What is MCT oil and how can it benefit you?

MCT oil is often used as a carrier in CBD oils. Cannabinoids like CBD are fat-soluble meaning they dissolve in fat rather than in water. Hence the reason why high-quality oils are needed to carry the CBD into the bloodstream.

MCT oil is also often used as a standalone product to supplement a diet due to the oil’s benefits. It has gained popularity in the past few years, especially among people using a ketogenic (keto) diet.

Apart from coconut oil, MCT is also sourced from palm kernel oil and dairy products. You will be surprised to hear that MCT oil, as well as coconut oil, are saturated fats.

But isn’t saturated fat bad for you? Well, yes, most of it. In recent years researchers discovered that not all saturated fat is equal.

MCT oil and its benefits
MCT oil and its benefits

Fats – a crash course

As you might already know, some fats are better for you than others. Fats are an essential part of your diet as your body wouldn’t be able to cope without them. They help you absorb vitamins and minerals as some need fats to dissolve into your bloodstream.

Fats are essential building blocks in cell membranes. They help muscle movement, blood clotting and reduce inflammation. The main groups of fats are saturated fat, unsaturated fat and trans fat.

Trans fat

Trans fat is the worst possible fat. You should avoid this fat being part of your diet as it is potentially harmful. Trans fat raises your bad cholesterol and increases your risk of heart disease. Cholesterol is a waxy substance that can clog up your arteries.

There are two main types: Bad cholesterol (LDL) and good cholesterol (HDL). The industry is processing Trans fat by adding hydrogen to vegetable oil. It becomes less likely to go bad and increases the shelf life of food products.

Some restaurants use it in their deep fryers as they don’t have to change the oil that often. Trans fat appears in fried food, margarine, baked goods and processed snack foods. It has no known health benefits.

Even in the USA, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recognised that trans fat is no longer “Generally Recognised as Safe”.

Unsaturated fat

Unsaturated fat is the one you want to keep in your diet and ingest almost every day. It tends to be liquid at room temperature. Unsaturated fat can be sub-categorised into mono-unsaturated and poly-unsaturated fat.

It keeps your body functioning well with various health benefits. Unsaturated fat keeps your bad cholesterol low and decreases the risk of heart disease and stroke.

Foods containing unsaturated fat include olive oil, nuts, avocados, fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel) and seeds.

Saturated fat

Saturated fat lies somewhere in the middle between trans fats and unsaturated fats. It is not all bad for you but consumption should be moderate. This fat tends to be solid at room temperature.

Certain saturated fat also increases your bad cholesterol. It occurs naturally in fatty meats, butter, cheese and some vegetable oils like coconut oil and palm kernel oil.

More research is popping up that claims no direct relationship between a diet high in saturated fat and an increased risk of heart disease. Thus, the jury is still out on how bad saturated fat for your body is.

Even so, replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats is always the preferred choice.

Coconut oil in small bowl with spoon, half of a coconut and whole coconut

Chemical structure

In general, two kinds of smaller molecules make a fat: glycerol and fatty acids, i.e. chains of carbon atoms. Based on the length of the carbon chain, fat can be sub-categorised into the following:

  • Short-chain triglycerides (SCTs): 6 or fewer carbon atoms
  • Medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs): 6 to 12 carbon atoms, digested faster
  • Long-chain triglycerides (LCTs): 13 to 21 carbon atoms, take longer to digest

This gives us another dimension by which we can review fats. The length of a chain of fatty acids is influencing how fast they are metabolised.

MCT’s digest faster than LCTs. LCTs are absorbed into the bloodstream through the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system’s function is to absorb fats and remove toxins and unwanted material. This method of absorption takes by far longer than digestion through the liver.

MCTs, due to their shorter chain length, travel straight to the liver where they metabolise into the bloodstream and convert to energy. Hence, MCTs can be utilised quicker by the body.

MCT under the microscope

Not all MCTs are equal and there are 4 different types depending on their carbon chains. The number represents the chain length:

  • (C6:0) Caproic acid
  • (C8:0 )Caprylic acid
  • (C10:0) Capric acid
  • (C12:0) Lauric acid

Caproic acid digests very fast but comes with a bad taste and smell. If your MCT oil smells bad and has a weird taste it could be that the distillation process hasn’t quite removed it.

Caprylic and Capric acids are the gold nuggets. Those fatty acids are the ones you want in your MCT oil. Lauric acid is on the edge of being an LCT due to its long chain.

This also means it has the longest absorption process among all MCTs. Its benefits are still debated among researchers. Fort those reasons most MCT oils don’t contain any Lauric acid.

The highest-quality MCT oils out there will contain 100% Caprylic acid as it is most ketogenic. It is also common to have a mix between Caprylic and Capric acids. Those MCT oils tend to be more affordable.

Due to its quick absorption process MCT oil makes an excellent carrier for CBD. By rapidly transporting the CBD into the system, MCT oil also increases the CBD’s bioavailability.

Olive oil or hemp oil, in contrast, take longer to digest meaning a slower absorption rate. This speaks in favour of MCT oil as a carrier.

Main sources for MCTs are coconut oil and palm kernel oil. Coconut oil contains about 7% Capric acid, 8% Caprylic acid and 49% Lauric acid. Palm kernel oil contains about 3.5% Capric acid, 3% Caprylic acid and 48% Lauric acid.

How it is made

MCT oil has no taste or smell which makes it ideal for mixing it into other foods rather than having it by itself. It is made by using an industrial process called fractional distillation.

It starts by taking coconut oil and splitting its fatty acids from the glycerol in a process called fat splitting. Afterwards, the individual fatty acids are separated by distillation and fractionation.

Both processes take advantage of fatty acid’s heat sensitivity and use vacuum zones in various stages.

Don’t let people fool you by claiming that coconut oil is almost the same as MCT oil. Coconut oil contains MCTs. MCT oil is a refined version of coconut oil.

Coconut oil has a higher smoke point of 177°C compared to 150°C of MCT oil making it more suitable for cooking. It is solid at room temperature due to its Lauric acid content which also makes it more suitable as a skincare product.

Researchers found Lauric acid to have various benefits for skin conditions. MCT oil always comes in liquid form.

Several measuring glasses in front of black background

What are the benefits of MCT?

Several studies have shown that MCTs support weight loss. One study found that swapping olive oil for MCT oil when on a weight loss diet could lead to even more weight shredding.

Another study found that MCTs reduce appetite and could make you feel fuller for longer compared to LCTs. MCTs convert into ketones which are an alternative form of energy for your body.

This means MCTs are ideal if you are following a keto diet. But even if you don’t, it still means MCTs are less likely to end up as fat stored in your body.

There have been a few studies suggesting that MCTs mixed with other oils (fish oil and flaxseed oil) may help decrease the risk of heart disease. This despite MCTs being part of the saturated fats family. Furthermore, MCTs may increase good cholesterol according to a study conducted on 116 adults.

Researchers have also published studies showing MCTs may help to:

Still, research on a high scale is missing and existing data is not conclusive but promising. As with CBD, further research needs to be conducted on MCTs to cement their benefits in the world of science.

How much MCT oil should you add to your diet?

Don’t forget, MCTs are still fats. 1 tablespoon of MCT oil has about 100 kcal, same as any other oil. Even though it comes with added benefits too much of it can be detrimental for your waistline.

You need to consider that by adding MCT oil to your diet you are essentially adding fat and extra calories to your daily intake. To avoid this effect always replace an existing dietary item with a new one, like MCT.

So your total calories consumed are not going through the roof. Besides, keep your MCT intake low to moderate. High amounts of MCT could lead to fat buildup in your liver and too much too fast could lead to digestive issues.

How should you use MCT oil?

Due to its low smoke point, MCT oil should not be used for frying. Baking with it is only recommended in dishes involving lower heat. MCT oil is a perfect ingredient for warm or cold foods.

Mixing it into your morning coffee or adding it to a smoothie provides for a perfect start of the day. You can also add it to salad dressings instead of the normal oil you would be using.

MCTs also come in soft-gel and powder form. If you are short on time and looking for something on the go soft-gels are ideal as you can take them with you.

Oil might not mix as well when you are on the go or travelling so you might want to opt for an MCT powder. It’s easier to mix and has a creamier texture.

When buying MCT powder you need to pay careful attention to the label though. It can contain additives and fillers, even sweeteners. This is especially important when you are in ketosis as glucose sweeteners can kick you out of it.

Or you could get your next CBD oil with an MCT carrier and get both in one go.

Two spoons with butter and coconut oil, coffee beans on the side

The bottom line

Adding MCT oil to your diet and replacing some other fats may have some benefits with limited downside. If you are on a keto diet MCT oil should be a go-to staple in your cupboard.

As with any other substance, MCT oil is no wonder elixir. It could help you when added in moderation to your diet. But can also be harmful when consumed in excess.

Keep in mind that no matter how many supplements you add to your diet you will hardly see any benefits if your diet itself is the problem.

Is MCT oil a part of your daily diet? If yes which one are you using? Share your experience in the comments section below and don’t forget to sign up to my blog.

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