Medium chain triglyceride (MCT) oil and coconut oil are fats that have increased in popularity alongside keto or ketogenic diets.
Although their characteristics overlap, different compounds are made up of the two oils, so each has unique advantages and uses.
What are MCTs?
MCTs, or medium chain triglycerides, are a form of saturated fat.
They are a natural component of many foods, as well as dairy products such as milk, yogurt and cheese, including coconut oil and palm kernel oil.
Three fatty acids and a glycerol molecule are composed of a triglyceride. These fatty acids are made up of carbon atoms in chains that differ in length, bound together.
In dietary triglycerides, most of the fatty acids are long-chain, meaning they contain more than 12 atoms of carbon. The fatty acids in MCTs, by comparison, have a medium length, containing 6-12 carbon atoms.
It's this variation in the length of the fatty acid chain that makes MCTs unique. In comparison, most dietary sources of fat consist of long-chain triglycerides, such as fish, avocado, nuts, beans, and olive oil (LCTs).
The medium-chain length of MCTs doesn't need the digestion and absorption enzymes or bile acids that LCTs need. This makes it possible for MCTs to go straight to your liver, where they are easily consumed and digested and then used for immediate energy or transformed into ketones.
Ketones are compounds that are formed when a lot of fat breaks down in your liver. Instead of glucose or sugar, your body may use them for energy. What's more, MCTs are less likely than other fatty acids to be processed as fat and can help support weight loss.
Here are the four forms of MCTs, from shortest to longest, described in order of fatty acid chain length:
caproic acid — 6 carbon atoms
caprylic acid — 8 carbon atoms
capric acid — 10 carbon atoms
lauric acid — 12 carbon atoms
MCT fatty acids are classified by some experts as those that have a length of 6-10 carbon atoms instead of 12. That is because lauric acid, because it is digested and consumed much slower than the other MCTs, is also known as an LCT.
MCT Oil vs Coconut Oil
Although they're identical, there are several variations between MCT and coconut oils, including the proportion and types of MCT molecules they produce.
MCT oil contains 100% MCTs, making it a concentrated source. It is generated to eliminate other compounds and concentrate the MCTs naturally present in the oils by processing raw coconut or palm oil.
Generally, 50-80 percent caprylic acid and 20-50 percent caproic acid are present in MCT oils.
Coconut oil is made from copra, kernel or coconut meat. It is the richest natural source of MCTs—around 54% of the fat in copra.
Coconut oil contains naturally occurring MCTs, namely 42 per cent lauric acid, 7 per cent caprylic acid and 5 per cent capric acid. Coconut oil, in addition to MCTs, contains LCTs and unsaturated fats.
Lauric acid is much like LCT in terms of its slow digestion and absorption. Experts therefore say that coconut oil cannot be regarded as MCT-rich oil, as is commonly argued, given its high content of lauric acid.
MCT oil is better for weight loss and ketone production
MCT oil is popular among those following a keto diet that is very low in carbs, moderate in protein, and high in fat.
High fat intake and low carbohydrate intake put your body in a state of nutritional ketosis, in which it burns fat for fuel instead of glucose.
MCT oil is better for ketone production and the maintenance of ketosis compared to coconut oil. Ketogenic is the name given to fatty acids that promote the formation of ketones.
One human study found that caprylic acid was three times as ketogenic as caprylic acid and six times as ketogenic as lauric acid. The proportion of more ketogenic MCTs in MCT oil is much greater than that of coconut oil, which contains the highest concentration of lauric acid, the least ketogenic MCT.
What's more, compared to LCTs, MCTs may reduce the time it takes to achieve nutritional ketosis and its associated symptoms, such as irritability and fatigue.
Coconut oil is better for cooking, beauty and skin care
Although coconut oil has not consistently been shown to have the same ketogenic or weight loss properties as pure MCT oil, it has other uses and benefits.
Due to its high smoking point, which is higher than that of MCT oil, coconut oil is an ideal cooking oil for stir-frying and pan-frying.
The smoke point is the temperature at which fat begins to oxidize, impacting the taste and nutritional content of the oil negatively. Coconut oil has a smoke point for MCT oil of 350 ° F (177 ° C) compared to 302 ° F (150 ° C).
Beauty and skin care
The high percentage of lauric acid in Coconut oil makes it beneficial for beauty and skin care.
Lauric acid, for example, has strong antibacterial properties that have been shown to help treat human cells with acne.
Coconut oil has also been shown to improve the symptoms of atopic dermatitis (eczema) when applied to the affected areas, such as redness and itchiness.
Coconut oil's skin-hydrating properties also make it useful for relieving xerosis, a common skin disorder characterized by dry and itchy skin.
To Sum It Up
Both MCT oil and coconut oil can be useful, but for various uses.
MCT oil is a concentrated source of 100% MCTs that is more effective than coconut oil in boosting weight loss and energy production especially if you are following a keto diet.
Coconut oil, meanwhile has approximately 54 percent MCT quality. It is best used as a cooking oil and can be useful for a number of skin disorders and beauty applications, such as acne, eczema, and dryness of the skin.