Can you zap fat with fat?

One of my closest friends, who, for years, has listened to me talk about what foods are healthy and what foods are not, recently asked me if coconut oil could help you lose weight. Several readers have also asked me and the other EatingWell editors about the health benefits of coconut oil (which is laden with saturated fat) and now-when so many of us are trying to lose weight-is the perfect time to answer the question.

Joyce Hendley, one of our contributing editors, sifted through the facts-and the fiction-in EatingWell's February issue to reveal whether or not coconut oil could help you lose weight.

Some facts to consider:

  • Coconut oil may cause a slight (temporary) boost in your metabolism. Anytime you eat, the process of digesting food burns off about 10 percent of the calories you consume. So, if you eat 500 calories in a meal, your body uses about 50 of those calories to break food down into the energy that fuels your body. Read more about how the body digests coconut oil.
  • But there is no scientific evidence, using coconut oil, to show that consuming it helps people lose weight. However, there is one recent study using an oil developed by the study researchers (that is similar to coconut oil) which suggests coconut oil may help people lose weight. Read more about how coconut oil may boost metabolism.
  • Even if coconut oil does help people lose weight, few nutrition experts recommend it, since coconut oil is loaded with saturated fat: 12 grams in 1 tablespoon versus 7 grams in a tablespoon of butter.

The bottom line? The extra calorie burn produced by coconut oil might give you a slight edge, but only if you make room by eating less of something else. A tablespoon of any oil sets you back around 120 calories.

By Brierley Wright, M.S., R.D.

Brierley's interest in nutrition and food come together in her position as an associate editor at EatingWell. Brierley holds a master's degree in Nutrition Communication from the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University. A Registered Dietitian, she completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Vermont.

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