Quantcast

What’s the Difference Between MCT Oil and Coconut Oil?

Health + Wellness
Pexels

By Gavin Van De Walle, MS, RD

Medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) oil and coconut oil are fats that have risen in popularity alongside the ketogenic, or keto, diet.


While their characteristics overlap, the two oils are made up of different compounds, so each has unique benefits and uses.

This article explains the similarities and differences between MCT oil and coconut oil and whether one is better for reaching specific goals.

What Are MCTs?

MCTs, or medium-chain triglycerides, are a type of saturated fat.

They are a natural component of many foods, including coconut oil and palm kernel oil, as well as dairy products like milk, yogurt, and cheese.

A triglyceride consists of three fatty acids and a glycerol molecule. These fatty acids are made up of carbon atoms linked together in chains that vary in length.

Most fatty acids in dietary triglycerides are long-chain, meaning they contain more than 12 carbon atoms.

In contrast, the fatty acids in MCTs have a medium length, containing 6–12 carbon atoms.

It's this difference in fatty acid chain length that makes MCTs unique. In contrast, most dietary sources of fat, such as fish, avocado, nuts, seeds, and olive oil, are comprised of long-chain triglycerides (LCTs).

The medium-chain length of MCTs doesn't require the enzymes or bile acids for digestion and absorption that LCTs require.

This allows MCTs to go straight to your liver, where they are rapidly digested and absorbed and either used for immediate energy or turned into ketones.

Ketones are compounds produced when your liver breaks down a lot of fat. Your body can use them for energy instead of glucose or sugar.

What's more, MCTs are less likely to be stored as fat and may promote weight loss better than other fatty acids.

Here are the four types of MCTs, listed in order of fatty acid chain length, from shortest to longest:

  • caproic acid — 6 carbon atoms
  • caprylic acid — 8 carbon atoms
  • capric acid — 10 carbon atoms
  • lauric acid — 12 carbon atoms

Some experts define MCT fatty acids as those that have a length of 6–10 carbon atoms instead of 12. That's because lauric acid is often classified as an LCT because it's digested and absorbed much slower than the other MCTs.

Summary

MCTs are a type of saturated fat that is rapidly digested and absorbed by your body.

MCT Oil vs. Coconut Oil

While they're similar, MCT and coconut oils have many differences, namely the proportion and types of MCT molecules they contain.

MCT Oil

MCT oil contains 100% MCTs, making it a concentrated source.

It's made by refining raw coconut or palm oil to remove other compounds and concentrate the MCTs naturally found in the oils.

MCT oils generally contain 50–80% caprylic acid and 20–50% caproic acid.

Coconut Oil

Coconut oil is made from copra, the kernel or meat of coconuts.

It's the richest natural source of MCTs — they comprise about 54% of the fat in copra.

Coconut oil naturally contains MCTs, namely 42% lauric acid, 7% caprylic acid, and 5% capric acid.

In addition to the MCTs, coconut oil contains LCTs and unsaturated fats.

Lauric acid behaves more like an LCT in terms of its slow digestion and absorption. Thus, experts suggest that coconut oil cannot be considered an MCT-rich oil, as is widely claimed, given its high lauric acid content.

Summary

MCT oil is a concentrated source of MCTs made from coconut or palm kernel oil. MCT oil contains 100% MCTs, compared with 54% in coconut oil.

MCT Oil is Better for Ketone Production and Weight Loss

MCT oil is popular among those following a keto diet, which is very low in carbs, moderate in protein, and high in fats.

The high intake of fat and low intake of carbs puts your body in a state of nutritional ketosis, in which it burns fat instead of glucose for fuel.

Compared with coconut oil, MCT oil is better for ketone production and maintaining ketosis. Fatty acids that promote the formation of ketones are called ketogenic.

One study in humans found that caprylic acid was three times more ketogenic than capric acid, and about six times more ketogenic than lauric acid.

MCT oil has much larger proportions of the more ketogenic MCTs than coconut oil, which contains the greatest concentration of lauric acid, the least ketogenic MCT.

What's more, MCTs may decrease the time it takes to reach nutritional ketosis and its associated symptoms, such as irritability and fatigue, compared with LCTs.

Several studies have also shown that MCT oil may aid fat loss by boosting metabolism and promoting greater feelings of fullness compared with coconut oil and LCTs.

Summary

MCT oil contains a greater proportion of ketogenic MCTs than coconut oil. MCT oil has also been shown to boost metabolism and promote fullness to a greater extent than coconut oil.

Coconut Oil is Better for Cooking, as Well as Beauty and Skin Care

While coconut oil has not been consistently shown to provide the same ketogenic or weight loss properties as pure MCT oil, it has other uses and benefits.

Cooking

Coconut oil is an ideal cooking oil for stir-frying and pan-frying due to its high smoke point, which is higher than that of MCT oil.

The smoke point is the temperature at which fat begins to oxidize, negatively affecting the oil's taste and nutritional content.

Coconut oil has a smoke point of 350°F (177°C) compared with 302°F (150°C) for MCT oil.

Beauty and Skin Care

Coconut oil's high percentage of lauric acid makes it beneficial for beauty and skin care.

For example, lauric acid has strong antibacterial properties that have been shown to help treat acne in human cells.

Coconut oil has also been shown to improve the symptoms of atopic dermatitis (eczema), such as redness and itchiness, when applied to affected areas.

The skin-hydrating properties of coconut oil likewise make it useful for alleviating xerosis, a common skin condition characterized by dry and itchy skin.

Summary

Coconut oil has a higher smoke point than MCT oil, making it more suitable for cooking. The antibacterial and hydrating properties of coconut oil also make it beneficial for beauty and skin care.

Risks and Considerations

MCT oil and coconut oil are generally well-tolerated and safe when consumed in moderate amounts.

Excessive intake of MCT or coconut oil has been associated with stomach discomfort, cramping, bloating, and diarrhea.

If you choose to supplement with MCT oil for its ketogenic and weight loss properties, start by taking 1 tablespoon (15 ml) per day and increase as tolerated to the maximum daily dose of 4–7 tablespoons (60–100 ml).

You can mix MCT oil easily into a variety of foods and beverages, including hot cereals, soups, sauces, smoothies, coffee, and tea.

Summary

MCT and coconut oil are generally safe but can produce gastrointestinal discomfort if consumed in excess. The maximum recommended dose is 4–7 tablespoons (60–100 ml) per day.

The Bottom Line

CT oil and coconut oil can both be beneficial — but for different uses.

MCT oil is a concentrated source of 100% MCTs that's more effective at boosting weight loss and energy production — especially if you're following a keto diet — than coconut oil.

Meanwhile, coconut oil has an MCT content of about 54%. It's best used as a cooking oil and may be beneficial for a variety of beauty applications and skin conditions, such as acne, eczema, and skin dryness.

Reposted with permission from Healthline.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

A new study shows that half of all Arctic warming and corresponding sea-loss during the late 20th century was caused by ozone-depleting substances. Here, icebergs discharged from Greenland's Jakobshavn Glacier. Kevin Krajick / Earth Institute / EurekAlert!

The world awakened to the hole in the ozone layer in 1985, which scientists attributed it to ozone-depleting substances. Two years later, in Montreal, the world agreed to ban the halogen compounds causing the massive hole over Antarctica. Research now shows that those chemicals didn't just cut a hole in the ozone layer, they also warmed up the Arctic.

Read More
Diane Wilson holds up a bag full of nurdles she collected from one of Formosa's outfall areas on Jan. 15. Julie Dermansky / DeSmogBlog

By Julie Dermansky

On the afternoon of Jan. 15, activist Diane Wilson kicked off a San Antonio Estuary Waterkeeper meeting on the side of the road across from a Formosa plastics manufacturing plant in Point Comfort, Texas.

After Wilson and the waterkeeper successfully sued Formosa in 2017, the company agreed to no longer release even one of the tiny plastic pellets known as nurdles into the region's waterways. The group of volunteers had assembled that day to check whether the plant was still discharging these raw materials of plastics manufacturing.

Read More
Sponsored

By Simon Coghlan and Kobi Leins

A remarkable combination of artificial intelligence (AI) and biology has produced the world's first "living robots."

Read More
Malaysian Environment Minister Yeo Bee Yin (front 2nd L) and officials inspect a container containing plastic waste shipment on Jan. 20, 2020 before sending back to the countries of origin. AFP via Getty Images

The Southeast Asian country Malaysia has sent 150 shipping containers packed with plastic waste back to 13 wealthy countries, putting the world on notice that it will not be the world's garbage dump, as CNN reported. The countries receiving their trash back include the United States, the United Kingdom, France and Canada.

Read More
Trump leaves after delivering a speech at the Congress Centre during the World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos on Jan. 21, 2020. JIM WATSON / AFP via Getty Images

U.S. President Donald Trump dismissed the concerns of environmental activists as "pessimism" in a speech to political and business leaders at the start of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos on Tuesday.

Read More