- MCT oil is immediately metabolized into ketones by the liver to fuel the brain and body.
- MCT oil is not stored as fat in the body.
- MCT oil may improve cognitive function and heart health, promote weight loss, reduce insulin resistance, and improve exercise performance.
- MCT oil can be taken in powder, capsule, or whole-oil form
- When starting out with MCT oil, begin slowly and increase the dose gradually to avoid gastrointestinal side effects.
- When choosing an MCT oil, look for one with a higher percentage of caprylic acid since it’s easier to absorb and has a greater ketogenic effect.
- MCT oil may not be appropriate for people with coconut allergies or sensitivities and those with uncontrolled diabetes or liver cirrhosis.
MCT oil has gained popularity with keto diet supporters and other health enthusiasts for its positive effects on cognition, body weight, and blood sugar. But MCT oil has been used clinically for years in treating metabolic and digestive disorders. In this article, we’ll discuss what you need to know about MCT oil including what it is, MCT oil nutrition facts, the research behind its health benefits, what it has to offer nutrition-wise, and how to add it to your daily routine.
What Are MCTs and MCT Oil?
Before diving into MCT oil nutrition facts, let’s take a look at MCTs. MCT stands for medium chain triglycerides, which are saturated fatty acids with 6 to 12 carbon chains [1, 2]. The three types of MCTs include caproic acid, caprylic acid, and capric acid.
- Caproic acid (6 carbons) is not a typical component of MCT oil. Its richest natural sources include butter and various types of cheese .
- Caprylic acid (8 carbons) is most abundant in coconut oil and palm kernel oil. It may be more easily absorbed, promote weight loss, and have more of a ketogenic effect [4, 5].
- Capric acid (10 carbons) is found in coconut oil, palm kernel oil, goat cheese, and butter) .
MCTs are naturally found in dairy fat, coconut oil, and palm kernel oil. MCT oil is a concentrate of MCTs. It’s available as a dietary supplement in the form of an oil or powder. The manufactured MCT oil found in health food stores generally contains 50% to 80% caprylic acid and 20% to 50% capric acid, derived from coconut and/or palm kernel oils . The MCT oil nutrition facts panel should list these percentages.
- Because they are immediately metabolized into ketones for use by the brain and body, very little of MCTs and MCT oil is stored in fat or elsewhere, which may help some people with weight loss goals.
- MCTs and MCT oil do not require bile acids and pancreatic lipase for absorption. This allows them to be more easily digested, thus bypassing fat malabsorption issues.
A note on lauric acid: The idea that lauric acid relates to MCT oil is a common misconception. While lauric acid, which is found in coconut oil, does contain 12 carbons, it is not considered a true MCT because it does not go directly to the liver via the portal vein. Lauric acid is not typically used in MCT oil preparations [8, 9].
MCT Oil Nutrition Facts
MCT oil is 100% fat, so it does not provide carbohydrate or protein. A typical serving size of 1 tablespoon (15mL) provides 14 grams of fat and about 130 calories.
What Are the Health Benefits of MCT Oil?
MCT oil has recently become popular with those following a ketogenic diet or other low-carb diet for its beneficial effects on weight loss and insulin resistance. But MCT oil seems to have a variety of other health benefits. Let’s look at some of the research on this type of fat:
- MCT oil may help improve cognition: MCT oil may improve cognitive function in patients with Alzheimer’s disease, type 1 diabetes, and hypoglycemia. Likely due to the fact that MCT oil is metabolized immediately to create ketone bodies for the brain to use as fuel instead of glucose. In addition, MCT oil has a beneficial impact on insulin regulation, which may have benefits on cognitive function [10, 11, 12].
- MCT oil may help with weight loss. Replacing LCFAs with MCTs in the diet has been associated with improved body composition and weight and fat loss .
- MCT oil may promote heart health. Several clinical trials have shown diets rich in coconut and/or MCT oil increase both high density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol and its primary protein component apolipoprotein A-1 when compared with diets high in LCFAs. Both HDL and ApoA1 are cardioprotective .
- MCT oil may help regulate blood sugar. It may reduce blood sugar fluctuations by 45% during meals , increase glucose metabolism by 30% [15, 16], and reduce insulin resistance [16, 17]. Insulin resistance happens when your cells can’t properly use glucose from carbohydrates for fuel. When your blood glucose levels remain high, you can develop diseases like type 2 diabetes.
- MCT oil may improve exercise performance. In one study, short-term intake of MCT-containing foods was associated with reductions in blood lactate levels and rate of perceived exertion in moderate-intensity exercise. It helped to lengthen the duration of high-intensity exercise when compared to the intake of LCFAs .
- MCT oil can benefit those with fat malabsorption syndromes. Since MCT doesn’t require bile acids or pancreatic lipase, it is more easily absorbed and can provide necessary fat calories for those who struggle to digest fat. However, MCT oil is not a source of essential fatty acids and can’t be used as the only source of fat. An essential fatty acid supplement is usually needed in this situation [1, 19].
Nutritional Use of MCT Oil
MCT oil can be taken with meals in powder, capsule, or whole-oil form. Since it’s unflavored, it’s easy to incorporate into your morning bulletproof coffee or a smoothie, but it’s also great in a variety of other beverages, soups, sauces, and salad dressings.
While you can technically use MCT oil in cooking, it’s not the best option. It’s expensive and has a low smoke point of 302°F (150°C) . When oils with lower smoke points are heated, they can become oxidized more quickly and create harmful free radicals.
How Much MCT Oil Should You Take?
Since MCT oil is a source of fat, large doses can create unwanted gastrointestinal side effects such as bloating, diarrhea, and stomach pain. If you want to try MCT oil, it’s best to start small and gradually increase the dose to prevent any of these side effects.
I recommend starting with a small serving size of 5 ml (1 teaspoon) in your morning coffee for a week or so and monitoring your symptoms. If you’re doing great, then increase by 1/4 to 1⁄2 teaspoon each week. You can gradually work your way up to your desired amount by increasing the number of doses per day, but don’t consume more than 1 tablespoon at any one meal or snack.
Adults can safely consume 15 ml (about 1 tablespoon) of MCT oil per meal with a maximum intake of 100 ml per day .
How Do You Choose An MCT Oil?
Choosing your MCT oil doesn’t need to be complicated. In general, you want to look for a product with a higher concentration of caprylic acid. It’s easier to absorb and it has a greater ketogenic effect than the other MCTs or coconut oil .
Most MCT oil supplements generally contain 50%-80% caprylic acid and 20%-50% capric acid from coconut or palm kernel oil . But, I recommend looking for a product with 95% caprylic acid.
Here are additional considerations when choosing your MCT oil supplement:
- Look for third-party certification labels such as the Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) stamp.
- Make sure there’s a detailed ingredient list on the MCT oil nutrition facts panel, so you know what you’re getting.
- If you are concerned about the use of palm oil, which has contributed to deforestation, choose MCT oil products that only use MCTs from coconut oil .
- The percentage and type of MCT should be clearly stated on the MCT oil nutrition facts panel.
Who Should Not Use MCT Oil?
There are a few instances where you’ll want to exercise caution when using MCT oil:
- Anyone with an allergy or sensitivity to coconut should avoid MCT oil.
- Those with uncontrolled diabetes or diabetic ketoacidosis should avoid MCT oil since it increases the production of ketones .
- Since the liver helps to clear MCTs, those with liver cirrhosis should use caution .
While MCT oil seems to be safe and to have numerous benefits in the recommended dose, there aren’t many studies on the daily long-term use of MCT oil.
Daily use of MCT oil for longer than six months may increase your serum triglyceride levels and decrease HDL levels . So, it’s important to work with your provider to keep tabs on your lab work.
Additionally, if you begin taking MCT oil and develop any symptoms such as itchy skin, hives, difficulty breathing, trouble swallowing, or unusual swelling of the face and mouth, you may be having an allergic reaction. You should stop use of the MCT oil and contact your provider.
The Bottom Line on MCT Oil
MCT oil can be a great addition to your healthy lifestyle, and it’s easy to incorporate into your daily routine. Remember to start slow and increase gradually to determine your personal tolerance.
Quality matters when it comes to all dietary supplements, so be sure to choose a high-quality MCT oil that has been third-party tested, stored appropriately, and one with an MCT oil nutrition facts label.
If you plan to use MCT oil daily for longer than six months, it’s a good idea to check in with your provider. For more personalized guidance, reach out to our functional medicine center.