Should You Add MCT Oil to Your Diet? See the Facts
Whether your diet of choice is low carb or not, you’ve likely heard of MCT oil. MCT oil has a long history. Yet, it’s more popular now than ever before and has been suggested to help burn fat, rev up the metabolism, increase energy, and improve weight loss as well as athletic performance.
It’s found in coconut oil, it’s a key ingredient in bulletproof coffee, and according to some, it’s darn near a miracle for improved health and weight loss. But is it? And should you add MCT oil to your diet?
In this article, we will discuss the following:
- What is MCT Oil?
- Are There Any Science-Supported Benefits of MCT Oil?
- How to Use Mct Oil?
- Are There Any Risks of MCT Oil?
- Should You Add MCT Oil to Your Diet?
Medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) are made up of medium-chain fatty acids. That is, fat molecules with between 6 and 12 carbon molecules. In contrast, most fats from plants and animals are long-chain triglycerides (aka LCTs) that contain 12 or more carbon molecules. These fats are commonly found in meat, fish, nuts, seeds, and avocados. MCTs are less readily found in only a few foods like coconut oil (55% MCTs), palm oil (54% MCTs), full-fat dairy or goat milk (9% MCTs), and butter (8% MCTs). (MCTs are also found in human breast milk.)
The main MCTs are:
- C6: caproic acid of hexanoic acid
- C8: caprylic acid or octanoic acid, which is considered the most ketogenic MCT
- C10: capric acid or decanoic acid
- C12: lauric acid or dodecanoic acid
While lauric acid is typically considered an MCT, caprylic and capric acid seem to be responsible for the majority of the often-touted benefits associated with MCTs. Thus, MCT oil supplements are generally made up of caprylic acid (C8) or capric acid (C10) or a combination of those two.
Many people think of MCTs and coconut oil as somewhat interchangeable, but as we’ve previously covered in a food faceoff, they are not the same. Instead, MCT oil is extracted and isolated (or fractionated) from coconut or palm oil, as these foods also provide LCT fats. MCT oil, on the other hand, is made up of just medium-chain triglycerides. So, while around 50% of the oil in coconut oil comes from MCTs, most of that is from lauric acid. Meanwhile, you can enjoy 100% MCTs (usually C8 and/or C10) from an MCT oil or MCT oil powder.
These fats also act differently in the body. For example, MCTs are more easily absorbed because they don’t require bile or pancreatic enzymes for digestion. They’re shuttled right into the liver to be used as energy or turned into ketones. Immediately. This explains why MCT oil is used clinically: It can be of great benefit to people who struggle with fat digestion and absorption.
But that, of course, isn’t why you’re here. You want to know if the way MCT oil is absorbed provides benefits to healthy individuals, right?
You can find MCTs added to smoothies or protein shakes, coffee or tea, salad dressings, as part of fat bombs, and even consumed by the spoonful. Yet, are MCTs really any better than other fats (such as coconut oil or olive oil)? Indeed. There are several science-backed benefits of adding MCT oil to the diet, such as:
1. Promotes a Feeling of Fullness
If you’ve ever dieted, you know one of the biggest challenges can be feeling hungry or unsatisfied after eating. MCT oil has been shown to help increase satiation and decrease appetite, so you can eat less without feeling hungry. 1,2
2. Reduce Body Weight and Waist Circumference
Want to lose fat? MCT consumption may help. Research has found it may increase energy expenditure, shifting toward increased fat burning, leading to an increase in fat loss in both animals and humans, even when compared to other oils. 3,4,5,6 Other research has found MCT oil can suppress body-fat accumulation. 7
However, it’s also worth noting that nothing works in isolation. An integrated approach of improved diet and exercise is most effective for long-term weight loss results. Along those lines, research on MCT oil alone found it led to only modest amounts of weight loss. 8, 9 Thus, MCT oil can be used as part of a weight-loss program, but it’s not a replacement for a healthy diet and lifestyle changes.
3. Help Get into and Stay in Ketosis
If you are following a keto diet, one of the keys is to reach and then maintain the fat-burning state called “ketosis.” Unfortunately, this can be very challenging even if you’re committed to a low-carb ketogenic diet. MCTs can help raise levels of ketones.
Because MCTs have a high “ketogenicity” (i.e., they’re readily converted to ketones), they may even elevate ketone levels when carbs are consumed. (C8 appears to be the most ketogenic MCT—up to 3 times more than C10 and 4 times more than coconut oil.)
4. Promote a Healthy Gut
Gut health is vital to weight loss and maintenance, brain functioning, and so much more. MCT oil has been shown to support gut lining along with the growth of good bacteria for improved gut health. 10
5. Increase Energy Levels and Fuel the Brain
MCT oils don’t need to be broken down via digestion. Instead, they are converted into ketones in the liver to be used as fuel, and they are much less likely to be stored as fat. That means they’re a rapid source of energy, and MCTs have even been called a “super fuel.” 11 And do you know what uses a lot of energy? The brain!
In addition, ketones can pass through the blood-brain barrier, so they’re readily available to energize brain cells. This may mean that MCTs can be used to support enhanced focus, mental stamina, productivity, and concentration, so you feel clear-headed.
6. Improve Athletic Performance
Many people have a love-hate relationship with lactic acid. They love the burn, but once it hits, that means exercise performance will begin taking a downturn. MCT oils may, however, aid in the reduction of lactate buildup. And that means you may be able to train harder for longer (for improved results) with MCTs onboard. 12
Other research has indicated that using MCTs before exercise may encourage the body to use more fat as fuel (instead of carbs). MCTs have also been found to boost exercise performance by increasing mitochondrial biogenesis and metabolism. 13 Other research, however, has indicated that MCT oil has little effect on running endurance and likely is more beneficial for fat loss than exercise improvements. 14
7. Support Intermittent Fasting
As mentioned, ketones can be used by the body to increase energy and decrease hunger, so if you’re struggling with intermittent fasting, MCT oil could make it easier and shift your body toward burning more fat.
8. Support Overall Health
One small study found that MCT oils may also improve insulin sensitivity and support healthier blood sugar levels. 15 Other research has shown MCTs may offer antioxidant activity. And yet other studies have demonstrated MCTs may help lower cholesterol (though only in animal studies at this time). 16
Like any supplement, it’s important to choose from a reputable brand as not all MCT oils are the same. Some brands can be harder on the digestive system, others may be messy or require a blender for mixing, and some are just inconvenient.
We’ve found that MCT oil powders that provide mostly (or entirely) C8, with no added junk or fillers (such as gluten, soy, maltodextrin, sugar, or artificial sweeteners) to be the most advanced and effective.
The powdered form of MCTs appear to be:
- Easier on digestion
- Easier to mix into recipes
- Creamier without an unappetizing oily residue
- Easier to carry with you on the go
MCT oils, on the other hand, tend to be:
- Less expensive
- Can be used to replace other oils (just not in cooking)
- Widely available
How can you best use a quality MCT Oil Powder? Easily! It can be mixed into just about any food or drink, such as:
- Coffee, tea, or hot chocolate
- Protein shakes, smoothies, smoothie bowls, or fat bombs
- Yogurt or kefir
- Salad dressings or cold salads
- And much more—the options are nearly limitless.
Like any fat, MCT oil is calorie-dense. That said, MCTs do have fewer calories than the typical fats found in other foods, like nuts, avocados, and olive oil (by about 20% or around 7 calories per gram rather than 9). 17, 18 Still, MCTs should be used as part of a balanced diet, understanding the calorie costs. Animal research has also indicated that when 50% of the diet was made up of the fat, MCTs could buildup in the liver, leading to increased liver fat. 19 Therefore, MCTs should make up only 5 to 10% of total calorie intake, and they should be used to replace other fats — not in addition to your normal fat intake.
In addition, some people find that if they use too much at once, MCTs can cause tummy discomfort (e.g., bloating, nausea, gas, or diarrhea). Thus, if MCTs are a new addition to your diet, you may want to start with less—no more than a teaspoon, or about 5 grams—and work your way up to around one tablespoon, or about 15 grams, to see how your digestive tract reacts.
Finally, MCT oil also has a low smoke point, so it should not be used for cooking and should instead be added after cooking (e.g., into coffee) or mixed into cold foods (e.g., smoothies, salad dressings). It should also be avoided by people who have been diagnosed with liver problems unless recommended by a doctor.
MCTs have a promising laundry list of benefits, so it could be useful to add them to your overall healthy nutrition plan. That said, as with any supplement, MCTs are not some miracle fat-loss bonanza that means you can eat what you want, sit on the couch, and lose fat. Start with a healthy nutrition and exercise plan, ensure you’re staying hydrated, get plenty of sleep, and then look at MCTs as another tool in the toolbox to help you reach your goals faster.