse as a way to accelerate weight loss but leaves it up to those on the diet to decide whether or not it is worthwhile for them.
- Beverages: The diet plan promotes drinking plenty of water – 8 to 10 servings of 237 ml (8 ounces) each. This can include herbal tea. Coffee is not completely forbidden and can be enjoyed sparingly.
The diet excludes all fruit, sugar and grains. The purpose of this is to help regulate blood sugar levels. Food consumption is structured according to 3 meals a day and 2 snacks. Physical activity (at least 15 minutes a day) including cardio and strength-training is encouraged as well.
2. The cleansing phase
This phase is optional, and the reason why is that it involves the consumption of cleansing beverages or juices. The juice programme options during this phase are aimed at offering around 4 weeks of cleansing the body (especially the colon, liver and gallbladder) of any lingering toxins. The author promotes this phase as a way to ‘reshape and rejuvenate’, ultimately stimulating weight loss. Juices make use of vegetables and other sources of fibre. The daily allowance of coconut oil can be incorporated into these cleansing juices.
For some, the juice cleanse phase of the diet may be somewhat restrictive, making it difficult to continue on with. This phase doesn’t necessarily prohibit the consumption of lean proteins and whole vegetables that were introduced to the diet in the kick-off phase so it is not a strictly ‘liquid only’ phase. The plan does involve solid food consumption too.
Regular exercise is encouraged during this phase as well – at least 15 minutes of cardio or strength training a day.
3. Introducing healthy carbohydrates
At this point in the diet, the menu has a little more variety, but portion control and quantities of different foods become a core focus.
During the third phase, carbohydrates may be incorporated into the diet, but not just any and every carb. The menu plan which comes with recipes gradually incorporates potatoes, fruit (like grapes, berries, citrus, peaches and melon), squash, grains and even desserts with carbohydrate content into the diet. A moderate intake of dairy is permitted, including milk and yoghurt. The daily allowance of coconut oil continues. Coconut oil can be incorporated into salad dressings or even into sauces, it doesn’t necessarily have to be consumed by the tablespoon full.
From here on the author notes that a person on the diet can begin to lose weight at a more stable pace (up to 1kg or 2 pounds per week). A person following the diet will also need to continue a regular exercise routine.
If at any point over-indulgence in the ‘wrong foods’ occurs, the author allows a person on the diet the option of the ‘one-day vegetable juice cleanse’ to correct the odd hiccups experienced along the way and get back on track.
4. The maintenance phase
At this stage of the diet plan, the author feels that a person should have achieved their goal weight. At this point, one should be well equipped to maintain their new way of eating, control portions and quantities without too many weight fluctuations.
At this phase, the variety is much broader, so it can invite temptation, but some fruits (like bananas), sugar and alcohol are still discouraged so as to help a person better maintain their goal weight. The odd overindulgence is considered normal and the author addresses this by encouraging a person to backtrack and work through the different diet phases once again in order to correct this (and lose any weight that has been gained).
Another key factor is to keep up a regular exercise routine.
The coconut diet verdict?
The ultimate goal of the coconut diet is to achieve weight loss by somewhat dramatically changing up a person’s overall diet and way of eating. The author feels that such changes alter a person’s “internal chemistry” and promote good-food choices and habits which can last a lifetime. By losing unhealthy excess weight a person can achieve better overall health and improve energy levels – a notion that all health professionals will agree with.
The author promotes the inclusion of coconut oil as ‘the secret ingredient for weight loss’. Can the loss of weight really be attributed to the consumption of coconut oil alone though? Perhaps a scientific team may like to conduct an extensive study using this diet plan to really prove its worth. Chances are the lack of other unhealthy foodstuffs and increased frequency of exercise have a great deal to do with the achievable outcomes. Processed, refined and high sugar content foods are well documented as being ‘unhealthy’. Limited consumption of these can certainly make a healthy difference. After all, back in the days when refined anything didn’t really exist, neither did serious health conditions like obesity and heart disease.
Virgin coconut oil is available under a variety of different brands. Prices range accordingly. Maintaining the diet with daily coconut oil consumption is therefore not a cheap exercise and can begin to add up.
Along with the juice cleanses, the diet also recommends colon cleanses, like irrigation or hydrotherapy, which can add to cost factors. But is it really needed if the liver is functioning as it should? Recommended supplements form part of the plan (as with many diet plans), which may or may not have an influence on overall weight loss goals. If not felt ‘in the waist line’, your purse will certainly feel a little on the lighter side.
If you aren’t used to cooking every meal you eat, this diet will certainly shake things up in the kitchen, making it a more useful room in the home, but the recipes provided should be helpful for anyone.
The recipe selection may be to your taste, but the plan does little to level out the controversial arguments of using coconut oil for weight loss. The quantities of coconut oil in this diet are high, especially when taking into consideration that one tablespoon equals between 13 and 14 grams of fat, and the recommended daily allowance of saturated fat (in total) stands around the 10% mark. This diet promotes the use of 2 to 3 tablespoons. If no other saturated fat is consumed and the concentration in the coconut oil is metabolised and burned off easily, perhaps this isn’t a big issue. Science is yet to truly prove this conclusively though.
There may also be a question mark regarding the phase one weight loss estimate which can be achieved. Is this too much too quickly? What is a safe amount of weight loss per week when following a sustainable (life-long) diet plan?
The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) recommends about half to 1 kilogram (1 to 2 pounds) per week as a way to safely lose and maintain a healthy weight. Approximately 60 to 90 minutes of moderate intensity exercise activity is also recommended for most days of the week12.
Then there’s the restrictive nature of the phase plans (with additions and subtractions at various stages). Such a process may be very difficult for anyone to truly commit to, which may make the coconut diet a challenging one to participate in and actually achieve what they’ve set out to do.
Incorporating the diet into a travelling lifestyle may also prove uncomfortable. Individuals who reside in areas of the world that favour dining out could find it a challenging diet too. That said, sticking to it is possible with a little will-power though.
All in all, there shouldn’t be too much direct harm in incorporating coconut oil into any diet, as long as a balanced nutrition plan is followed, and quantities are managed. And don’t forget to exercise. All of these components – with or without coconut oil have proven to not only work but be a sustainable way of keeping the weight off.
7. University of Florida - IFAS Extension. Coconut Oil: A Heart Healthy Fat?: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/FS/FS28900.pdf [Accessed 01.06.2018]
8. U.S. National Library of Medicine - National Institutes of Health. March 2008. Weight-loss diet that includes consumption of medium-chain triacylglycerol oil leads to a greater rate of weight and fat mass loss than does olive oil: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18326600 [Accessed 01.06.2018]
9. U.S. National Library of Medicine - National Institutes of Health. October 2007. They say coconut oil can aid weight loss, but can it really?: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28589949 [Accessed 01.06.2018]
10. U.S. National Library of Medicine - National Institutes of Health. March 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/pmc/articles/PMC3226242/ [Accessed 01.06.2018]
11. The Coconut Diet: The Secret Ingredient for Effortless Weight Loss. July 2014. The Coconut Diet: https://books.google.co.za/books?id=t3TEAwAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=#v=onepage&q&f=false [Accessed 01.06.2018]
12. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Healthy weight - Losing weight: https://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/losing_weight/index.html [Accessed 01.06.2018]