Harness the Power of Medium Chain Triglycerides for Weight and Fat Loss
MCT oil, or medium chain triglyceride oil has become hugely popular recently. Many people spoon some into their coffee every morning to help sharpen the brain or increase energy. But people also often use medium chain triglycerides (also known as medium chain fatty acids) as part of a weight loss diet.
Exactly how to use MCT oil for weight loss is a much debated topic. In this article, we’ll look into the evidence around MCT oil, how to use it, and how effective it is at helping you slim down and lose fat.
How to Use MCT Oil for Weight Loss: A Snapshot
Before going into detail, here’s a quick overview of how to use MCT for weight loss:
- Use a quality MCT oil that contains a high percentage of caprylic acid. Coconut oil is another way to get MCTs, but it contains a much lower concentration of this key MCT.
- A tablespoon of MCT oil with each of your three daily meals is generally a good daily intake. You can add it to your food or drink, but don’t use it for frying, as MCTs will smoke and burn at high heat.
- You’ll also need to include some longer chain fats (ex., from oily fish or nuts) to cover your essential fatty acid needs.
- More isn’t necessarily better when it comes to MCT oil. If your intake is too high (more than 100ml or 7 daily tablespoons), your weight loss could be hampered and your gut could become upset.
What Are MCTs?
MCT stands for medium-chain triglycerides — a type of fat that’s structurally differently than the long-chain variety that most foods contain. MCTs are healthier saturated fat that have a shorter chain of carbon atoms than usual. Butyrate isn’t widely found in food, but butter is a relatively good source.
The three MCTs you’ll come across most often are:
- Caproic acid (chain length: six carbon atoms)
- Caprylic acid (chain length: eight carbon atoms)
- Capric acid (chain length: 10 carbons)
Due to their shorter length, MCTs are more easily assimilated into the body than longer chain fatty acids (LCTs) found in many other foods. Digesting MCTs doesn’t require bile acids or the digestive enzyme lipase as normal fats do. Instead, they are water-soluble, which allows them to pass directly from the gut into the bloodstream and to the liver .
This makes MCTs an immediate source of energy for the body. It also means they are useful for people with fat malabsorption (identifiable by foul-smelling, pale, floating stools).
Fat malabsorption is often a feature in SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth syndrome), in which bacteria start to grow higher in the digestive tract than they should .
How MCT Could Help Weight Loss?
There are various ways that MCTs could contribute to weight loss. These include effects on satiety and cravings, hormones, and energy balance. For example:
- A 2019 study found that MCTs were more satiating than long-chain triglycerides (LCTs), especially when consumed in liquid form (ex., added to a shake), as they led to lower food intake over a 24-hour period .
- Another study found that, compared with LCTs, MCTs cause greater increases in the appetite hormones peptide YY and leptin, which in turn increase feelings of fullness .
- MCTs also have a lower caloric value than LCTs. Though we don’t recommend hyper-focusing on counting calories , calorie reduction can be important for weight loss. MCTs may help here, as they contain about 10% fewer calories than LCTs (8.4 calories per gram versus 9.2 calories per gram) .
- MCTs also increase the amount of calories used in the processing and digestion of food (so called dietary-induced thermogenesis, or DIT). A 2016 systematic review and meta-analysis found that meals containing MCT oil resulted in higher energy expenditure than those containing LCTs .
- MCT oil may also help keep the gut lining healthy and encourage a more optimal balance of good bacteria. This can also help with managing weight .
What MCT Oil-Related Weight Loss Does Research Support?
How do these theoretical benefits of MCT oil translate to actual weight lost in clinical trials?
A 2015 systematic review and meta-analysis showed that swapping LCTs for MCTs for three weeks or longer led to :
- A body weight loss of around 1 pound (0.51kg)
- A reduction of just over half an inch (1.46cm) in waist circumference
- Some fat loss from underneath the skin as well as around the organs
Another systematic review that also looked at the effect on weight and body composition of replacing LCTs with MCT found similar results .
In truth, these effects are fairly modest. The researchers also comment, in both reviews, that the results could have been biased because some studies were sponsored by supplement companies. Larger independent studies are needed.
Nonetheless, it seems that MCTs have a valuable edge over other fats when it comes to weight loss.
MCTs and the Keto Diet
MCTs, especially caprylic acid, have been shown to increase ketone levels better than other MCTs .
Keto diets don’t suit everybody but can often work for people who have concurrent weight and gut health issues that respond to a low-carb diet.
If keto works for you and is helping with weight loss as well as improving gut symptoms, it’s fine to stick with it and use MCT oil as part of your overall strategy. But if you develop insomnia, irritability, or fatigue, try something else. For example, a paleo diet or low FODMAP diet may suit you better.
Correct MCT Dosage
MCT oil is best taken at levels of around 1 tablespoon (15 ml) three to four times a day (i.e. with each meal). The maximum safe dosage is normally regarded as 50-100 ml per day (around 4-7 tablespoons) [3, 16].
However, MCT oil isn’t recommended as your only source of dietary fat. It doesn’t have the essential fatty acids needed for good health. You’ll need to include foods like nuts, avocados, olive oil, and oily fish too.
One way to consume your MCT oil is to stir some into coffee (or tea). Or, you could add it to a smoothie or shake. MCT powder, rather than oil, works particularly well in beverages.
MCT oil is also a great addition to salad dressings or drizzled over a hot meal. However, it isn’t good to cook with. It has a low smoke point and will easily burn. It’s virtually tasteless though, making it very versatile.
Choosing a Quality MCT Oil Supplement
The best quality MCT oils or MCT powders will likely NOT include lauric acid, as this doesn’t have the same benefits as the three other MCTs.
Caprylic acid is usually regarded as the most valuable MCT for health, as it is the most easily absorbed and best at increasing ketone levels .
To ensure quality, look for a product that:
- Indicates the percentage and type of MCT. Around 55% caprylic acid and 35% capric acid is typical, but 95% caprylic acid content may be ideal.
- Has a GMP stamp (indicating good manufacturing practices).
- Indicates where the MCT oil is derived from. Many people avoid palm oil, as palm oil production isn’t always sustainable and contributes to deforestation . If environmental issues are important, choose products that only contain MCTs from coconut oil.
MCT Oil Versus Coconut Oil
Sometimes, MCT oil and coconut oil get confused, but the two are not the same. Commercially available MCT oil is often derived from coconut oil (or palm kernel oil) but has a different chemistry from both.
All three of these oils will generally contain at least two of the three MCTs (caproic acid, caprylic acid, or capric acid), in varying amounts.
However, coconut and palm oil also naturally contain lauric acid. In fact, coconut oil and palm oil are both around 50% lauric acid, which as we’ve seen above isn’t as beneficial for health and won’t help keto dieters stay in ketosis.
It’s fine to consume small amounts of coconut oil as part of a healthy diet. But for weight loss specifically, as well as the more general health benefits discussed below, an MCT oil, with the lauric acid stripped out, is recommended.
Other MCT Oil Benefits
Studies show that MCT oil can:
- Reduce the rise in blood sugar by 45% after a meal. This has positive implications for people with, or at risk of, developing type 2 diabetes .
- Reduce insulin resistance moderately (whereas diets high in long-chain fatty acids may increase insulin resistance somewhat) [19, 20].
- Improve cognitive function modestly in Alzheimer’s disease patients [21, 22], and to a larger degree in people with diabetes and hypoglycemia [23, 24].
- Increase both HDL cholesterol and apolipoprotein A-1 concentrations more than diets rich in long-chain fatty acids (potentially cutting the risk of heart disease) .
MCT Oil Cautions
Now you know the basics of how to use MCT oil for weight loss, it’s important to keep in mind some potential downsides.
The main one of these is MCT oil’s caloric value. Though MCT is a “good fat” and has a slightly lower caloric value than longer chain fats, it still needs to be consumed in moderation, especially when your goal is to lose several pounds .
The maximum recommended dose of 7 tablespoons a day would provide 805 calories. For those who are trying to slim down, a lower dose of around half this or less may be much more sensible.
While MCTs are used as energy first rather than stored as body fat, MCTs will be stored as body fat when consumed in quantities larger than your body needs .
Of course, everyone is different, and you should figure out what works for you. But even though MCTs are tolerated much more easily by a sensitive gut than LCTs, there are limits. Excessive intake of oral MCT oil can cause abdominal discomfort, cramping, gassiness, bloating, and diarrhea.
A key way to tolerate MCTs well is to increase the dose slowly and to equally divide your intake across meals.
To recap, MCT oil can be a valuable addition to a healthy weight loss diet, particularly a low-carb one. It can help you to feel fuller and give you a small weight loss edge. MCTs may also help with gut healing and prevent the unpleasant fat malabsorption symptoms of an unhealthy gut.
If you are experiencing gut health and weight loss issues that you feel need deeper evaluation, you can sign up for an online or in-person consultation with me or another experienced functional health practitioner.
The Ruscio Institute has developed a high quality MCT product to help our patients and audience. If you’re interested in learning more about these products, please click here. Note that there are many other options available, and we encourage you to research which products may be right for you.