As one of the key ingredients in the viral “bulletproof coffee” trend, MCT oil has become a well-known supplement in the wellness world.
While it’s most commonly associated with the keto diet, it’s quickly becoming a trendy ingredient in all sorts of eating plans. This is partly due to the widely published benefits of coconut oil, which is the richest natural source of MCTs.
If you’ve never heard of or tried MCT oil and are wondering what all the hoopla is about, you’ve come to the right place. This guide will explain what MCT oil is, its benefits, potential side effects, and how to incorporate it into your diet.
What Is MCT Oil?
MCT oil is a type of oil made by refining raw coconut or palm kernel oil. This process concentrates the MCTs while removing other compounds from the oils.
MCT stands for medium-chain triglycerides, which are fats found in foods like coconuts, whole milk, and butter.[*] “Triglycerides” is simply the technical term for fats, and "medium-chain" refers to the length of the fatty acid chains.
People often think MCT oil and coconut oil are the same, but this is not the case. MCT oil is derived from coconut oil and contains 100% MCTs, whereas coconut oil has an MCT content of about 50%.[*]
Benefits of MCT Oil
Thinking about hopping on the MCT oil bandwagon? These potential benefits might encourage you.
#1: Rapid Energy Production
When most fats are digested, they’re broken down in the intestines, circulated in the bloodstream, and finally metabolized in the liver.
In contrast, MCTs are sent directly from the small intestine to the liver, where they’re then rapidly broken down into ketones. Ketones are an alternative fuel produced by the liver when carbs are scarce.
Ketones provide near-instant energy to the brain and body, similar to how glucose from carbs does, but ketones are released in a far more sustainable, crash-free stream.
Note: Ketones are only produced when the body has a shortage of carbohydrates, such as on a low-carb, high-fat keto diet. If you consume MCT oil on a higher-carb diet, the MCTs won’t produce ketones, but they may still provide benefits like increased energy, satiation, and improved cognition (more on this in a minute).
#2: Reduce Keto Flu Symptoms
When a person drastically cuts their carbs, such as on a keto diet, the transition from burning carbs as fuel to burning fat is not always a pleasant one. Many people experience a cluster of symptoms known as “keto flu.”
Some research shows that elevating ketones in the early days of adopting a keto diet may help ease some of these uncomfortable symptoms like headaches and fatigue.[*] And as we just reviewed, MCT oil is great for stimulating ketone production on low-carb diets.
After getting over the keto flu hump, MCT oil is still good to include in a keto diet, as the MCTs in the oil travel rapidly to the liver for ketone production, providing quick fuel for keto dieters.[*]
#3: Fat Loss
If you’re looking to shed some pounds, MCT oil is worth looking into, as several studies suggest that MCTs promote fat loss.
There are a few possible explanations for this effect:
- MCT oil has been shown to promote the production of leptin and peptide YY—two hormones that promote the feeling of fullness.[*] When you feel fuller, you naturally eat less.
- Consuming MCTs appears to increase the rate at which you burn calories. This may be due to changes in the gut microbiome.[*]
- MCT oil increases fat-burning in the liver.
#4: Brain Health
Recently, there has been more interest and research surrounding the use of MCTs for brain health, particularly to prevent brain disorders like Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.[*]
One major study found that MCTs improved brain processing, learning, and memory, in people with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease. This effect, however, was only observed in people with a specific genetic makeup.[*]
Some other interesting studies on MCTs and brain health:
- Adults with mild cognitive impairment were far more proficient at paragraph recall after consuming a single dose of MCT oil.[*]
- An MCT keto diet has been proven effective for controlling epilepsy in children.[*]
- Adding MCTs to a keto diet improved behavior in autistic children.[*]
While some of these results might be due to ketone production, it’s important to note that MCTs can cross the blood-brain barrier, potentially improving cognition and brain function even when not following a keto diet.[*]
#5: Antimicrobial Effects
Certain types of MCTs (capric acid, caprylic acid, and lauric acid) have been shown to have antimicrobial effects against bacteria, yeast, and viruses.[*]
For example, MCTs have been shown in in-vitro studies to reduce the growth of Candida albicans, a common yeast that's responsible for thrush and vaginal yeast infections.[*]
However, note that most research on MCTs is based on test tube or animal studies. Human studies are needed to make more definitive conclusions.
Side Effects of MCT Oil
Fortunately, experiencing side effects from MCT oil is rare. The most common complaint is digestive distress (bloating, gas, diarrhea, etc.) due to consuming too much too quickly.
Very high doses of MCT oil (we’re talking 50% of daily calories) have been shown to increase liver fat in mice.[*] However, this hasn’t been tested in humans and, regardless, nobody would consume that much MCT oil anyway!
How to Add MCT Oil to Your Routine
When choosing an MCT oil product, select one made with caprylic acid (C8) or capric acid (C10), as these types are the most effective and tasty.[*]
To add this oil to your diet, start low and slow with one teaspoon a day and work up to 1-2 tablespoons per day. This will help you avoid stomach upset. Avoid consuming more than four to seven tablespoons daily, as this is the safe upper limit for bowel tolerance.[*]
Here are some ways to include MCT oil in your diet:
- Make a delicious salad dressing
- Add it to smoothies, soups, coffee, or other beverages
- Use it as an ingredient in keto fat bombs
- Drizzle it over any meal
- Consume it on its own
Note: MCT oil has a low smoke point, so avoid heating it on the stove or in the microwave.
You can also get a dose of MCT oil by enjoying pre-made foods that include it, such as IQBARs. IQBARs are keto and vegan protein bars with only 1 gram of sugar and 3 net carbs per bar.
In addition to MCT oil, IQBARs contain five other brain-boosting nutrients, including lion’s mane, omega-3s, flavonoids, vitamin E, and choline. Incredible support for your body and brain!
Should You Take MCT Oil?
From enhancing fat loss to supporting brain health to helping keto dieters maintain ketosis, there are many potential benefits to be gained from adding MCT oil to your diet. Just remember, add it in slowly to keep your tummy happy!