Coconut oil is an amazing source of healthy fats and it has quickly become popular among both dieters and cooks. The interest in the oil isn’t just hype either. Instead, there is considerable evidence for its health benefits.
But, an even more interesting topic is the potential of MCT oil for weight loss. MCT oil is basically a derivative of coconut oil, one that takes advantage of the unusual fats that coconut oil has to offer.
By doing so, MCT oil provides a powerful way to promote weight loss, partly through raising ketone levels.
So then, what exactly is MCT oil and is it relevant to your health goals and weight loss?
What is MCT Oil?
To explain MCT oil, we first have to talk about coconut oil.
As the name suggests, coconut oil is simply oil extracted from the white meat of a coconut. The oil is unusual, particularly because around 86% of the fat is saturated (1). This pattern isn’t seen with other types of oil (like olive oil or avocado oil).
The high saturated fat content means that coconut oil is often solid at room temperature.
Coconut oil tends to be considered a healthy ingredient, partly because of the specific fats that it contains. In particular, coconut oil is primarily made up of medium-chain triglycerides – or MCTs for short.
MCTs are fascinating because our body metabolizes them differently than the more common long-chain fatty acids. The site Nutrition Review looks into some of this chemistry in more detail.
In particular, MCTs tend to be broken down faster and are processed in the liver. This process means that they are either converted into ketones or used as an immediate source of energy.
There are many health implications of this pattern, especially as ketones themselves can cross the blood-brain barrier and act as fuel for the brain. We’re going to come back to those benefits a little later on – but this concept is an underlying reason that so many people follow ketosis lifestyles.
Now, you do get significant MCTs from coconut oil itself. But, many people turn to MCT oil instead.
For the most part, MCT oil can be considered fractionated coconut oil. Basically, companies use various processes to increase the MCT count in the oil, which also results in a product that is liquid at any temperature.
The exact mechanisms used vary from one company to the next and composition of the finished oil can be different as well. For example, the image below is the composition of one MCT product, which includes three different MCTs. In contrast, other brands may have different proportions or might cut out lauric acid entirely.
On a side note, you’ll often see the abbreviations C8, C10 or C12 when discussing MCTs. These refer to the length of the chain (specifically the number of carbon atoms). Lower chain lengths will metabolize faster and potentially produce more ketones.
By offering a higher concentration of MCTs, MCT oil can potentially offer more health benefits overall, especially when it comes to weight loss.
There are also other variations out there. For example, the Bulletproof brand offers a product called Brain Octane Oil. The underlying concept here is the same and the oil is still extracted from coconuts.
However, the company focuses on including the shortest MCTs possible, which helps it to be metabolized faster and results in the highest amount of ketone production.
But, of note, both this product and XCT (from the same brand) intentionally avoid including any lauric acid. The reason is that lauric acid is higher in chain length (C12) than other MCTs and tends to be metabolized slower. Nevertheless, lauric acid is associated with its own health benefits – so there is a tradeoff in place.
Finding MCT Oil
MCT oil has been rapidly growing in popularity, so there are many different products out there. However, it’s important to take the time to research the company and the brand that offers the oil and to look for one that is transparent.
In many ways, the Bulletproof brand is a good choice here, simply because the Bulletproof Diet heavily relies on MCT oil anyway. This is particularly true if you’re interested in MCT oil that is metabolized quickly.
However, the challenge with Bulletproof is that the products are expensive. That’s an issue for many people, especially as the differences for health may not be dramatic.
There are also other good brands to choose from that have high-quality products and won’t break the bank. The option below is one way to go and has the advantage of being sustainable as well.
More than anything, which product you choose will come down to the outcomes you’re looking for. In particular, the smaller chain MCTs tend to be converted to energy faster and may be more relevant for ketosis diets. But, you’re losing out on any health benefits from lauric acid by doing so.
With that in mind, if you’re focused only on weight loss, brands with smaller MCTs may be better. In contrast, if you’re interested in health as well, the specific MCT composition may matter less.
Finally, many products (like the one below) may not make the information obvious, so you’ll have to do a little digging.
Why are Healthy Oils and Fats So Important?
For a long time, we’ve been taught that fat is unhealthy. Indeed, health recommendations have focused on low-fat diets, where most of the energy comes from carbs instead.
However, there is growing recognition that this is absolutely horrible for health.
For one thing, the approach has led to a strong reliance on processed foods, including many that are high in sugar and various additives. For that matter, most low-fat foods out there have increased sugar content to make them taste decent.
The same emphasis has meant that people don’t focus on whole foods or ingredients like they once used to. Indeed, families often lack the skills and knowledge about how to cook healthy dinners or make options like fermented foods.
Many people feel that this pattern of behavior has strongly contributed to the current obesity epidemic, along with many of the modern health problems that are so common.
One mechanism for this issue is that many of the carbs we eat (particularly sugar) are associated with inflammation (2,3). In fact, consuming refined carbs is a bad idea in general, yet they are a key component of the modern diet (4).
In contrast, many healthy fats can actually help to fight inflammation and promote better health overall. Olive oil is one key example of this and the health benefits of the oil have long been recognized.
There is even recognition that butter can offer health benefits – and it’s a much better choice than the heavily refined margarine that many people rely on instead.
The advantages of fat for health is actually a huge topic, far too detailed to cover here. But, the basic take home message is that fat can be extremely good for you and increasing fat intake while cutting down carbs typically contributes to considerable health benefits.
The best place to learn more about this is in the recently released book Fat for Fuel.
The book is a great look into the implications of fat in your diet, along with the research behind the ways that fat can promote health.
The Debate About Fat and Weight Loss
Despite all the myths out there, fat can help with weight loss – especially if you’re choosing good fats. For that matter, many of the issues we traditionally associate with fat (including obesity and heart disease) are simply related to high calorie consumption.
To make matters worse, early research into this field was extremely problematic.
For example, some observational studies found that people with higher fat intake tend to have poorer health and increased risk of being overweight. But, such studies entirely ignored calorie intake and lifestyle factors.
Think about that. We’ve been taught that fat is dangerous for a long time. Until recently, this meant that most people who ate high-fat diets didn’t care about their health.
So, they were probably making many bad food decisions at the same time, including eating far too many calories.
With that in mind, it’s no wonder observational studies showed a link between high fat intake and poor health outcomes.
But, when you take those behavioral patterns out of the picture, fat intake alone doesn’t contribute to the same negative outcomes.
In fact, you can actually lose weight on a high-fat diet. Many studies even show that low-carb diets result in more weight loss overall (5,6), while also contributing to improved health outcomes and decreased disease risk (7,8).
Metabolic benefits aside, a high-fat and low-carb diet is often easier for people to follow. One reason is that the food is often more enjoyable, especially once you get used to the diet. This also means that a low-carb diet is much less restrictive than you might expect and it does let you eat foods that are normally avoided on a diet (such as fatty cuts of meat).
The combination of fat and protein on a low-carb diet also makes the approach satisfying overall. As a result, you typically don’t get hungry as quickly. This makes the diet more achievable in the long-term.
The end result is that you can certainly lose weight by relying on fat as a key energy source, rather than carbs. In fact, you may even find the process easier and less stressful than a conventional diet.
All Calories Are Not Equal
Many of us have been brought up on the idea that weight loss is simply about calories in versus calories out – the typical energy balance concept. To a degree, this idea is true. You do have to be burning more energy than you’re taking in, otherwise you’ll never lose weight.
But, simply measuring energy in and out is inherently flawed.
In practice, there are dozens (or more) different variables that affect the energy our bodies get from our food and the energy that we actually use. The site Precision Nutrition has an amazing guide on how this works, along with the various complexities.
But, one simple takeaway is that our bodies respond to calories differently.
This is also why research often find that low-carb diets offer more health benefits, even when the calorie intake is identical either way (12).
MCTs are one example of this. Research suggests that MCTs are ‘far less likely to be stored in adipose tissue’ than other types of fatty acid – meaning they would contribute less to obesity overall (13).
Likewise, fat may be high in calories but it also tends to be fairly satisfying. As a result, many people find that they eat less on a high-fat diet than on a high-carb one. By doing so, they start to lose weight naturally, which is a powerful outcome.
On the other hand, many high carb foods aren’t very satisfying and they tend to promote cravings. This often means that people end up eating more of the food as a consequence, which contributes to health problems and weight gain.
This makes it critical to choose wisely when it comes to food.
Health Implications of MCT Oil
As you can see, fat isn’t nearly as bad as we have been told. In fact, it may contribute to health benefits and weight loss. With that in mind, it’s no wonder many people are turning to low carbohydrate diets, including the ketosis approach.
But, what about MCT oil specifically? After all, that is the focus of this discussion.
MCTs and Weight Loss
Modern research strongly shows that fat can be good for weight loss. As mentioned previously, a high-fat and low-carb diet may be much better overall than the conventional American diet. And, both coconut oil and MCT oil offer ways to follow this type of approach.
But, this isn’t the only reason for including MCT oil in your diet. Instead, there has been considerable research into specific MCT implications for weight loss.
One review of the topic found that MCTs help to make people feel full and increase the metabolic rate as well (14). However, the observed effects are typically on the small size, such as an increase of 11 calories a day (15).
While this may not seem like much on its own, MCT oil is still significant, especially when combined with healthy diet approaches. Likewise, other research has shown that MCT oil can contribute to real world weight loss (16,17) and can help to reduce calorie consumption in subsequent meals (18).
MCT oil is also easy to add to the diet. Most products are flavorless and can easily be included in various drinks. Many people add it to coffee, while some just take it directly on a teaspoon.
However, more research is still needed. While we know that MCT oil has some impact on weight loss, the strength of this outcome isn't clear. Doses also vary between studies, making it difficult to pinpoint how much MCT oil people should be taking.
Other Health Benefits
There are also other health benefits of MCT oil, many of which are associated with the creation of ketones. After all, ketosis diets have therapeutic properties, which is one reason for their popularity.
Another advantage of MCTs is simply that they are easy to absorb. This makes them powerful for people with health conditions related to malabsorption, such as Chron’s Disease (19).
MCTs have also been proposed for the treatment of blood sugar and hypertension, along with various aspects of the metabolic syndrome. Although more research is needed, current evidence does support these outcomes (20).
Finally, the potential impact of MCTs on the brain is a key reason for interest in MCTs. This happens because MCTs increase ketone levels and ketones are associated with the treatment of some brain disorders, including Alzheimer’s disease (23,24). The evidence for this area is very limited – but it is a key argument behind the Bulletproof Diet, which is partly designed to help promote brainpower and energy.
Collectively, these outcomes suggest that MCT oil has various implications for health, although more evidence is needed. But, the safety of MCTs and their potential for weight loss mean that MCT oil can be a good choice even though the research is ongoing.
Getting MCT Oil Benefits
MCT oil is particularly common with two different approaches, ketosis and the Bulletproof diet. Indeed, those methods both offer the potential for weight loss and health improvement overall and they are interesting ideas.
MCT Oil, Bulletproof Coffee and the Bulletproof Diet
The Bulletproof Diet was developed by Dave Asprey and is promoted as a way to lose weight and also become more focused overall.
The diet itself is focused on healthy eating and weight loss, without the need for counting calories or weighing food. To do so, it has a strong emphasis on healthy fats and proteins, along with vegetables.
Detailed information about what (and when) to eat on the diet can be found on this page from the Bulletproof site, if you’re considering following it yourself.
The approach isn’t specifically ketosis or low-carb, although the food selection does result in fewer carbs than the average diet.
Additionally, this tends to be a less restrictive diet than many other approaches.
As such, it gives people the ability to tailor their food selection and desired macros to meet their own needs.
Another aspect is that the diet uses some intermittent fasting concepts to promote weight loss. The end result isn’t exactly the same as intermittent fasting but there are some similarities and the idea can help to boost weight loss for many people.
As for MCT oil, this is mostly tied into the concept of Bulletproof Coffee.
Many people do vary this up, often relying on MCT oil, rather than the Brain Octane Oil from the Bulletproof brand. You can even simply use coconut oil. Realistically, you would get similar benefits either way, although Brain Octane Oil is specifically formulated with Bulletproof coffee in mind.
There are also shortcuts out there, such as using a hand blender rather than a full blender. If you plan to use Bulletproof coffee regularly, you’d probably find your own set of ingredients and approaches that fit your needs perfectly.
Bulletproof coffee offers an interesting way to get extra healthy fat into your diet and is a great approach for using MCT oil regularly. At the same time, many people find that it helps give them a boost of energy first thing in the morning. When combined with the overall diet (or even just with intermittent fasting itself), the idea can work well for weight loss.
MCT and Ketosis
MCT oils are also a common component on a ketosis diet. For one thing, the oil acts as a healthy source of fat, which alone is a reason to rely on it regularly. This also means that you could use MCT oils on a low carb diet, even if you aren’t specifically aiming for ketosis.
At the same time, the metabolism of MCTs means that they play a key role in ketone production. As such, they can help people on a ketosis diet to reach desired ketone levels and maintain them. Doing so can be significant because ketone levels play a role in fat burning.
Using MCT oil can also increase the number of carbs that people can eat while still staying in ketosis. This is a particularly powerful outcome for anyone that struggles with the restrictions of a ketosis diet.
MCT oil does naturally fit in with the Bulletproof Diet and with ketosis but you don’t have to be following either of those approaches. Instead, you could include MCT oil your current diet approach fairly easily. Making Bulletproof coffee is one example of doing this, although there are other MCT oil recipes out there as well.
Nevertheless, it is important to keep calories in mind when adding in MCT oil. Now, calories aren’t the most critical consideration for weight loss but they do still play a factor.
You’re likely to be fine if MCT oil lowers your appetite. But, if it doesn’t, you may need to cut down on calories elsewhere. As with weight loss in general, the best answers simply come from paying attention to your own body and the way that it responds.
On that note, it's also important to consider digestion. MCT oil is generally safe but it's best to introduce yourself to it slowly. Many people find they experience issues like diarrhea when they first start MCT oil, especially if they do so on an empty stomach. As a result, you may want to start with a low dose (like 1/2 teaspoon) and work up to the full amount.
MCT Oil versus Coconut Oil
MCT oil is typically sourced from coconut oil and has many of the same beneficial compounds. But, which is better? In part, the answer depends on why you’re using the oil in the first place.
For people on the Bulletproof Diet, MCT oil is considered the best possible approach.
Likewise, many people on the keto diet regularly rely on MCT oil. After all, ketone levels are a significant component of that approach, so MCT oil simply makes sense.
At the same time, much of the research out there has focused on the advantages of MCT oil, rather than coconut oil, especially for weight loss. In fact, a recent summary of research suggested that evidence for coconut oil and weight loss was inconclusive (25).
In this sense, MCT oil is truly more powerful.
But, the answer is less clear when it comes to health in a general sense. For one thing, MCT oil is more processed, so you have less guarantee about what you’re actually buying.
This is necessary because MCT oil has a higher MCT concentration than coconut oil. MCT oil also tends to be liquid at room temperature, while coconut oil typically isn’t.
One issue with this is that the refining process typically removes one of the key components of coconut oil – lauric acid (C12). Instead, MCT oil typically contains either caprylic acid (C8), capric acid (C10) or a combination of those (26).
The loss of lauric acid is very relevant because this is associated with many coconut oil health benefits (27). It also has stronger antimicrobial effects than other MCTs (28,29) and may also help in producing more sustained ketosis (30,31).
Lauric acid also helps the body to create the compound monolaurin, which supports the immune system.So basically:
- MCT oil is great for fast energy, ketones and weight loss
- Coconut oil is a better choice if you want the potential benefits from lauric acid
Realistically, there isn’t enough research to know which type is truly better for health in the long-term. But, it’s clear that MCT is superior for weight loss, while coconut oil may offer some additional health benefits that MCT oil doesn’t.
In practice, this might simply mean you include both in your diet – as many ketosis followers do anyway.
After all, coconut oil is powerful for cooking and is a common ingredient in keto fat bombs and other recipes, including keto desserts. In contrast, MCT oil can be a fast way to increase fat intake, especially if you’re relying on Bulletproof coffee.
With this in mind, you really don’t have to choose one or the other, you can have both MCT oil and coconut oil in your diet at the same time.
MCT oil truly does have implications for weight loss. While it is most powerful when following a ketogenic approach or the Bulletproof Diet, the oil can still be useful for most people and situations.
Indeed, you may find that the oil helps you to break through a weight loss plateau, especially because of the way MCTs are metabolized. At the same time, the implications of MCTs for other aspects of health are attractive and could make this oil a particularly powerful choice.
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