MCT Oil vs coconut oil, what’s the difference? Medium Chain Oil (MCT Oil) and Coconut Oil are fats that have increased in popularity along with the ketogenic diet.
While their characteristics overlap, these two oils are composed of different elements, so each has unique benefits.
MCTs or Medium Chain Triglycerides are a natural component of many foods, including coconut oil and almond oil.
A triglyceride consists of three fatty acids and one glycerol molecule. These fatty acids are made up of carbon atoms linked in chains that vary in length.
Most of the fatty acids in the diet’s triglycerides are long-chain, which means that they contain more than 12 carbon atoms.
In contrast, the MCTs’ fatty acids have an average length, containing 6 to 12 carbon atoms. It is this difference in fatty acid chain length that makes MCTs unique.
MCTs’ average chain length does not require the enzymes or bile acids for digestion and absorption required by LCTs (normal coconut oil).
This allows MCTs to go directly to your liver, where they are quickly digested, absorbed, and used for immediate energy or converted into Ketones.
MCT Oil vs Coconut Oil
Ketones are compounds produced when the liver breaks down a lot of fat. Your body can use them for energy instead of glucose or sugar.
Also, MCTs are less likely to be stored as fat and can promote weight loss better than other fatty acids.
While coconut oil and MCTs seem similar, they have many differences, such as the ratio and the types of MCT molecules they contain.
MCT oil contains 100% MCT, which makes it a concentrated source. It is made by refining crude coconut oil to remove other compounds and concentrate the MCTs that are naturally found in the oils.
MCT oils generally contain 50-80 % caprylic acid and 20-50 % caproic acid.
Coconut oil, on the other hand, is made from copra. Coconut pulp or meat comprises approximately 54% of copra fat. Coconut oil naturally contains MCT, namely 42% lauric acid, 7% caprylic acid, and 5% capric acid.
MCT oil is popular among those who follow a keto diet, which is very low in carbohydrates, moderate in protein, and high in fat.
The high consumption of fats and low carbohydrate intake puts your body into a state of nutritional ketosis, where it burns fats instead of glucose for fuel.
Compared to coconut oil, MCT oil is better for the production of ketones and for maintaining ketosis. Fatty acids that promote ketone formation are called ketogenic.
A study in humans found that caprylic acid was three times more ketogenic than capric acid and approximately six times more ketogenic than lauric acid.
MCT oil has much higher proportions of the more ketogenic MCTs than coconut oil, which contains the highest lauric acid concentration.
Several studies have also shown that MCT oil can aid in fat loss by increasing metabolism and promoting a greater sense of fullness than coconut oil and LCTs.
MCT oil benefits
MCT oil is a supplement that is generally used in smoothies, coffee and even salad dressings.
As its name suggests, medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) oil contains medium-length fat chains called triglycerides. Because of their shorter length, MCTs are easily digested, and many health benefits are related to the way the body processes these fats.
MCT oil is most commonly extracted from coconut oil since over 50% of the fat in coconut oil comes from MCTs. These fats are also found in many other foods, such as palm oil and dairy products.
There are four different types of MCTs, of which caprylic and capric acids are most commonly used to produce MCT oil. In some cases, these specific types have unique benefits.
8 Science-based benefits you can get from adding MCT oil to your diet.
1. Instant brain energy
MCT oil is known as a super fuel because our bodies absorb MCTs faster than long-chain triglycerides (LCTs), containing more carbon in their fatty acid chains.
Because of their shorter chain length, MCTs travel directly from the intestine to the liver and do not require bile to break it down as longer chain fats do.
In the liver, the fats are broken down to be used as fuel or stored as body fat.
Since MCTs easily enter your cells without being broken down, they can be used as an immediate energy source.
When you are on a ketogenic diet, MCTs can also be converted into ketones in the liver. These ketones can cross the blood-brain barrier, making them a convenient source of energy for brain cells.
2. Supports weight loss
There are several reasons why MCT oil can be beneficial when trying to lose weight.
It may even be better than coconut oil at keeping you full. One study found that people who took two tablespoons of MCT oil as part of their breakfast ended up eating less food for lunch than those who took coconut oil.
The same study also found a smaller increase in triglycerides and glucose with MCT oil, which can also influence fullness.
Also, taking MCT oil has been shown to reduce body weight and waist circumference significantly. Researchers even report that it may help prevent obesity.
MCT oil has approximately 10% fewer calories than long-chain triglycerides (LCTs), found in foods such as olive oil, nuts, and avocado. Our bodies also process MCTs differently, which can help us burn calories. This is one of the main differences between MCT oil vs coconut oil.
The body can use MCT oil as an instant energy source, making it unnecessary to store fat for this purpose. However, it is important to keep in mind that our body can adapt to this diet change, which leads to temporary results.
3. Helps you stay on ketosis
MCTs can be converted into ketones produced from the breakdown of fat when carbohydrate consumption is low.
If you follow a ketogenic diet, which is very low in carbohydrates but high in fat, taking MCT oil can also help you stay in the fat-burning state known as ketosis.
Besides, MCT oil can help optimize the growth of good bacteria and support the intestinal lining, which could also help you lose weight, as mentioned before.
Hence, it becomes a powerful ally of any ketogenic regime, as long as you adjust your calories with a nutrition professional’s help.
4. Reduces lactate build-up in athletes and helps to use fat for energy more easily
MCT oil has gained popularity among athletes and people with a fitness lifestyle. Because during exercise, increased lactate levels can negatively affect exercise performance.
Now comes the interesting part; MCTs can help reduce lactate buildup. One study found that athletes who took 6 grams or about 1.5 teaspoons of MCTs with food before cycling had lower lactate levels and found it easier to exercise than those who took TBIs.
The study also found that taking MCT oil before exercise can help you use more fat instead of carbs for energy.
While MCTs may increase fat burning during exercise, the study results are mixed on whether MCT oil can help you exercise better. More evidence is needed on the latter.
5. May improve conditions such as epilepsy, Alzheimer’s disease, and autism
Studies have shown that MCT oil and a ketogenic diet can help control conditions such as epilepsy, Alzheimer’s, and autism.
While the ketogenic diet has gained popularity among people who want to lose weight, it was first introduced to control epilepsy.
Scientists discovered that fasting increases ketone production and that this can reduce the frequency of seizures.
Since TCMs can be converted to ketones, they may be beneficial in controlling epilepsy.
However, the type of TCM can be important. A test-tube study showed that MCT capric acid improved seizure control better than a generalized antiepileptic drug.
One important thing to keep in mind is that a ketogenic diet is not for everyone and can be difficult to follow in the long run. If you consider a ketogenic diet to help control your epilepsy, talk to your doctor or nutrition professional first.
Alzheimer’s deteriorates your brain’s ability to use sugar.
A ketogenic and MCT diet offers an alternative source of energy: ketones. This allows brain cells to survive better. It also blocks a receptor in the brain that causes memory loss.
One study found that a single dose of MCT improved short-term cognition in 20 people with Alzheimer’s disease with a certain type of gene, namely APOE ɛ4 negative.
While genetic factors play an important role, evidence suggests that 20 to 70 grams of supplemental MCTs that include caprylic or capric acid may modestly improve symptoms of mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease.
Overall, MCT oil benefits in Alzheimer’s disease are promising, but longer and larger-scale studies are needed.
MCT oil can also help children with autism. One study found overall positive improvements when a ketogenic diet was followed for six months.
Another study found that adding MCTs to a gluten-free, ketogenic diet substantially improved autism behaviors in 6 of the 15 children involved.
Because autism is a broad-spectrum condition, it can affect people in different ways.
This means that adding MCT oil to children’s diet with this disease may help them to various degrees or not show positive effects. Here, too, more research is needed.
Any ketogenic diet must be done under the supervision of a physician or nutrition professional.
6. Provides fatty acids that combat bacterial and yeast growth
MCTs have been shown to have antimicrobial and antifungal effects. Coconut oil, which contains many MCTs, has been shown to reduce the growth of Candida albicans by 25%.
This is a common yeast that can cause thrush and various skin infections.
A test-tube study also showed that coconut oil reduced a bacterium’s growth that causes the disease called Clostridium difficile.
MCTs themselves have also been shown to suppress the growth of a widespread infectious fungus in hospitals by up to 50%.
However, it should be noted that most research on MCTs and immune support has been conducted through test tubes and others. High-quality human studies are needed before more robust conclusions can be drawn.
7. May reduce heart disease risk factors, such as weight and cholesterol
MCT oil is compatible with weight and fat loss. This, in turn, can help reduce your risk of heart disease.
A study of 24 overweight men found that taking MCT oil combined with phytosterols and flaxseed oil for 29 days reduced total cholesterol by 12.5%. And as a side note, when olive oil was used, the reduction was only 4.7%.
The same study also found better reductions in LDL or “bad” cholesterol when the MCT oil mixture was added to our diet. Besides, MCT oil can also increase the production of heart-protective HDL or “good” cholesterol.
It can even significantly reduce C-reactive protein (CRP), an inflammatory marker that increases heart disease risk.
Additional studies found that MCT oil-based mixtures may also positively affect other heart disease risk factors.
8. May help control blood sugar levels and manage diabetes
MCT oil may also have benefits for people with diabetes.
Most people with type 2 diabetes are overweight or obese, which makes diabetes more difficult to control. However, MCTs have been shown to reduce fat storage and increase fat burning.
A small Chinese study of 40 people with diabetes found that those who consumed MCT oil daily had significant reductions in body weight, waist circumference, and insulin resistance, compared to those who took MCTs with corn oil.
Another study found that when 30 people with diabetes were injected with insulin, they needed 30% less sugar to maintain normal blood sugar levels when consuming MCTs, compared to TBIs.
However, the same study found no effect of MCTs in reducing fasting blood sugar levels. So other factors such as time and the amount of food eaten may influence the effects of MCT oil.
MCT oil vs coconut oil: Important facts to consider
Although MCTs are considered safe, they may have some disadvantages.
While MCTs can increase the release of hormones that help us feel full longer, they can also stimulate the release of hunger hormones in some people.
One study in people with anorexia found that MCTs increased the release of two hormones that stimulate appetite: ghrelin and neuropeptide Y.
People who took more than 6 grams of MCTs per day produced more of these hormones than those who had less than 1 gram per day. However, it is not clear if the increase in these hormones actually causes you to eat more.
MCTs are high in calories and usually only account for about 5 to 10% of total calorie intake. If you are trying to maintain or lose weight, you should consume MCT oil as part of your total fat intake instead of additional fat.
MCT oil does not affect intermittent fasting
When you are fasting, blood sugar levels are stabilized, and body fat increases the muscle response. This is due to the hormone insulin, which is released every time we eat food, specifically carbohydrates, and stimulates the absorption of nutrients mainly from glucose in fat and muscle tissue.
Since most of the time, muscle cells are not deprived of energy, excess nutrients from meals are stored as fatty acid and glucose as glycogen in the liver. It takes 3 hours after intake for the insulin levels to drop to the blood’s previous levels.
Extending the time between meals increases the duration of this catabolic state in which your body burns fat.
When you stop eating for a few hours in the first phase, the main fuel source is glucose, and the carbs decrease blood sugar, resulting in the reduction of glycogen and the delay of gluconeogenesis.
The glucose in the bloodstream is consumed, followed by the glycogen reserves of the liver and muscle.
Glucose is directed to the central nervous system (CNS), where more levels of this energy source are required. Later, there is a greater response from the sympathetic nervous system resulting in increased catecholamines production, and the CNS uses the fuel products of fat: acetoacetic acid and beta-hydroxybutyrate.
When blood glucose levels drop, insulin levels decrease, and liver cells begin to secrete glucagon. This is equivalent to the degradation of liver glycogen and glucose synthesis by gluconeogenesis to maintain glucose levels.
The glucose factor
Once there is a decrease in the ratio of glucagon/insulin promotes the degradation of triglycerides TAG (a form of storage of fatty acids) in adipose tissue releasing fatty acids and glycerol by the metabolic process B-oxidation, creating the ketone bodies.
Growth and somatotropic hormones are activated at the brain level, which has a ketogenic action and prevents glycolysis. In muscle, the glycolytic process is inhibited due to the decrease in insulin. The hydrolysis of TAGs that produce free chain fatty acids is increased.
Describing the fasting process and the composition of an MCT, you can understand that medium-chain fatty acid (MCT) oil does not affect fasting since during this period the fat accumulated in the adipocytes is consumed, so MCTs only accelerate the process of creating ketone bodies, which are part of one of the final stages of fasting.
Once your body recognizes fat as an energy source in prolonged periods of fasting, it creates ketone bodies. MCTs are an enabler of the benefits of fasting. The fact that this occurs makes intermittent fasting easier and faster.
Fasting combined with MCTs will decrease systemic inflammation because sugar levels are lowered by the fasting time. Blood sugar reduction is facilitated, and insulin spikes and insulin resistance decrease.
MCT oil vs coconut oil: Conclusion
Taking MCT oil could have many benefits and very few risks. MCTs are also a great energy source and can fight bacterial growth, help protect your heart, and help control diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, epilepsy, and autism.
MCTs are high in calories and usually only make up about 5-10% of total calorie intake. If you are trying to maintain or lose weight, you should consume MCT oil as part of your total fat intake instead of an extra amount of fat.
Remember that before consuming MCT oil, you should go to your family health care professional before consuming it and adjust your MCT oil intake to your caloric regimen with a Licensed Nutrition Professional.