If you’ve jumped on the coconut oil bandwagon, you may wonder the difference between MCT oil vs coconut oil? Let’s look at each coconut product and learn the difference between and how to use them in the kitchen.
Have you hopped on the coconut oil train yet? If not, you are missing out on the many research-backed health benefits of this tropical treasure. You may have also heard of MCT oil; a 100 percent saturated oil fast becoming trendy in the health and wellness space. But what does it have to offer that coconut does not, or is the all-natural coconut oil enough? MCT Oil vs Coconut Oil: Which is better? Let’s take a closer look at both to find the answer.
What are medium chain triglycerides?
Medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), also known as medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs), are a unique form of saturated fatty acid with various medicinal properties.
Roughly 65 percent of the fatty acids found in coconut oil are MCTs. Recently MCT oil has been made available and is celebrating a rise in popularity because of its highly concentrated amount of medium-chain triglycerides.
Western culture is slowly recovering from what has been called the “saturated fat myth.” This myth led people to believe that all forms of saturated fat were evil. Sadly, because of this, the western diet was and still is lacking in healthy forms of MCFAs found in things like coconut oil, butter ( from grass-fed cows), and grass-fed beef. In addition, cheese, yogurt, whole milk, full-fat yogurt, and palm oil* contain MCFAs.
Traditional populations have been consuming MCFAs for a long time
Populations living in tropical regions have enjoyed a lifestyle free from many diseases plaguing people in the west. These include things like heart disease, diabetes, and even cancer. This blows the thought that “low fat” diets are healthy right out of the water.
What are medium chain fatty acids?
All fatty acids are comprised of strings of connected carbon and hydrogen atoms. Fats are categorized by how many carbons they contain. Short-chain fats have less than six carbons, while medium-chain fats have between six and 12 carbons, and long-chain fats (LCTs) such as omega-3’s have between 13 and 21.
Medium-chain fats are easily digested by the liver, where they have a thermogenic effect and can speed up metabolism. You may have heard that the fat in coconut oil is easily used as energy and not stored as fat.
It is far easier for your body to break the carbon and hydrogen bonds in MCFAs than in long-chain fatty acids. MCT’s are smaller and can enter cell membranes without any particular “unlocking” or helping enzyme needed for us to use long-chain fatty acids. The process of tapping MCFAs for energy is quite efficient and straightforward.
MCT Oil vs Coconut Oil…. And the winner is
Coconut oil is a rich source of MCFAs and lauric acid found in a mother’s breast milk. It is this substance that contains antioxidants, antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral, and anti-inflammatory properties. MCT oil is a highly concentrated form of MCFAs that is predominately MCFAs.
There are four different kinds of MCT oil depending on the number of carbons attached to fat molecules ( between 6 and 12 carbons). The MCTs found in coconut oil comprise 50% lauric acid, and a combination of the three other types is lesser amounts. MCT oil is made by extracting the fatty acids from coconut and palm oil. It is comprised mainly of caprylic and capric acid or a combination of the two.
MCT oil has risen in popularity mainly due to the “Bulletproof Diet.” This dietary approach created by Dave Asprey is a type of diet whereby you receive 50 percent to 70 percent of your energy from healthy fats, including MCT oil, coconut oil, and grass-fed butter.
The plan’s signature breakfast drink – “bulletproof coffee,” is a mixture of coffee, MCT oil, and grass-fed butter. This drink is purported to reduce hunger levels and fuel the body with healthy fats. Coconut oil is looked upon favorably by the plan, but MCT oil is the star, and the official Bulletproof site sells its own MCT oil, Brain Octane Oil. You can, of course, use virgin coconut oil in your coffee if you prefer.
Do you really know what is in your MCT oil?
One concern with manufactured MCT oil is knowing exactly what you are getting. To make a liquid MCT oil that will not solidify at cooler temperatures requires more refining than coconut oil. This leaves some questions as to its purity.
Some manufacturers will claim that their oil contains a higher concentration and more diverse MCTs than coconut oil; it could be because of chemical alteration. For example, there may be filler oils, including omega-6 polyunsaturated fats in the oil. Also, there are some MCT oils on the market today made using a chemical/solvent form of refining, which means using chemicals such as hexane and various enzymes and combustion chemicals.
Refined vs Unrefined Coconut Oil
It is essential to be equally careful when choosing your coconut oil. There are two main types of coconut oil, refined and unrefined. Refined oils are considerably cheaper than unrefined and do not possess a tropical aroma like the unrefined types because they use dried coconut kernels rather than fresh ones. Therefore, for cooking and consumption, always choose an unrefined type.
Coconut oil is processed using expeller-pressed or cold-pressed methods. Refined oils are generally made using expeller-pressed methods, which use a mechanical process to extract the oil from seeds and nuts at very high heat. Unrefined coconut oil uses cold-pressed techniques where temperatures are kept below 120°F. Because labeling laws are a little loose, it is important to research the best brand.
What MCFAs can do for you
Here are just a few ways adding MCFAs (found in both coconut oil and MCT oil) can benefit you.
- Healthy weight loss – MCFA help to make you feel fuller faster – this will keep you satisfied and may lead to weight loss and maintenance of a healthy weight. Research shows that substituting MCTs for LCTs can help prevent long-term weight gain because of their ability to increase energy expenditure and fat burning.
- Energy – Consuming a diet rich in MCFA will help give you a constant source of natural energy.
- Reduce stored body fat – MCFAs raise metabolic function, making it easier for your body to tap into stored fat for energy.
- Cognitive improvement and better mood – Want to think more clearly and be in a better mood? Consuming MCFAs helps clear out the cobwebs and allows for better cognitive processing.
- Tackle bacterial infections and viruses – MCTs are strong, natural antibiotics that can help keep healthy bacteria balance in the gut. They can tackle streptococcus, which causes sinus infections, food poisoning, and strep throat, staphylococcus, which causes food poisoning, and urinary tract infections; Neisseria, which causes pelvic inflammatory diseases, gonorrhea and meningitis, and other strains that cause candida, ulcers, sexually transmitted diseases, and stomach viruses.
- Helps protect the heart – MCTs can decrease cardiovascular disease and mortality risk by lower the risk of metabolic syndrome.
- Helps with digestion and the absorption of fat-soluble nutrients – MCT oil and coconut oil promote a healthy gut microbiome. This leads to a positive impact on energy expenditure and absorbs vitamins and minerals from food. Suppose you do not consume enough healthy fat. In that case, your body cannot absorb vital nutrients such as beta-carotene, vitamin E, calcium, magnesium, lutein, and phosphorus, no matter how well you eat.
A few additional perks of coconut oil
I love to cook with coconut oil because it adds a creamy, rich flavor to foods! Another great thing about coconut oil is its high smoke point, which can withstand high heat without breaking down. On the other hand, MCT oil is more refined, has a low smoke point, and is considered unsafe for high-heat cooking. Therefore, it is best to use MCT oil to add to smoothies, dressings, and coffee.
There may be a time for MCT oil
While you will get plenty of healthy MCFAs in coconut oil plus a host of other health-promoting benefits, there may be a time to utilize the pricer MCT oil. Mainly if you are following a ketogenic diet and wish to ramp up stored fat burning.
Be careful when shopping for both coconut oil and MCT oil. Choose only virgin cold-pressed coconut oil, and organic is best. MCT oil labels should clearly state the ingredients and processing techniques used. Cold-pressed and unfiltered is best.
Celebrate the benefits of MCFAs by adding rich and creamy coconut oil to your diet today with the occasional use of pure MCT oil! You will notice a difference!
*Palm oil is highly controversial due to how it is obtained. Significant deforestation and a loss of animal diversity occur in procuring the oil, and there are reports of unethical treatment of workers as well. Use only RSPO certified palm oil that uses sustainable growing and harvesting techniques and fair treatment of workers.
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Originally published April 23rd, 2019 and updated with new images on October 7th, 2021.