Simply put, coconut oil and ketosis are a dynamic duo—two elements that enhance each other’s effect, particularly for anyone on a ketogenic diet.
In addition to acting as a bioavailable fat-based fuel source, quality fats like coconut-based MCTs work to elevate naturally-occurring, endogenous ketones in the body, helping to establish and maintain metabolic ketosis.
Some food-based items play a symbiotic role to get us into a state of ketosis, few more so than medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) derived from coconut oil.
The elevated ketones present in the body when in a fat-fueled state of metabolic ketosis and the addition of MCTs, which can be readily used for energy when consumed, enhance the body’s ability to metabolize fat.
Consuming coconut oil also helps to regulate glucose and provides excellent fat macros for anyone living a ketogenic lifestyle.
What Are the Benefits: Coconut Oil & Ketosis?
Coconut oil and ketosis are particularly powerful when used together to suppress hunger to lose body fat.
The premium medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) found in coconut oil act as a natural appetite suppressant and metabolic ketosis is also known to reduce hunger naturally.
For this reason, adding coconut oil—preferably a coconut-based MCT oil—to a ketogenic diet is an excellent way to super-charge fat loss!
The Benefits of Coconut Oil
Coconut-based MCTs are easily absorbed by the body and have some health benefits.
It’s important to mention that you’ll want to opt for cold-pressed, unrefined coconut oil to ensure that you’re getting the most nutrient-dense oil possible.
Natural Appetite Suppression:
The fat found in coconut oil contributes to increased energy, and recent studies have observed a better thermogenic, or fat-burning, effect when consumed with food, and can significantly suppress the appetite.
Coconut oil’s properties help prevent excessive fat storage and aid in shedding present excess body fat— a fantastic tool for anyone seeking to lose weight.
Lauric Acid - Antifungal, and Medicinal Properties:
Coconut oil is abundant in fatty acids—primarily lauric acid which makes up 50% of its fat composition.
Lauric acid also adds a medicinal component to coconut oil because it provides an antifungal effect and is known to remedy ailments like bronchitis, yeast infections, chlamydia, and even intestinal infections.
Also, it’s important to note that a substance called monolaurin is formed when we ingest lauric acid. Monolaurin, like lauric acid, works as a powerful ally because it kills harmful microorganisms in the body like bacteria, fungi, and viruses.
Despite the bad rap the food industry has tried to impose upon saturated fat in recent decades, it can be beneficial.
The saturated fat in coconut oil, replete with medium chain fatty acids (MCFAs) is like a diligent helper, enabling the body to better absorb other fat-soluble nutrients from the foods we eat (2).
Whether its calcium, magnesium or some B vitamins, the fatty acids present in coconut oil help us extract the most benefit from the minerals and nutrients we consume.
MCFAs also support the efficient absorption of vitamins A, E, K, and D, along with some amino acids (proteins).
MCTs present in coconut oil, as opposed to long-chain triglycerides (LCTs), increase energy output during digestion and burn more calories for an extended period after feeding.
The thermogenic effect of coconut oil makes it an especially useful, accessible and affordable tool to use when living a low-carb, high-fat lifestyle—one to integrate into your daily regimen to facilitate weight loss (1).
Opting for MCTs over other saturated fats on a high-fat ketogenic diet can help the body process fat more efficiently and can also limit unwanted excess fat storage and subsequent weight gain.
MCTs vs. LCTs:
The fat-loss model we’ve been peddled is flawed. The concept that calories-in-calories-out is an absolute rule of biological fat loss, without respect to insulin and hormone changes in the body is as incomplete an assertion as proposing that all fats affect the body equally.
Studies have demonstrated a higher caloric burn after eating when a coconut-based MCT oil was consumed before eating, as opposed to an LCT (e.g., safflower and soybean oil).
Simply put, the body metabolizes different foods differently—and a given food’s insulin impact should be considered when losing fat on keto, and in general.
Replace fats high in LCTs with those high in MCTs, preferably a cold-pressed, coconut-based oil to support accelerated fat loss.
The Benefits of Ketosis
Despite what appears to be the common consensus, ketosis is not necessary to lose fat when eating a low-carb, high-fat ketogenic diet.
I mention this misconception for clarity and because weight loss is just one of the multi-faceted health benefits related to ketosis—from cancer prevention to aiding in the debilitating symptoms of neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s, epilepsy and autism.
Again, you can lose weight even if not in a state of deep ketosis, if you follow a low-carb diet that keeps glycogen stores depleted.
However, the many other developmental and neuroprotective effects of ketosis are phenomenal and worth further review:
Mental Focus and Clarity:
Along with its acclaimed benefits in the area of weight loss, the ketogenic diet has long been associated with a state of heightened mental clarity—a combination produced by removing glucose as a primary fuel source to eliminate energy spikes and plunges throughout the day, and feeding the body a preferred fuel source of fat.
Malfunction of systems in the body is almost always tied to inflammation. Damage caused in the body by free radicals and elemental imbalances can lead to the onset or worsening of a variety of disorders.
It’s important to note, the anti-inflammatory effects of ketosis are particularly helpful for those living with arthritis, eczema, joint pain, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOs), or psoriasis.
Ketosis facilitates balanced glucose and hormone levels, and both benefits are particularly vital in women’s health.
We’d be remiss if we didn’t acknowledge the fundamental difference that hormone fluctuation and regulation has as it relates to women’s fat-loss.
Fortunately, ketosis helps to regulate glucose throughout the day to suppress the release of the fat-storage hormone, insulin, to create a metabolic state in the body where fat loss can biologically occur.
FYI - we cannot lose fat while insulin is present in the bloodstream as it will actively work to push fat into our cells, encouraging excess fat storage.
In addition to regulating hormones like cortisol that halt weight loss, the overall regulatory effect ketosis creates in the body can significantly benefit those suffering from disorders like polycystic ovarian disorder (PCOS).
There is a lot of established and emerging evidence that nutritional ketosis remediates the symptoms experienced by those struggling with infertility, infrequent or prolonged menstrual periods, or acne!
Glucose Regulation, Diabetes, and Metabolic Health:
Living in a metabolic state void of glycogen is an excellent way to prevent, mitigate, or reverse the adverse effects of insulin resistance and diabetes.
Ketosis naturally regulates blood sugar in the body, and drastically reducing glucose encourages the body to access its fat stores and the dietary fat we consume for fuel.
In addition to glucose regulation aiding in fat loss, steady and low glucose levels in the body prevent insulin spikes that otherwise misinform our body to store excess fat when that is not our personal goal.
Glucose regulation and keeping glycogen levels low creates an enhanced anti-inflammatory environment suited to naturally achieve an ideal body weight while fighting off degenerative and neurological disease.
The Relationship Between Coconut Oil & Ketosis
The MCTs found in coconut oil are an ideal energy source while on a ketogenic diet, and consuming coconut oil daily helps to sustain ketosis.
MCTs are readily converted to ketones by the liver to access them as energy quickly, but in addition to acting as an excellent energy source, the saturated fat in coconut oil helps with satiety—even helping us to feel fuller, longer.
Muscle-Sparing Fat Loss and Metabolic Health:
Some in the athletic and fitness community may hesitate to try the ketogenic diet for fear of muscle loss or inability to generate muscle gain, but it is possible to gain lean muscle mass, while losing body fat, on a ketogenic diet.
So, in addition to improved fat metabolization, the bioavailable energy provided by coconut oil is excellent to support enhanced physical performance, fat loss, and lean muscle gain.
In addition to including coconut oil in your daily keto regimen to boost your metabolism, there are some simple steps to take, if your goal is to lose fat and build lean muscle.
We’ll touch on best practices below to help you achieve your wellness goals.
Keep the following in mind if you’d like to gain muscle while eating a low-carb, high-fat, ketogenic diet:
Eat to Create a Caloric Surplus:
Add additional protein and fat to your daily macro budget to support muscle gain while on keto—many refer to this short-term dietary approach as “bulking.”
Increasing healthy fats, healthy and fatty proteins, and improving overall caloric intake is an excellent approach if the goal is simultaneous muscle gain and fat loss.
Train Hard for Muscle Growth:
Our bodies are very efficient and only want to maintain as much muscle mass as is needed to function.
Stressing and breaking down muscle on a regular basis via strenuous exercise encourages the body to gain muscle mass to rise to the level of your energy-expenditure demands (3).
Keep an Eye on Protein Intake:
Moderate protein intake is recommended on a ketogenic diet—particularly because overeating protein can cause an insulin reaction and subsequent storage of excess body fat.
However, those who are athletic or otherwise very physically active and looking to gain muscle would likely benefit from slightly higher protein macros on keto to support tissue repair and regeneration as the body acquires lean mass.
Muscle Growth Hormones (Testosterone and Human Growth Hormone):
Hormone health plays a vital role in fat loss, and muscle gain as our hormones inform the body of what to do (e.g., the presence of insulin inhibits fat loss; ghrelin regulates appetite; and adequate levels of human growth hormone facilitate the generation of healthy, lean muscle mass, etc.).
Keep in mind, although eating carbohydrates and using glucose as a primary food source often results in a fuller look to the muscle tissue in a shorter period, it’s generally superficial as carbs cause the body to retain a lot more water in the muscle tissue.
Although it may take a bit longer to achieve muscle gains on a ketogenic diet, those gains will be of quality without a filler, as is the case when running on carbs.
How Does Coconut Oil Support Ketosis?
Coconut oil is excellent food-based support for anyone in ketosis because of two components: medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) and lauric acid.
Also, the elevated ketones produced when in nutritional ketosis are enhanced by the presence of MCTs, especially those found in coconut oil, as it is quickly converted to ketones for a highly bioavailable form of energy—which in turn creates an ideal environment for the body to produce more endogenous ketones.
In addition to increasing ketone bodies when consumed, coconut oil also provides added energy since the body directly converts it to use as energy, particularly once fat-adapted or in ketosis.
While there’s a place for other healthy oils like olive and avocado oil on a ketogenic diet, the unique nutritional benefits of coconut oil make it a fantastic oil to consume on keto.
Also, lauric acid, the primary fatty acid in coconut oil, is thought to have a symbiotic effect when paired with coconut-based MCTs—despite lauric acid being a slightly longer-chain fatty acid—the combination of lauric acid and MCTs in coconut oil are thought to help sustain metabolic ketosis.
In addition to the health benefits coconut oil contributes to fat loss and muscle gain, coconut oil is also used to mitigate the neurodegenerative effects of disorders like Alzheimer’s, dementia and autism, as increased ketones facilitate mental focus and physical endurance (4).
It’s quite amazing, the healthy fat found in coconut oil promotes healthy and efficient metabolism, and it's powerful neurodevelopmental, and neuroprotective benefits support holistic health.
Coconut Oil: The Fat that Helps You Lose Fat
I know it may seem counterintuitive, especially if you’ve been indoctrinated in the western model, that insists fat makes you fat, but nothing could be farther from fact.
Granted, trans-fat and certain saturated fats are problematic for various reasons and should be avoided.
It remains that, certain fats and in particular coconut oil—the sole vegetable-based source of saturated fat—acts to facilitate fat loss and even regulate blood sugar.
The increased endogenous ketones the body produces when we consume coconut oil, thanks to its essential MCTs, ramp up the body’s fat-burning mechanisms and purposes fat as fuel, instead of storing body fat in excess, resulting in weight loss.
What’s more, consuming coconut oil as a part of your daily ketogenic program is an effective way to reduce body fat and regulate hormones like cortisol which act as deterrents to fat loss, especially visceral fat around the abdomen.
Clearly, with waist circumference often directly correlated with heart health—the benefit of coconut oil to encourage abdominal fat loss is significant (5).
MCTs have a Lower Calorie Content than Other Fats
MCTs have different nutritional and biochemical properties than LCTs because of their shorter length. MCTs have about 10% fewer calories: LCTs yield 9.0 calories per gram while MCTs yield 8.3 calories per gram.
Once digested, MCTs go directly from the small intestine to the liver where they are rapidly converted to yield energy.
Furthermore, consuming MCTs with meals as opposed to LCTs appears to increase the energy the body uses to digest said food, something known as postprandial thermogenesis—a key to the fat-burning effects of coconut oil, especially on the keto diet.
Coconut oil’s impact on post-meal basal metabolic expenditure, evidenced by postprandial thermogenesis and postprandial oxygen consumption, demonstrate the oil’s powerful effect on facilitating fat loss, even if it’s the only regimen change to your routine—super powerful!
Coconut Oil, Appetite Suppression, and the Keto Diet:
The healthy fat in coconut oil aids in satiety and is a great way to reinforce the appetite suppressive effects also often experienced when in ketosis.
Again, coconut oil and the ketogenic diet are a perfect pair. MCTs are converted to ketones in the liver and released as energy. This is part of why MCTs aren’t likely to be stored as body fat (6).
They become a premium and quickly accessible form of sustainable energy during a process called ketogenesis—whereby the body converts from using glucose to using fat as fuel, once your glycogen stores are depleted via the use of an extremely low-carb, high-fat ketogenic diet.
In addition to the overall fat-loss mechanism of MCTs, studies have shown a particular reduction in visceral belly fat when coconut oil is added to the diet.
Studies noted subjects who added 30 ml of cold-pressed, extra virgin coconut oil to their daily diet, without changing anything else about the way they already ate (or how much they exercised), lost more fat.
The subjects lost approximately an inch off the circumference of their waist after a 30-day period. Pretty remarkable!
Coconut Oil and Your Cholesterol Profile:
Our body contains two main types of cholesterol, LDL cholesterol (LDL-C) or “bad cholesterol” and HDL cholesterol (HDL-C) or “good cholesterol.”
Coconut oil has been found to increase heart-healthy HDL cholesterol levels which is excellent overall and also helps to mitigate the effects of present LDL.
MCTs are Rarely Stored as Fat
Since MCTs are quickly and readily converted to ketones for energy, the body becomes very efficient at fat metabolization and utilization, preventing unwanted and unnecessary storage of fat.
The body and brain thrive on MCTs and ketones, and the body prefers fat as its primary fuel.
Since the calories contained in MCTs are more readily converted to energy and used by the body so efficiently, they are less likely to be stored as excess body fat.
MCTs Increase our Calorie-burning Capacity
The boost in ketone production caused when we consume MCTs directly contributes to the oil’s calorie-burning effects. In addition to increasing endogenous ketones.
MCTs are also hard at work to regulate blood sugar and mitigate related hormonal spikes that may derail your success when seeking to sustain nutritional ketosis.
By default, the increase in ketone bodies produces a thermogenic effect in addition to the postprandial thermogenesis that occurs after eating meals paired with MCTs—producing an increased energy output during digestion, and providing a natural fat-burning effect in the process.
Is Coconut Oil Suitable for the Ketogenic Diet?
At this point I think you know our opinion regarding the suitability of coconut oil on a ketogenic diet: it is an essential nutrient and energy source, unparalleled with maintaining ketosis and preventing the accumulation of excess body fat.
As a recap, the following are some of the many benefits of consuming coconut oil in collaboration with living a ketogenic lifestyle:
- Suppress hunger naturally and promote potential weight loss
- Approximately 70% of coconut oil is composed of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) which make it unique compared to other fats containing long-chain triglycerides (LCTs)—important as higher consumption of MCTs is directly linked to a reduction in body fat, especially visceral fat found in the abdomen and about the waist
- Increase resting energy expenditure compared to LCTs to ignite your body’s fat-burning state and release unwanted body fat
- Compared to LCTs, the energy MCTs provide is more readily absorbed by the liver and has fewer calories
Also, emerging research makes a compelling argument that the MCTs found in coconut oil may also:
- Optimize levels of HDL and LDL cholesterol which lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease
- Reduce belly fat when substituted for LCTs, particularly if taken before eating food
Coconut Oil vs. MCT Oil
Although coconut oil and MCT oil are very similar in their nutritional composition, MCT oil is a highly concentrated source of medium-chain triglycerides and the more nutritionally potent of the two oils.
Coconut-based oil—the source of the highest amount of triglycerides of all the food-based MCT sources with 62% of its fatty acids comprised of MCTs—is an ideal choice on keto.
There are three food-based sources of MCTs: palm kernel oil, dairy products, and of course, coconut oil.
Most people probably think of coconut-based oil when picturing MCT oil, but palm kernel oils’ fatty acids contain more than 50% MCTs, and dairy products are estimated to deliver approximately 10-12% of MCTs via their fatty-acid content.
In contrast to long-chain fatty acids with 13-21 carbons, medium-chain fatty acids contain 6-12 carbon atoms and are much easier for the body to assimilate and repurpose as energy—better still, unlike regular fatty acids, ketones produced when we consume MCT oil can transfer from the blood to the brain to act as a potent form of cognitive support.
The following are the primary medium-chain fatty acids:
- C6: Caproic acid or hexanoic acid
- C8: Caprylic acid or octanoic acid
- C10: Capric acid or decanoic acid
- C12: Lauric acid or dodecanoic acid
I could run out of superlatives trying to express the benefit of using coconut oil daily on a ketogenic diet; the oil optimizes the many benefits of the anti-inflammatory, keto diet.
The high concentration of MCTs found in coconut-based oil make it an excellent option, but feel free to experiment with integrating MCTs into your diet in the form of quality, organic and cold-pressed palm kernel oil or the best quality dairy products you can access in your area.
Lastly, coconut oil is an excellent tool for those embarking on a fat fast to break through a weight-loss plateau.
Add coconut oil to your keto coffee or even a delicious bone marrow broth for a savory take on the food-based powerhouse.
The healthy saturated fat in coconut-based MCT oil will satiate quickly and for long periods of time while also providing the aforementioned metabolic benefits we can all use to forward our fat-loss efforts.
Whether you opt for a pure oil or want to experiment with the fantastic variety of coconut-based MCT oil powders on the market, coconut oil is an incredible nutritional tool to support ketosis and long-term weight management on the ketogenic diet.