Coconut Oil: Bariatric Surgery Benefit or BS?August 28, 2023
Do a quick ‘Dr. Google’ search and you’ll discover that coconut oil promises weight loss, to burn that belly fat and alter fat levels in your blood for the better. Is this true or BS? Let’s separate facts based on science from fiction based on, well, hype.
First, a close look at the coconut. It is considered a fruit and the inside of the coconut is called the meat. Coconut oil contains zero cholesterol because it’s plant based versus animal based, has no fiber, and only traces of vitamins and minerals. Did you know that coconut oil is categorized into two main types - refined and virgin? Refined comes from dried sections of the coconut meat. These sections are often chemically bleached and heated in order to dry it. It has a more bland taste. Virgin comes from fresh coconut. It’s unrefined and usually a little more expensive. It’s typically not processed with chemicals or high temperatures. If you choose to use some coconut oil in your cooking, reach for virgin oil as it’s your better choice. Leave refined coconut oil on the shelf.
If you choose to use some coconut oil in your cooking, reach for virgin coconut oil as it’s your better choice. Leave refined coconut oil on the shelf.
Here are the top three things to know about coconut oil and what it can and can’t do for you after weight loss surgery.
The more coconut oil you use, the more your cholesterol and lousy LDL numbers are likely to go up.
This next stat may surprise you. Whether virgin or refined, coconut oil contains more saturated fat (approximately 90%) than butter (about 65%). Saturated fat is solid at room temperature, think shortening. Remember that saturated fat is the less desirable type of fat from a health standpoint because it tends to increase the level of lousy artery clogging cholesterol called low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. This lousy LDL is linked to heart disease and stroke, among other health issues. Many other oils contain much less saturated fat and are terrific for cooking. Their smoke points vary, which means some oils can reach a higher temperature before smoking and are better used for various cooking methods. Try oils such as grapeseed, extra-virgin olive, avocado and walnut. These oils are rich in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which are often referred to as the good fats. These good fats are known for being protective in terms of heart health and reduced inflammation in the body.
Coconut oil contains mostly lauric acid (almost 50%), a saturated fatty acid which should send up a red flag. This saturated fat, lauric acid, raises those less than desirable LDLs or lousy cholesterol. Bottom line, the more you use and the more often you use it, there’s a good chance your LDL number is on the move up.
Coconut oil is not the same as MCT oil and doesn’t act the same in your body.
Fats are designated as saturated or unsaturated (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated). Next, saturated fats are categorized into short, medium and long-chain fatty acids. This matters to you why? Lauric acid, recall, is a saturated fatty acid. In your body, these types of fatty acids have different roles. Maybe you’ve read about medium-chain triglycerides also called medium-chain fatty acids or MCTs. These MCTs are absorbed differently in the body and directly into the bloodstream. What does this mean to you? MCTs don't raise blood cholesterol and LDL cholesterol as much as long-chain fatty acids do. MCTs are used in the treatment of various diseases versus weight loss.
What do these medium and long-chain fatty acids have to do with coconut oil? I’m glad you asked. Coconut oil does contain MCTs but, don’t miss this important point, it also contains more long-chain fatty acids that are saturated. Remember, the primary fatty acid is lauric acid and what type of fat is it? Right, saturated. Although technically it is an MCT, lauric acid is absorbed more slowly and metabolized in the body like a long-chain fatty acid and has negative effects on blood fats.
Bottom line: coconut oil is not the same as MCT oil and doesn’t act like it in the body. It has the opposite effect, which is to raise the level of the lousy LDL.
Coconut oil will not help you lose weight after weight loss surgery.
In our Science 101 today, let’s look closer at why coconut oil isn’t the answer to weight loss after bariatric surgery. Health claims suggest that MCTs, specifically two called capric acid and caprylic acid, are more efficiently metabolized by the body and less likely to be stored as fat, which results in less weight regain. So, the weight loss claim for coconut oil comes from the fact that coconut oil contains some medium-chain triglycerides, which is true, but it’s not all MCTs. Remember, coconut oil is mainly lauric acid, which is highly saturated and metabolized differently. Don’t miss this. Since coconut oil is made up mainly of saturated lauric acid, not capric and caprylic acid, it is NOT the same as MCTs…a very important distinction. So it can’t be assumed that coconut oil has the same health effects or weight effects as MCTs, which it does not.
The weight loss promises for coconut oil sound great, don’t they, and I wish they were accurate and true. Unfortunately, they’re not. There is no credible evidence that it will have a beneficial effect on weight loss if you simply add it to your diet after surgery. And it will likely raise the blood level of the lousy LDL cholesterol too.
Can you use coconut oil sparingly? Absolutely. Small amounts in the diet are fine. The nutrition profile of one tablespoon (TBSP) includes about 120 calories, roughly 14 grams of total fat, almost 12 of which are saturated. Virgin coconut oil has a hint of a tropical flavor, one reason it’s popular in cooking and sautéing. Vegans and strict vegetarians often use coconut oil as a plant-based replacement for butter. It’s another choice among the many oils and it’s fine to use in small amounts. However, it doesn’t wear the health halo that the internet hype would have you believe for weight loss and should not be your default oil.
ABOUT THE AUTHORBariatric dietitian Dr. Susan Mitchell is host of the podcast Bariatric Surgery Success. Selected as one of the Best 35 Dietitian Podcasts, Bariatric Surgery Success was chosen from thousands of podcasts on the web ranked by traffic, social media followers, domain authority & freshness. Dr. Susan helps you conquer cravings, emotional eating and weight regain after bariatric surgery with a focus on your nutrition and health, journey and success. Read more articles by Susan!