I realized as I was walking through the grocery store just how popular MCT oil is these days. I think just about every grocery store carries not one, but multiple different brands on their shelves.
I think we can attribute the growing popularity to people like Dave Asprey of bulletproof coffee for making MCT oil mainstream. I remember first incorporating MCT Oil into my diet nearly 15 years ago, so it’s great to have a variety (and cheaper) choices because of this boom.
But what exactly is MCT oil and what are its benefits and drawbacks?
What is MCT Oil?
MCT is short for medium-chain triglyceride. It is an oil that contains medium-length chains of fats which we refer to as triglycerides. MCT oil, for the most part, is derived from coconut oil, but can also be made from palm oil.
MCT oil is characterized as being odorless, colorless, and stays liquid at room temperature. Although, you may find certain brands which carry it in powder form by binding it to a carrier fiber.
Different types of MCT oil (fats)
Fats are made up of chains of carbon atoms. Most of the fats we consume in our diet are long-chain fatty acids which have between 13 to 21 of these atoms.
In contrast, medium-chain triglycerides are partially man-made fats which have 6 to 12 carbon atoms.
What do I mean by man-made fats?
MCTs are made by processing coconut or palm kernel oils.
Coconut oil itself has several fatty acids, but only four of which are considered MCTs:
- (C6) Caproic Acid
- (C8) Caprylic Acid
- (C10) Capric Acid
- (C12) Lauric Acid
(C6) Caproic Acid
Caproic acid is the smallest chain MCT with 6 carbon chains, hence why it is called C6. There is not much C6 in coconut oil, but this is a good thing.
C6 oil has an unpleasant taste, an might cause digestive problems like diarrhea AKA disaster pants.
Caproic acid also can make your throat burn. So… if your MCT makes your throat burn, the distillation process likely didn’t remove enough of the C6.
(C8) Caprylic Acid
This 8 carbon MCT has potent anti-microbial properties to help maintain a healthy gut and considered the creme de la creme of the MCTs.
C8 oil is the fastest to metabolize in the brain and only takes 3 steps to turn into ATP (cellular energy). To paint a better picture, it takes sugar 26 steps to produce cellular energy.
This MCT makes up about ~6% of coconut oil. You would need 4 tablespoons of coconut oil just to get in one tablespoon of caprylic acid.
C8 brain octane oil specifically is my go to in my morning coffee or pre-workout when I need a quick cognitive and physical boost.
(C10) Capric Acid
Similar to C8 caprylic acid, C10 capric acid easily converts to energy, just a tad slower. Both C8 and C10 turn into ATP quickly with no work required from the liver.
This 10 carbon MCT makes up about ~9% of coconut oil and is more cost effective relative to pure C8.
I rarely see C10 oil bottled up by itself, but most MCT oil products on the shelf will be a blend of both C8 and C10 oil.
(C12) Lauric Acid
Lauric acid makes up around 50% of the fatty acids within coconut oil.
While they consider lauric acid an MCT, it shares more similarities with long-chain fatty acids since it requires a pit stop in the liver to be effectively metabolized.
If you’re looking to add in lauric acid for its antimicrobial properties and other health benefits, stick to coconut oil and save your money from buying specific MCT or lauric acid supplements.
How is MCT oil made?
MCT oil is man-made fats mostly from coconut oil, but may also be made from palm kernel oil. They strip coconut oil down to the two most efficient MCTs converted to energy, caprylic acid, and capric acid.
If an MCT product doesn’t say it is specifically only C8 oil (caprylic acid), it’s likely a blend of both caprylic acid and capric acid.
While C8 is the most efficient MCT, it is also more expensive in its purest form. So most MCT oils are C8 and C10 blends and cheaper than pure C8 oil.
On average MCT oils are:
- 50-80% (C8) caprylic acid
- 20-50% (C10) capric acid
MCT oil vs. Coconut oil
Another common question I receive is what’s the difference between MCT oil and coconut oil?
Coconut oil is great and all, but it really comes down to what your primary use is.
- Are you looking for a cooking oil? use coconut oil
- Looking for that brain and energy boost? use MCTs
Coconut oil itself is high in saturated fat ~92%. Of that 92 percent, 55 to 65% of it comes from MCT oil. However, as we discussed above, most of that will be composed of the inefficient C12 lauric acid.
Specifically, MCT oils will comprise only (C8) caprylic acid and (C10) capric acid without (C6) caproic acid or (C12) lauric acid.
MCTs in other food sources
While coconut and palm oil are the richest food sources of MCTs, dairy products also carry a small amount. Below is a ballpark percentage of MCTs (C6, C8, C10, C12) found in different foods:
- Coconut oil (55-65%)
- Palm oil (55%)
- Coconut meat (35%)
- Coconut cream (20%)
- Coconut milk (15%)
- Grass-fed butter (8%)
- Goat cheese (6%)
- Grass-fed heavy cream (3%)
- Most cheeses (2-3%)
If we were to only count the MCTs, we are most concerned with (C8 + C10) these numbers would be significantly lower.
You would need to consume nearly 5 to 10 times the amount of these foods to get in enough caprylic and capric acid that can be found in one tablespoon of MCT oil.
7 Benefits of MCT oil
MCT oil offers numerous benefits from gut health to quick energy.
LOWERS BLOOD SUGAR
MCTs have been shown to preserve insulin sensitivity in patients with types 2 diabetes. 1
It makes sense that MCTs lower blood sugar, because as ketones rise, (which MCTs are converted to) blood sugar naturally lowers.
For those who are keeping track of your blood glucose and ketone reading, you may notice a correlation between the two. In general, the higher your blood ketones the lower your blood sugar registers. 2
I like to include a tablespoon of C8 oil in my pre-workout cocktail. Personally, I notice an improvement in my energy levels almost immediately.
MCTs are rapidly absorbed through the digestive system and quickly converted to ATP as an immediate source of energy.
Studies are still limited at the present moment as to just how effective they may be at improving exercise performance, but another benefit is that MCT oil may help reduce lactate buildup, at least compared to LCTs. 3
People don’t have a problem losing fat, they have trouble keeping the fat off. The biggest reason people fall off their diets is simple, HUNGER.
Managing appetite is crucial in any sustainable weight loss method. This is the biggest reason ketogenic diets are so great in helping many people lose weight and keep it off.
MCTs have been shown to suppress appetite when compared to a low MCT or even medium MCT containing diet. Substituting MCTs for other fat sources may help limit caloric intake.
* Notice I said substituting, not in addition to your current fat intake.
INSTANT SOURCE OF ENERGY FOR THE BRAIN
Aside from glucose, the only other usable fuel source your brain may use are ketones.
MCTs travel straight from the gut to the liver without having to be broken down, making them an immediate source of energy. 4
HELP MANAGE NEURODEGENERITIVE DISORDERS
Studies have shown that a ketogenic diet and MCT oil may help neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimers, epilepsy, and Parkinsons. 5
Notice I said may help . A ketogenic diet and MCT oil should not be used to treat cure, or prevent any disease, and you should still be consulting with your primary care physician should you be suffering from one.
Although, I don’t see the harm in bringing up the potential benefits of including both a ketogenic diet and MCTs to your physician and getting his or her opinion.
For example, in people who suffer with Alzheimer’s disease, their brains ability to take-up glucose compared to a healthy individual is impaired. On the other hand, these same individuals brains could take-up ketones similarly to that of the healthy individual. 6
MCT oil may improve brain function, which could benefit individuals with these neurodegenerative disorders.
ANTI MICROBIAL AND ANTI FUNGAL
Mentioned briefly, MCTs have been shown to have antimicrobial and antifungal effects. 7
What does this mean exactly?
MCT oil has been shown to reduce the growth of bacteria and yeast such as candida albicans.
MCT OIL AND WEIGHT LOSS?
Why the question mark you ask? Well, I know everyone is looking for the holy grail of supplements they can take to lose weight…
Truth be told, there never has nor will ever be any supplement that will cause you to lose body fat if you’re not eating a proper diet.
There may be a reason to believe that the addition of MCTs may slightly aid in weight loss.
A meta analysis 8 concluded that replacement of fats in the diet with MCTs could “potentially” induce modest weight reductions in body weight and composition.
Which makes sense because MCTs are less likely stored by the body as energy (fat) and also have a lower caloric content per gram (8.3 versus 9.2)
Meaning, don't assume just adding MCT to your diet will help you lose more weight, but if you replace other types of fat, mainly long-chain triglycerides, with MCTs, you may see minimal, if any, additional fat loss.
MCT oil side effects and considerations
MCT oil isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. As with anything, please exercise caution and start with the minimum effective dose.
Disaster pants aka diarrhea
Some individuals report having diarrhea or needing to use the restroom shortly after consuming MCT oil. It’s best that you start off with a small dose ~1 teaspoon before moving to more moderate doses ~1 tablespoon.
MCTs still contain calories
If fat loss is your goal, you still need to create a caloric deficit. 9
MCTs contain fewer calories than LCT fat sources at 8.3 calories per gram versus 9 calories per gram. However, MCT oil is still calorically dense like other any other fat source (olive oil, butter, peanut butter, etc.)
Carbohydrates and proteins only contain 4 calories per gram, and when you consider the thermic effect of food 10 , protein probably contains even less than that.
May stimulate the release of hunger hormones
I know that I mentioned MCT oil can help reduce appetite, so what the heck?
Yes, while MCTs can reduce appetite, they may also stimulate the release of certain hunger hormones. They did the study on people with anorexia, so take it how you will, but MCTs increased the hormones ghrelin and neuropeptide Y in these individuals. 11
While they did the study on people who suffered from anorexia, we are also unsure whether the increase in these hormones actually causes you to eat more.
Not suitable for cooking
Not sure why other sites recommend it’s ok to cook with, but it’s probably because they are trying to sell you MCT oil.
Unlike coconut oil, MCT oil has a low smoke point. While they may derive your MCT oil from coconut oil, it is not a suitable replacement to cook with unless cooking at low heat.
It's also way more expensive than other oils.
AKA… Stick with coconut oil or another fat source for cooking.
How to use MCT oil
I supplement with MCT oil via two methods.
Adding in MCT oil to my morning coffee gets my brain firing and ready to tackle work for the day. You can also try adding it into tea if coffee isn’t your thing.
If you have calories to spare and enjoy keto coffee, you would put it in there.
Whether I drink coffee pre-workout or take an actual pre-workout product, I like to throw in a tablespoon of MCT oil for an added boost.
What is MCT powder?
MCT powder is the same as MCT oil, just in a powdered form made through a process called spray drying. 12
However, MCT powders make up anywhere between 50-80% MCT oil. The remaining 20-50% is the carrier fibers and fillers used in the supplement.
Meaning, they use additives and fillers in the manufacturing process with many of the MCT oil powders… so be cautious when choosing a brand.
MCT oil requires a carrier fiber to be turned into a powder, and some companies may use less than stellar ingredients to save money.
They have done most research on MCT oil, so there is limited studies as to the effectiveness of MCT in powder form.
MCT oil vs MCT powder
The only real difference between MCT oil and MCT powder is the form they come in. Obviously, MCT oil is a liquid and MCT powder is a solid 🙂
MCT powder also requires a carrier fiber to make it into a powder, and you may also find other ingredients depending on which brand you choose.
That said, MCT powder is more convenient to travel with and seems to be easier on the digestive system.
Whether one form is more effective than another has yet to be studied. Personally, I notice more benefit from MCT in oil form in terms of “feeling it.”
Best MCT oil for ketosis
If the above was enough to convince you to give MCT oil or MCT powder a try, I’ve listed a few of my favorite brands and products.
Not every MCT oil is created equal.
There are definitely certain brands I migrate towards based on the quality of their products, especially ones that are 3rd party lab tested which I’ve listed below.
This means, mostly, the dose and ingredients which they say are in the supplement are actually in the supplement.
Best MCT oil
Best C8 MCT oil
MCT oil takeaways
MCT oil has been a staple for me when on a ketogenic diet. There are plenty of benefits without many risks with supplementation.
MCTs are a great source of energy for a morning pick me up or pre-workout kick, which is my primary use.
Other than that, MCTs show promise in fighting bacterial growth, managing appetite, and a great brain food for those who might suffer from neurodegenerative diseases.
Do you currently use MCT oil and notice a benefit? Let me know down below.