The FYI on MCTs
You may have heard talk about MCT oil. But what the heck is it? And why would you want to add it to your diet?
MCT oil is made of medium-chain triglycerides, a type of fat. The oil is typically derived from coconut or palm kernel oil.
Some people claim MCTs can help you lose weight or perform better athletically. But the most basic reason that MCT oil is utilized in the nutrition world is out of medical necessity.
Here’s the scoop on this popular supplement, whether you should add it to your diet, and which MCT oils are best for your health needs.
Who does MCT oil help?
MCT oil is a boon for people with digestive issues. “It is needed medically for folks who have trouble digesting fat,” explains Joan Salge Blake, RDN, a nutrition professor at Boston University and host of the nutrition and health podcast “SpotOn.”
Foods like meat, fish, nuts, and seeds contain what are called long-chain triglycerides. The body breaks down these fats, but that process is harder for some people than others. People with Chron’s disease, for instance, often have difficulty absorbing fats.
That’s where medium-chain triglycerides come in. Digesting these is much easier than digesting long-chain fats. “MCT oil is taken up by the digestive tract easily because medium-chain fats don’t require bile or enzymes from our pancreas to be absorbed,” says Julie Stefanski, RDN, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
MCT oils can also be beneficial for people who need to add calories to their day, such as the elderly and those with a low appetite.
“They may also be helpful for people with seizure disorders,” says Lisa Young, PhD, RDN, author of Finally Full, Finally Slim. When MCT oil is utilized for a seizure condition such as epilepsy, the person will typically be on a ketogenic diet.
“For such issues, it’s thought that using ketones as a source of energy may help your brain function better,” she says. (Find out dangers of the keto diet.)
Stefanski works with seizure patients who benefit from MCT oil. “When people have been on a very high-fat diet for a long time, sometimes MCT oil is supplemented to help increase energy,” she says.
Benefits of MCT oil
Supporters of MCT oil may tout its benefits for weight-loss benefits, suggesting it helps them eat less. Research published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests that MCT oil may help reduce food intake.
And a study published in 2017 in Physiology & Behavior found that people who included 2 tablespoons of MCT oil with their breakfast ate less food for lunch than people who consumed the same amount of coconut oil or vegetable oil.
However, the body of research on MCT oil and weight loss is not conclusive. “I’ve not seen enough research to convince me on the potential fat loss/burning,” says Carolyn Land Williams, PhD, RD, a culinary nutrition expert.
And while other research suggests possible exercise benefits from consuming MCT oil before a workout, the research is very preliminary.
“A supplement claim that MCT oil may help one specific issue may be expanding the facts quite a bit,” says Stefanski. “Many studies on MCT oil and its impact have been done in animal models or used in very small human trials. You’re not going to see this info revealed along with the claims made by a supplement manufacturer.”
That’s important because while animal studies and small human trials are helpful, they’re more like a starting point than a definitive answer. Way more research needs to be done before experts agree MCT oil is beneficial.
Should you buy MCT oil?
So should you spend your money on MCT oil if you don’t have a medical need for it? It likely won’t hurt if you’re only consuming a little, but MCT oils are high in saturated fat, so don’t go overboard. Plus, they’re pricey.
“I would not use them unless it was medically needed,” says Salge Blake. “They are very expensive. There is so much research that supports that poly- and monounsaturated fats, when used in place of saturated fats, can improve your heart health. These fats are well researched and inexpensive.”
Other MCT oil cautions
If you choose to try MCT oil, add it to your diet slowly. “MCT oils are fairly safe but must be introduced gradually to reduce gastrointestinal side effects, such as vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal discomfort,” says Stefanski.
And add it directly to prepared food—think coffee, salad dressing, smoothies, or sauces. This is because it has a low smoke point—the point at which the fats in the oil start to break down. Oils with high smoke points are good for cooking, but those with low smoke points are better used cold. (See the healthiest high-fat foods you should be eating.)
How to choose an MCT oil
When picking out an MCT oil, Young suggests choosing an organic variety when possible. “These are best, as they are free from chemicals that can be potentially harmful,” she says.
Look for a glass or BPA-free plastic bottle to avoid possible contaminants. “Also choose an easy-pour bottle cap to avoid making a mess, as MCT oil is thin,” says Young.
MCT oils to try
Bulletproof Brain Octane Premium C8 MCT Oil
“I like Brain Octane from Bulletproof because it is sourced from coconut instead of palm oil, which is more sustainable for the environment,” says Caroline Thomason, RD, a registered dietitian in Warrenton, Virginia. Plus, this product is housed in a BPA-free container.
Natural Force Organic MCT Oil
Kari Pitts, RD, a registered dietitian at Preg Appetit, recommends this Natural Force oil because it’s made from cold-pressed virgin coconut and contains a full-spectrum of MCTs—including caprylic acid, capric acid, and lauric acid.
“This MCT oil comes in a nontoxic pure glass bottle and is third-party lab tested for quality and purity like heavy metals, mold, and more,” she says. “It has a very mild taste that blends well in beverages.”
Orgain Organic MCT Oil
“This is made from organic coconuts,” says Pitts of Orgain’s MCT oil. “It contains high-quality sources of triglycerides, including caprylic acid and capric acid, making it very effective. It is flavorless and odorless, which helps with the palatability of the product.”
365 by Whole Foods Market MCT Oil
“I like the convenience of this product and how it has a very short ingredient list,” says Elizabeth Gunner, RD, a registered dietitian in New York City. “I also love that there are different flavors available since I mainly use MCT oil to play around with various recipes in the kitchen.”
Nature’s Way Organic MCT Oil
“This product provides great quality for a lower-priced MCT oil,” notes Pitts. “It is made from organic coconuts and comes in a BPA-free plastic bottle.”
Sports Research Premium MCT Oil
Pitts likes this Sports Research product because it’s free from additive fillers, dyes, and flavors. “Its website provides meaningful transparency,” she says. “You can view the certificate of analysis of your products and track your lot number.” Plus, it’s vegan certified.
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