Coconut oil has some very impressive health benefits.
It’s been shown to increase metabolism, reduce hunger and boost HDL (the “good”) cholesterol, to name a few.
However, many people are confused about how much to take and how to eat it.
This article explains how to include coconut oil in your diet and the optimal amount to take.
Dosages Used in Studies
A number of studies have investigated the benefits of coconut oil, many of which are attributed to its high content of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs).
In some cases, the amount of oil given was a percentage of total calories, which varied from person to person.
In three similar studies, a combination of coconut oil and butter were the main fat sources in a 40% fat diet. Normal-weight women experienced significant temporary increases in metabolic rate and calorie expenditure (1, 2, 3).
In a study comparing the effects of different fats on cholesterol levels, a diet with 20% of total calories from coconut oil raised HDL cholesterol in women but not in men. In addition, it was shown to raise LDL cholesterol less than butter (4).
In each of these studies, a person consuming 2,000 calories for weight maintenance would have included 36–39 grams of coconut oil per day as part of a mixed diet.
In other studies, each participant consumed the same amount of oil regardless of calorie intake.
In one study, overweight or obese people taking 2 tablespoons (30 ml) of coconut oil per day for 4 weeks lost an average of 1.1 inches (2.87 cm) from their waists (5).
What’s more, the participants lost this weight without deliberately restricting calories or increasing physical activity (5).
In another study, obese women took 2 tablespoons (30 ml) of coconut or soybean oil while on a calorie-restricted diet. Their waist sizes decreased and HDL cholesterol increased, while the control group had the opposite response (6).
Bottom Line: In studies, coconut oil has benefits when given at fixed dosages or as a percentage of total calorie intake.
How Much Coconut Oil Per Day?
Studies have found that 2 tablespoons (30 ml) seems to be an effective dose.
Two tablespoons provide about 18 grams of medium-chain triglycerides, which is within the range of 15–30 grams that has been shown to increase metabolic rate (7).
Eating 2 tablespoons (30 ml) per day is a reasonable amount that leaves room for other healthy fats in your diet, such as nuts, extra virgin olive oil and avocados.
However, start slowly to avoid the nausea and loose stools that may occur with high intake. Take 1 teaspoon per day, gradually increasing to 2 tablespoons per day over 1–2 weeks.
Bottom Line: Consuming 2 tablespoons per day is sufficient to achieve health benefits, but it’s best to work up to this amount gradually.
How to Eat Coconut Oil
There are several ways to include this oil in your diet.
Use it for Cooking
Coconut oil is ideal for cooking because almost 90% of its fatty acids are saturated, making it extremely stable at high temperatures.
It also has a high smoke point of 350°F (175°C).
Coconut oil is semi-solid at room temperature and melts at 76°F (24°C). So store it in a cupboard, rather than the refrigerator, to keep it pliable.
During the colder months, it may become very solid and difficult to scoop out of the container. This can be remedied by whipping it with an electric mixer or in a blender.
Here are several cooking ideas:
- Sautéing or stir-frying: Use 1–2 tablespoons of this oil to cook vegetables, eggs, meat or fish.
- Popcorn: Drizzle melted coconut oil on air-popped popcorn or try it in this stove-top popcorn recipe.
- Baking: Use it to coat poultry or meat before rubbing with seasonings.
Use it in Recipes
Coconut oil can be substituted for oil or butter in a 1:1 ratio in most recipes.
Be sure to let cold ingredients like eggs or milk come to room temperature before blending it in, so it mixes in smoothly instead of clumping.
It’s best to melt it and add to smoothies and protein shakes gradually.
Here are a few recipes that use coconut oil:
Add to Coffee or Tea
Another way to take this oil is in coffee or tea. Aim for a small amount — about a teaspoon or two. Below is a quick tea recipe featuring coconut oil.
Cocoa Chai Tea for One
- Chai tea bag (herbal or regular).
- 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder.
- 1 tablespoon cream or half and half.
- 1 teaspoon coconut oil.
- Stevia or other sweetener, to taste.
To make this, pour boiling water over the tea bag and let it steep for 2–3 minutes. Remove the tea bag, add the remaining ingredients and stir until well mixed.
Bottom Line: Coconut oil can be used for cooking, in recipes and to add delicious richness to hot beverages.
What About Supplements?
Coconut oil is also available in capsule form.
In some ways it may seem more convenient, particularly for traveling. However, there’s a distinct downside to this method of delivery.
Most capsules contain 1 gram per capsule. In order to get 2 tablespoons (30 ml) per day, you would need to take about 30 capsules on a daily basis.
For most people, this just isn’t realistic. Instead, try using coconut oil for cooking or include it in recipes.
Bottom Line: Coconut oil capsules need to be consumed in very large quantities in order to achieve an effective dosage.
Calories Still Count
Coconut oil provides valuable benefits, but there are limits to how much you should eat.
In fact, each tablespoon contains 130 calories.
And although medium-chain triglycerides may boost metabolic rate slightly, eating more calories than needed could still lead to weight gain.
Research has shown that coconut oil is most effective when it replaces less healthy fats in the diet, rather than being added on top of the fat you’re currently consuming.
Taking about 2 tablespoons daily seems to be the best strategy for optimizing health.
Bottom Line: For best results, replace less healthy fats with coconut oil rather than increasing your current fat intake.
Take Home Message
Coconut oil is a natural source of medium-chain triglycerides, which offer several health benefits.
Including 2 tablespoons of coconut oil per day, in cooking or in recipes, is the best way to get these benefits.