For years people have been afraid of using oil in their diet. However, oil and other healthy fats are making a come back. The most popular diet this past year is the ketogenic diet, a diet primarily based on eating fat. People are now stockpiling their fridges, and pantries with various oils in hopes that it will help them lose weight, or provide other health benefits. The two oils that are gaining the most interest for its health benefits include coconut oil, and MCT oil. The reason these oils are highly praised is due to its medium chain triglyceride content, also known as MCTs.
WHAT ARE MCTS?
MCT’s are a type of fat that can be found naturally in foods such as coconut oil, palm oil, and some dairy products (more on this later). The reason why MCT’s are getting so much attention is because this type of fat is metabolized in the body differently from long-chain triglycerides (LCTs), which are found in most foods. Since MCT’s have a shorter fatty acid chain length, they go straight to the liver to be metabolized. This means the body is able to break down and absorb MCT’s more readily than LCT’s. Due to its ability to be metabolized so quickly, it is able to act as an instant source of energy. The efficiency of MCTs makes it less likely to be stored as fat, making it a very appealing and popular fat to use.
IS COCONUT OIL JUST AS GOOD AS MCT OIL?
It is important to note that MCTs can be found in both coconut oil and MCT oil. MCT oil is simply a man-made product of highly concentrated medium-chain triglycerides from either coconut oil or palm oil. However, the type of MCTs that are engineered in MCT oil is very different from coconut oil. According to Judith C. Thalheimer, a dietitian from Today’s Dietitian, there are four main types of MCT’s: caproic acid (C6), caprylic acid (C8), capric acid (C10), and lauric acid (C12). Some experts argue that lauric acid (C12) does not act as a true MCT in the body due to its fatty acid length, and that the “capra fatty acids” (C6, C8, and C10), better reflect the definition of a MCT. As Eyres L, and Eyres MF wrote in the journal Nutrition Review, some experts believe that majority of lauric acid (C12) go straight to the liver to be rapidly metabolized, however others note that as little as 25%-30% actually follow this route. It is estimated that about 95% of caprylic acid (C8) and capric acid (C10) are directly transported to the liver for rapid oxidization. Why is this important? Well, majority of coconut oil is made up of lauric acid (C12), while MCT oil is a 100% of C8, C10 or a combination of both. For this reason, it is implied that coconut oil is not equivalent to MCT oil; and while coconut oil still has health benefits, MCT oil is thought to provide more health advantages.
NATURAL SOURCES OF MCT
MCT oil is not the only way to get in your daily MCT’s, in fact there are three main food sources that contain MCT’s. However, the composition of MCTs varies depending on the source. The main sources of MCT’s include coconut oil, palm oil, and dairy products. According to a study published in the Journal of Lipid Research, coconut oil is made up of more than 60% of MCT’s and is one of the best natural sources of lauric acid (C12). Coconut oil’s MCT are comprised of 50% lauric acid, and around 16% of capra fatty acids (C8/C10). Palm oil is made up of more than 50% of MCT, making it another great source of MCT. However obtaining palm oil raises a lot of ethical questions as it contributes to deforestation, and negative effects on climate change.
Another source of MCTs are dairy products. Compared to coconut oil, dairy products have a higher ratio of capra fatty acids, and lower amounts of lauric acid. However, dairy products are only comprised of about 10-12% of MCT’s. While these whole foods provide nutritional benefits other than just MCTs, the downside is that the MCT makeup in each source will vary.
MCT OIL SIDE EFFECTS - ISN'T IT A SATURATED FAT?
Medium chain triglycerides are a type of saturated fat, which means if you use coconut oil or MCT oil you are consuming saturated fat. But didn’t your doctor just tell you to cut back on saturated fat? So is mct oil bad for you? Well, this is where it gets a bit confusing. The health benefits associated with coconut oil and MCT oil is associated with its high content of medium chain fatty acids. While short and medium chain fatty acids are more readily absorbed in the body, the fact that this fat is saturated may still be a problem. Coconut oil is made up of 92% of saturated fat, and MCT oil, is 100% saturated fat. While there are some researchers that firmly believe that saturated fat is not associated with negative health effects such as heart disease and stroke, most of the major health organizations and researchers in the health community still recommend limiting saturated fat in the diet to reduce CVD risk. The main fatty acid found in coconut oil is lauric acid (C12). A study published by the Nutrition Review, writes that lauric acid has a lower melting point than most saturated fats, it is less rigid, and may have different effects on lipid metabolism, and cholesterol. However, the evidence is not conclusive.
Many coconut oil and MCT oil advocates are vocal about the low levels of CVD that occur in populations that use coconut oil in their traditional diet. Though this is true, it is important to note that these diets are also typically high in other heart-healthy foods such as whole grains, vegetables, fish and very low in processed foods. It does not appear that adding coconut oil to a typical Western diet would decrease CVD risk. While there are studies that show coconut oil consumption may increase HDL levels, experts are not sure what increased levels of HDL would mean for cardiovascular health since the most important factor of CVD health is the total cholesterol to HDL ratio. What is known is that replacing saturated fat with poly- and monounsaturated fats decreases heart disease risk.
IS MCT OIL GOOD FOR WEIGHT LOSS?
While the research is mixed on the effects that coconut oil and MCTs may have on CVD risk, there is compelling evidence that shows the benefits of MCTs for weight loss. There are several ways in which MCTs may aid in weight loss:
- Increased fullness- Compared to other types of fats, MCTs have been found to reduce appetite, and increase fullness. This is extremely beneficial for athletes on an intermittent fasting 16:8 diet.
- Decreased fat storage – MCTs are absorbed and metabolized faster than LCTs making it less likely to be stored as body fat.
- Greater fat loss – One study found that a diet rich in MCTs increased energy expenditure and fat loss.
- Lower energy density- MCTs are slightly lower in calories than other fats such as LCTs. MCTs contain 8.3 kcal per gram compared to 9 kcal per gram for LCTs.
- Increased energy expenditure- According to a study published by the Journal of Nutrition, the metabolism of medium chain fatty acids are not as efficient as long chain fatty acids; therefore MCTs burn more calories. In other studies it has been found that MCTs increase fat oxidation and thermogenesis compared to LCTs.
OTHER MCT OIL BENEFITS
Another enticing health benefit of MCTs is the evidence showing that it may enhance exercise performance. Since MCTs are transported straight to the liver to be metabolized, it can serve as an alternative energy source during high-intensity exercises and spare glycogen stores. A study published in the Journal of Nutrition Science and Vitaminology found that consuming MCTs over LCTs in just a two-week period resulted in longer duration of high-intensity exercise among athletes. This is crucial for athletes who are working to improve their endurance and overall performance.
WHICH OIL SHOULD YOU CHOOSE?
Now that you have all of this information, here comes the difficult question, what kind of mct oil is best? While coconut oil is the best natural source of MCTs, it is mostly comprised of lauric acid (C12), which may not provide as many health benefits as the capra fatty acids (C6, C8, C10) found in MCT oil. We recommend supplementing with an MCT oil that has high levels of C8 and C10 capra fatty acids. Majority of the research on weight loss is performed with MCT oil, not coconut oil. This means that coconut oil may not have the same weight loss effects as MCT oil.
HOW MUCH MCT SHOULD I TAKE DAILY?
Many supplement labels suggest 1-3 tablespoons daily. Similar to other supplements, individuals may experience very minor side effects including nausea, diarrhea, upset stomach, or vomiting when first starting to take MCT oil.