MCT oil is a fat and contains the same 9 calories per gram as other fats. So what makes MCT oil so special? What’s all the hype?
MCT oil contains a unique type of fat known as “Medium Chain Triglycerides” (MCTs).
What makes MCTs unique is how your body metabolizes these medium chain triglycerides. Unlike other fats, they go straight from the gut to the liver. From here, they are used as a source of energy or turned into ketones. Ketones are substances produced when the liver breaks down a lot of fat. Ketones can be used for energy instead of glucose or sugar. This metabolic process, unique to MCTs, is what sets MCT oil apart from other oils.
MCTs get their name because of the length of their chemical structure. All types of fatty acids are made up of strings of connected carbon and hydrogen atoms. Fats are categorized by how many carbons they have: short-chain fats have fewer than six carbons and are produced by bacteria in the colon, medium-chain fats have between six to 12 carbons, and long-chain fats like omega-3 have between 13 and 21 carbons.
Compared to longer-chain fats, MCTs are absorbed more easily since there are fewer carbon bonds for the body to break apart. MCTs are smaller, so they can permeate cell membranes more easily and they don’t require bile and digestive enzymes to break them down.
MCTs, also called “MCFAs” for medium-chain fatty acids, are believed to be largely missing from diets because many people are misinformed about saturated fats and consider all of them to be harmful. Recent research has revealed that MCTs actually have health benefits ranging from better weight management to improved cognitive function and heart health.
Coconut oil is one source of MCTs. Approximately 62 to 65 percent of the fatty acids in coconut oil are MCTs. Aside from coconut oil, smaller amounts of MCTs can be found in butter (I’d recommend organic butter from grass-fed cows), cheeses, palm oil, whole milk and full-fat yogurt.
Caution: Palm oil is a controversial source of MCTs, because most is genetically modified and there are major issues involved in the process of procuring this oil. These issues include deforestation, loss of wildlife diversity and unethical treatment of workers.
The difference between MCT oil and coconut oil is that MCT oil is more concentrated and contains different proportions of MCTs. Coconut oil is made up of 62-65% of MCTs while concentrated MCT oil is almost 100% MCTs.
There are four different forms of MCT oils:
- C6 caproic acid
- C8 caprylic acid
- C10 capric acid
- C12 Lauric acid
Generally speaking, the shorter the chain (meaning the lower the number of carbons the acid has), the faster the body can turn the fatty acids into usable energy, in ketone form. Ketones are what the body produces when it’s using fat for energy instead of glucose.
Regardless of the exact form of MCT, all are still beneficial for overall health, especially for people who have a difficult time digesting other forms of fats, including anyone with malabsorption problems, digestive disorders like leaky gut syndrome, Crohn’s disease, or gallbladder issues.
MCT oil can help you lose fat by stimulating “thermo genesis,” which is the process in which the body generates energy (or heat) by increasing its normal, metabolic, fat-burning rate. This thermogenic effect can positively alter your metabolism.
MCT oil is an excellent energy source. Your body processes MCTs differently from the long-chain fats in your diet. Normally, a fat taken into your body must be mixed with bile released from your gallbladder and acted on by pancreatic enzymes to break it down in your digestive system. MCT oil doesn’t need bile or pancreatic enzymes. Once it reaches your intestine, it diffuses through your intestinal membrane into your bloodstream and gets transported directly to your liver, which naturally converts the oil into ketones. Your liver then releases the ketones back into your bloodstream, where they are transported throughout your body. They can even pass the blood-brain barrier to supply your brain with energy. The ease and speed of digestion for MCT oil makes it an excellent energy source.
MCT oil is typically tasteless and odourless, so it can be easily added to your diet:
- make homemade mayonnaise in a blender using MCT oil, an egg yolk, extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice and sea salt
- whisk together a salad dressing using MCT oil, raw honey, dijon mustard and your favourite herbs
- add MCT oil to a smoothie
- add MCT oil to a coffee or tea, add in vanilla & cinnamon, blend until frothy
*When using MCT oil for the first time, start slowly to avoid loose stools and gastrointestinal side effects. I recommend starting with 1/2 – 1 teaspoon/day and slowly increase the amount every few days to work up to one tablespoon/day. If you experience GI distress or diarrhea, cut back. While it’s not harmful to increase the amount too quickly, your body will rid itself of the excess by causing diarrhea, so don’t overdo it.
The idea of adding MCT oil to your diet is NOT to add on to what oils or fats you already consume but to substitute it for some of the (possibly) less healthy fats you may be eating now.
One thing I always emphasize is variety and moderation. I recommend using a variety of oils to get a wide spectrum of health benefits. Different fats contain different proportions of mono-unsaturated, poly-unsaturated and saturated fats. Below are some healthy fat options for each.
Mono-unsaturated fats: avocado, avocado oil, olives, olive oil, pistachios, macadamia nuts, brazil nuts, almonds, cashews, pecans
Poly-unsaturated fats: flaxseed and flaxseed oil, hemp seed oil, chia seeds, walnuts, pine nuts, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds
Saturated fats: MCT oil, coconut oil, ghee, organic grass fed butter
I recommend avoiding all “refined” oils, and opting for “extra virgin or virgin.” Virgin oils are processed at lower temperatures and avoid some of the chemical solvents used in the refining process; this helps to preserve more of the oils’ natural health-promoting antioxidants.
Tip: Always (and I mean ALWAYS) avoid “hydrogenated” oils. It can be a health nightmare because it contains the dreaded “trans fats.”
Have you tried MCT oil? Let me know in the comments below.
Health and happiness,