What Is MCT Oil? Health Benefits of MCT Oil vs. Coconut Oil
If you’ve had your nose in personal health and fitness recently, you’ve undoubtedly heard of coconut oil. Fitness gurus often preach about its diet and weight loss potential. It’s even backed by researchers and industry experts for its significant overall health benefits. Coconut oil is said to have many cognitive, heart, and digestive benefits due to its antibacterial, antiviral, and antimicrobial properties.
Lately, the tide has made a shift towards MCT oil, one of the best brain supplements on the market. The health benefits of MCT oil are numerous. It has become sort of a wonder supplement for those looking to maintain a healthy weight and peak cognitive function. There is a lot of misinformation circulating about various types of MCT oil, coconut oil, and the best types of fatty acids. While there are several forms of MCTs, they all differ regarding their effectiveness. Unfortunately, most coconut oil marketers treat them all the same. The failure to differentiate real MCTs on a coconut oil label can be misleading to the consumer. Today, we’ll explain MCT oil vs. coconut oil and put those marketing myths to rest.
What is MCT Oil?
The question we all have is, “What is MCT oil?” MCT stands for “medium-chain triglycerides.” But what are medium-chain triglycerides? The word “triglycerides” is another name for fatty acids. Often, when referring to the supplement, people use “MCTs” (medium-chain triglycerides) and “MCFAs” (medium-chain fatty acids) interchangeably. If we happen to use both, don’t be confused—they mean the same thing.
When we say “medium,” we’re referring to the chain length of the fatty acid’s chemical structure. All fatty acids are composed of connected strings of hydrogen and carbon. Oils can contain long-chain, medium-chain, or short-chain fatty acids. Short-chain fats have 5 carbons or fewer. Medium-chain fats have between 6 and 12 carbons. And long-chain fats have between 13 and 21 carbons.
The main difference between the chain length is that medium-chain fatty acids are easier to digest than long-chain fatty acids. The metabolization of MCTs is different than LCTs (long-chain triglycerides). MCTs do not require a stop in the liver before being converted into fuel for your brain. It also takes less work for the body to dismantle the carbon bonds of MCTs as opposed to LCTs. The ease and quickness of digestion allow the body to turn MCTs into useful energy for your muscles and brain much more quickly than LCTs. MCT oil can also help improve your mood and overall sense of wellbeing.
MCT oil benefits the body in many ways, as we’ll get to shortly. Unfortunately, most of us are dietarily deficient in medium-chain fatty acids for several reasons. The poor nutrition that accompanies the standard western diet plays a major role. The media-propagated narrative that all saturated fats are dangerous for your health is also a contributing factor. This belief may be the most widespread modern health and fitness lie of all time. Research has demonstrated that some saturated fats are essential for digestive health, heart health, weight management, and brain function. That statement likely flies in the face of everything you’ve ever read, but it’s true. Hence, coconut oil’s rise to fame by the research-backed publicizing of numerous MCT oil health benefits.
MCT Oil vs. Coconut Oil
What is the difference between MCT oil and coconut oil? Recently, science has drilled down into the specific fatty acids within coconut oil that provide the most significant health benefits. Coconut oil contains several saturated fatty acids, 62-65% of which fit the chemical classification of MCTs. However, highly concentrated MCT supplements have been growing in popularity as knowledge spreads that not all MCTs are created equal.
Here’s why: There are four total MCTs in coconut oil. Roughly 50% of the fatty acid in coconut oil is known as “lauric acid,” which is the least useful and most difficult to digest of the MCTs. The other three are known as caprylic acid, caproic acid, and capric acid (which we will cover in detail below). These three are the superior fatty acids. Therefore, only 15% or less of the MCTs in coconut oil are truly effective. Supplement purity is the primary benefit of MCT oil vs. coconut oil.
When you hear the claim that coconut oil contains 62-65% MCTs, know that 50% of coconut oil is lauric acid. In the US, MCT oil manufacturers can legally make a label claim that lauric acid is a type of MCT even though it does not behave like one. With that said, all of the cheap, abundant fatty acids in coconut oil are still beneficial for your health in some way. But the true MCTs are superior regarding their energy and cognitive benefits when compared to LCTs or pseudo-MCTs like lauric acid.
Although chemists consider lauric acid as an MCT, biologists agree that it behaves more like an LCT (long-chain triglyceride). LCTs are metabolized in the liver which means you are not greeted with fast ketone energy upon consumption as you would receive with MCTs. The body produces ketones when it uses fat for energy as opposed to glucose (more on MCT oil and ketosis later in the article). Chemically speaking, lauric acid is an MCT. Biologically speaking, it is considered an LCT.
When comparing coconut oil vs. MCT oil, they are very similar. Coconut oil is simply an excellent source of all four types of MCTs. Other sources of medium-chain triglycerides include whole milk, butter, full-fat yogurt, palm oil, and cheese. Note: That does not mean eating these foods in excess will lead to a smaller waistline or increased motivation and energy!
The other fundamental difference is that coconut oil supplements are all natural and contain all MCTs. On the other hand, MCT oil is manufactured to separate the medium-chain triglycerides from the rest of the fatty acids. The manufacturing process came about for one reason. If MCTs are the most beneficial part of coconut oil for mental and physical energy, then a more concentrated form containing pure MCTs will provide greater benefits. A purified supplement better supports weight loss and enhances physical performance.
Types of MCT Oil
Now that we’ve discussed the differences between MCTs and coconut oil, let’s discuss the main types of MCT oil. Of the list below, only the first three items behave as real MCTs. A true MCT is capable of bypassing liver processing to become quick and usable ketone energy for your body. That means fuel for the brain and fuel for the body without a delayed reaction. Much like carbohydrates, MCTs provide instant energy, only without the blood sugar or insulin spikes.
C6 (Caproic Acid or Hexanoic Acid)
Caproic acid contains six (6) carbon chains. There is a minuscule amount of caproic acid in coconut oil. It has an awful taste and can contribute to stomach or gastric problems. However, it still converts into usable ketone energy very quickly. As we know, quick energy conversion is one of the primary MCT oil benefits and is the reason many choose MCT oil over coconut oil. If your coconut oil supplement causes throat irritation, it could be due to excessive C6 that was not removed during distillation. Caproic acid works great, but it can be a bit harsher to consume.
C8 (Caprylic Acid or Octanoic Acid)
Caprylic acid contains eight (8) carbon chains and is the rarest 6% of coconut oil. The main benefit of this type of MCT oil is to help support a healthy gut due to its potent antimicrobial properties. Antimicrobial refers to caprylic acid’s ability to eliminate harmful bacteria without interfering with good bacteria. C8 is the fastest MCT to metabolize in the brain, and it bypasses liver processing entirely. Only three steps are required for your body to turn caprylic acid into adenosine triphosphate (ATP) as opposed to the 26 steps required by sugar. ATP is your body’s primary source of cellular energy, making quick energy conversion a crucial benefit.
C10 (Capric Acid or Decanoic Acid)
Capric acid contains ten (10) carbon chains and is approximately 9% of coconut oil. This MCT oil is a bit slower to convert into energy than C8, but it’s typically the less expensive MCT oil supplement. Caproic acid (C6), capric acid (C10), and caprylic acid (C8) are the only MCTs in coconut oil that bypass liver processing before converting into usable energy. Again, quickly processing MCTs into usable ketone energy is the name of the game.
C12 (Lauric Acid or Dodecanoic Acid)
Lauric acid contains twelve (12) carbon chains and is the most abundant type of MCT at around 50% of coconut oil. Compared to the other MCTs that we’ve covered so far, C12 requires a stop in the liver before being converted into energy for your body and brain. This delay accurately explains why many experts refer to lauric acid as a long-chain triglyceride, not a medium-chain triglyceride. The benefit of lauric acid (C12) is that it possesses strong antimicrobial properties to support a healthy gut environment, much like caprylic acid (C8). Lauric acid converts into monolaurin during the digestive process. Monolaurin is a vital substance for optimal function of your immune system.
C14 and Higher
The remaining fatty acids in coconut oil are LCTs such as oleic acid (C18:1), linoleic acid (18:2) and stearic acid (C18:0). The percentages of these fatty acids depend on several variables such as the harvest time and the region where the coconut grows. These LCTs are often available in other oils, and the benefit of additional supplementation of these is minimal at best. True MCTs offer more health benefits for physical energy, immune support, cognitive function, and focus and concentration.
MCT Oil for Weight Loss and Ketosis
What does MCT oil do for you regarding its additional health benefits? We’ve already discussed the potent antimicrobial, antibacterial, and antiviral properties of MCT oil vs. coconut oil. It turns out, MCT oil can even help with weight loss and ketosis, much like Alpha GPC
Once digested, MCTs have a thermogenic effect capable of improving metabolic performance. Unlike other fats, MCTs are much more likely to be burned for fuel than stored in the body as fat. Since unused energy sources (like carbohydrates) frequently get stored as fat, MCTs offer us a way to boost productivity while reducing the likelihood of packing on the pounds. They also have significant antioxidant properties that help heart and brain health. MCT oil can also prevent obesity by increasing satiety and improving appetite control.
One of the more popular diets out there is known as the ketogenic diet. Here’s how it works. The two primary energy sources in your body are ketone bodies and glucose. Most people burn glucose due to feeding our body a steady supply of sugar, proteins, and starches. When we fast or deprive ourselves of carbohydrates, the body turns fat into its primary energy source. The bodily state where we begin to burn ketones over glucose is known as ketosis. Ketones are comprised of fatty acids generated from stored fat or MCT supplementation. In addition to feeding all cells in the body, ketones are the most effective fuel for your brain. This efficiency is why MCT oil is an excellent supplement for weight loss, cognitive function, and ketogenic dieters. For brain function and athletic performance, MCTs provide many of the same benefits of Phosphatidylserine.
MCT Oil Side Effects
The side effects of MCT oil are very rare and usually minor in nature. The oral consumption of medium-chain triglycerides is safe for most people. If you’re using a high-quality coconut oil supplement, you should not experience any adverse side effects. When supplement quality is suspect, some users have reported nausea, irritability, stomach discomfort or gastric issues. These side effects are very minimal and would typically only arise in cases of low-quality MCT oil.
MCT Oil Dosage Recommendations
To assess tolerance, most users start with a one tablespoon dose per day, usually in the morning. For the vast majority of people, scaling up to 1-3 tablespoons per day should be no problem. If you’re looking to boost metabolism, maintain a healthy weight, or improve cognitive function, 1-3 tablespoons is the recommended MCT oil dosage each day.
Final Thoughts on MCT Oil Benefits
The primary differences between coconut oil and pure MCT oil is a frequently talked about debate. The truth is, both supplements offer remarkable health benefits. For the diehards out there who want the most purity and the quickest energy boost, the benefits of MCT oil outweigh those of coconut oil.
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