With the ketogenic diet and “bulletproof” coffee all the rage, MCT oil and coconut oil have emerged as rising stars for their performance, weight loss, and brain-boosting benefits.
But here’s the thing: They’re different oils with lots in common, so they’re often confused.
So, which is better?
Today, I’ll look at the benefits, uses, and risks of MCT oil vs. coconut oil, and by the end, you’ll feel confident enough to choose your fighter.
Before we begin, let’s provide some context and talk about the Battle of the Healthy Fats.
What Is Medium Chain Triglyceride (MCT) Oil?
MCT oil contains saturated fats called medium-chain triglycerides – sometimes known as medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs). You’ll find MCTs in coconut oil, palm kernel oil, dairy products, and human breast milk.
MCT oil rose to popularity thanks to Dave Asprey’s “bulletproof diet” –basically the ketogenic diet by another name. It’s all about using healthy fats like MCT oil, coconut oil, and butter to produce ketones, or “clean” energy.
With fatty acid chains containing 6-12 carbon atoms, MCTs skip normal digestion and head straight to the liver where they are converted into ketones, giving your brain, muscles, and other organs a quick energy boost.
MCT oil is popular with low-carb athletes and fans of keto dieting. It’s also great for people with poor digestion and fat absorption. Plus, it’s flavorless and odorless, making it easy to sneak into smoothies, salads, and soups.
Types of MCTs and Composition
There are four main MCTs, each with unique benefits:
Caproic acid (6 carbon atoms)
Caprylic acid (8 carbon atoms)
Capric acid (10 carbon atoms)
Lauric acid (12 carbon atoms)
Most MCT oil supplements are made from coconut or palm oil and usually contain caprylic acid (C8) and capric acid (C10).
MCT oil is primarily a health supplement to support ketone production. People say it curbs hunger, sharpens the mind, burns fat, boosts performance, and even tackles metabolic syndrome.
Health Benefits of MCT Oil
Healthy fats are like building blocks for your cells, hormones, nerves, and brain. And MCT oil has some extra perks:
- Energy source: MCT oil is transported to the liver and converted into ketones, providing organs with a quick source of energy.
- Fat loss: MCT oil may aid in fat loss by increasing fat burning in the body.
- Cognitive function: MCT oil may give the brain an alternative energy source to glucose and enhance cognitive function, especially in Alzheimer’s disease.
- Immune support: MCTs – like lauric and caprylic acid – are known for their antimicrobial properties that may protect the body from yeast and bacteria overgrowth.
- Blood sugar regulation: MCT oil doesn’t spike insulin levels and may regulate blood sugar levels in those with diabetes and metabolic syndrome.
What Is Coconut Oil?
Coconut oil comes straight from the meat and kernels of coconuts. It’s been a staple in South Asian countries for centuries, used in everything from cooking to skin care. And let’s not forget its anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and metabolic benefits.
Coconut oil is solid at room temperature and contains 60-70% fatty acids, including medium and long-chain triglycerides (LCTs).
The star player here is lauric acid, a 12-carbon chain MCT known for its antimicrobial effects. Coconut oil also boasts caprylic and capric acid, antioxidants, and other antimicrobial compounds.
You can eat, cook with, and rub coconut oil on your skin – it’s so versatile.
It’s a popular cooking oil due to its delicious flavor and high smoke point. Unlike some other oils, it doesn’t burn and turn toxic as quickly at high temps.
When used topically, it moisturizes dry skin, supports wound healing, prevents infections, and even repairs dry or damaged hair.
Health Benefits of Coconut Oil
Coconut oil isn’t just versatile; it’s packed with health benefits.
- Antibacterial properties: Lauric acid in coconut oil has antimicrobial properties against harmful microorganisms.
- Cholesterol regulation: Forget the fear around saturated fats; coconut oil might be good for your heart by lowering LDL cholesterol levels and elevating HDL cholesterol.
- Oral health: Coconut oil may support oral hygiene thanks to its antimicrobial properties. Oil pulling, swishing coconut oil in the mouth like mouthwash, is an Ayurvedic practice to reduce harmful bacteria and improve overall oral health.
- Skin health: Coconut oil is a rich skin moisturizer that may protect against transdermal water loss and shield the skin from allergens.
Now, let’s see how these two stack up.
Comparing MCT Oil vs. Coconut Oil
Let’s break down MCT oil vs. coconut oil in terms of composition, health benefits, taste, and uses.
Comparison of Composition
MCT oil contains pure medium-chain fatty acids extracted from coconut and palm kernel oil. Typically, it’s 50-80% caprylic acid and 20-50% capric acid. Coconut oil, on the other hand, mixes medium and long-chain fatty acids, with only about 15% being MCTs. Lauric acid is the main MCT in coconut oil, but it acts more like a long-chain one.
MCT oil stays liquid at any temperature, while coconut oil gets hard and stubborn in the cold. Overall, coconut oil is less processed than MCT oil and contains other components.
Comparison of Health Benefits
Both MCT and coconut oil are healthy fats with some overlapping benefits.
MCT oil is a targeted health supplement for improving energy, performance, weight loss, and cognitive function. Coconut oil is like the Swiss Army knife of oils, great for cooking and personal care.
Comparison of Uses
MCT oil is primarily a dietary supplement, although you can cook with it if you keep the heat low. Coconut oil is great for cooking as it has a relatively high smoke point.
Coconut oil is more versatile overall because of its culinary, skincare, hair care, and oral health benefits.
Comparison of Taste
MCT oil is pretty bland. Coconut oil, unsurprisingly, tastes like, well, coconuts. I like the flavor and richness it gives my stir-fries, but it’s not everyone’s cup of tea.
MCT Oil vs. Coconut Oil for Ketosis
The “keto” diet has exploded in popularity over the last several years, promising benefits like weight loss, blood sugar management, and better cognitive function. The goal is to restrict carbohydrate intake and eat significantly more fat (both saturated and unsaturated). When you get this balance right, you enter ketosis and your body burns fat instead of glucose for fuel.
But here’s the catch: you’ve got to keep the fat coming to stay in ketosis. This is where MCT oil and coconut oil can help.
MCT oil is better for maintaining ketosis because it’s absorbed easily and converted to ketones quickly. That said, coconut oil definitely has its place in a ketogenic diet.
MCT Oil vs. Coconut Oil for Weight Loss
Fats for weight loss? Hear me out.
MCTs are unique as they stimulate ketone production and are less likely to be stored as fat. They may promote weight reduction with other lifestyle changes by helping your body dip into fat stores for energy. Plus, fat increases satiety and may reduce food intake, helping you maintain a healthy weight.
This study found MCTs may promote overall energy expenditure (EE) and fat burning in women with obesity. But it didn’t change body composition much. Still, a 2015 meta-analysis found that MCT oil lowered body weight, waist circumference, and total body fat – albeit modestly.
According to this systematic review and meta-analysis, coconut oil may reduce body weight, BMI, and fat mass %. But, again, the effects were minor.
Finally, this study found coconut oil was less satiating than MCT oil. So, MCT is probably better for reducing overall energy intake.
MCT oil wins this weight loss battle. However, losing weight isn’t about guzzling fats. You’ve got to watch your overall calorie intake. And don’t forget the basics: eat well, move more, and get quality sleep.
MCT Oil vs. Coconut Oil for Cognitive Health
Your brain and nervous system love healthy fats, and these oils deliver. Plus, they might help Alzheimer’s disease (AD) patients by boosting energy in the brain.
This study found that consuming MCT oil over 9 months resulted in an 80% stabilization or improvement in cognitive function. Another study found MCT oil significantly improved cognitive ability in people with mild to moderate AD.
Coconut oil also appears to improve cognitive abilities in Alzheimer’s patients, as per this study.
MCT oil might have the edge here, but both oils look good for brain function.
MCT Oil vs. Coconut Oil for Heart Health
MCTs are not like other long-chain saturated fats. They may be heart-friendly when used with the right lifestyle changes.
A recent study on folks with diabetes found incorporating virgin coconut oil decreased the “bad” low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol while increasing “good” high-density lipoprotein (HDL) levels. Plus, another study found it trimmed down belly fat in women (a risk factor for cardiovascular disease) without affecting blood lipids.
The research on MCT oil isn’t as promising. This study found it didn’t affect total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, or HDL cholesterol levels. However, MCTs may help with metabolic syndrome, a nasty mix of health issues like high blood sugar and blood pressure (1).
Coconut oil wins this round. But some experts suggest it only helps if your blood lipids are already within range.
Full disclosure: according to this 2020 systematic review and meta-analysis, coconut oil raises LDL cholesterol more than other plant oils. While the current orthodoxy says LDL is evil and causes heart disease, the truth may be more complex. There’s no time to discuss that here but check with your doctor to see if it’s safe.
MCT Oil vs. Coconut Oil for Physical Performance
MCTs are often marketed to athletes as a quick energy source during exercise.
A study found MCT oil increased swimming endurance in mice. But the evidence in humans is lacking.
There isn’t evidence that coconut oil supports performance.
The hype around MCTs for physical performance is likely just that… hype. However, MCTs may help if you’re already fat-adapted.
Comparison of the Risks and Potential Side Effects
Overall, MCT and coconut oil are generally safe when consumed in moderation. But chug too much, and you might have tummy troubles like diarrhea, nausea, cramps, or bloating – so be sensible.
Furthermore, the American Heart Association advises going easy on coconut oil if you’ve got heart disease or high blood lipids.
Talk to your doc before diving into either of these oils, especially if you have underlying health conditions.
So, which oil is better?
MCT oil and coconut oil both have unique benefits and potential drawbacks. Neither is inherently better – there is room for both, depending on your health goals.
MCT oil seems to have a more targeted effect on weight loss and cognitive health. It’s concentrated and provides quick energy, making it a hit with athletes.
If you want a versatile oil that’s delicious in cooking, great for skin care, and has antimicrobial properties, coconut oil is a solid choice. While not as concentrated in MCTs as pure oil, it’s got a lot of other stuff going for it and may have a more favorable impact on heart health and overall wellness.
My two cents? Use coconut oil as your primary cooking oil. It’s so much healthier than vegetable oils that damage easily. Then, MCT oil can supplement your diet to support weight loss, ketosis, or brain health (or just for some extra healthy fats).
What is the difference between MCT oil and coconut oil?
MCT oil is a concentrated source of 100% medium-chain triglycerides primarily used to support energy production. Coconut oil, on the other hand, has both medium and long-chain triglycerides.
MCT oil may support energy and weight loss, while coconut oil offers flavor in cooking and versatility in skincare.
What is the recommended dose for MCT oil?
There’s no one-size-fits-all dose for MCT oil. It varies based on your needs and health goals. A good starting point is about ½-1 teaspoon per day. You can gradually increase the dose in line with how you feel. If you start with too much too soon, you might be spending quality time in the bathroom.
In general, speak to a qualified doctor, dietitian, or nutritionist for advice on the dose for your needs.
How much coconut oil is safe to consume?
Most doctors recommend getting no more than 10% of your total calories from saturated fat, including coconut oil. But other experts don’t think fat should be skimped on. If you’re on a keto diet, you’re likely getting 70-80% of your calories from fat. So, it all comes down to your dietary approach and overall health goals.
I primarily use coconut oil for cooking, but I usually stick to a teaspoon or two a day. Chat with your doctor before adding more than a tablespoon of coconut oil to your diet.
Does MCT oil break a fast?
No. According to proponents of intermittent fasting and “Bulletproof coffee”, MCT oil does not break a fast because it does not spike insulin. Add it to your morning coffee for a quick energy kick without messing up your overnight fast.
Can I use MCT oil and coconut oil together?
Sure, you can supplement MCT oil and cook with coconut oil. Some people – usually on a keto diet – even blend both oils in their morning coffee or smoothie to double the benefits.
However, using both will skyrocket your daily fat intake. If you’re on a ketogenic diet, it’s no problem. But a high-fat diet isn’t for everyone, so keep that in mind.
Are MCT and coconut oil keto-friendly?
Yes, both are popular among enthusiasts for supporting ketosis.
Can I cook with MCT oil?
I wouldn’t. It’s more refined than coconut oil and has a lower smoke point. If you use it for cooking, keep the heat low to moderate. That said, you can still use MCT oil in smoothies, shakes, sauces, and salad dressings.
Does MCT oil have a taste?
MCT oil has a neutral taste and smell, making it an easy addition to your diet. Some people find it easier to take than coconut oil, which has a strong flavor.
Who shouldn’t consume MCT oil?
Individuals with liver conditions should be cautious with MCT oil because it’s processed via the liver. Plus, if your tummy is sensitive, it might cause digestive symptoms.
Furthermore, type-1 diabetics should avoid MCT oil because it promotes ketone production. Ketones are dangerous in type-1 diabetes and may lead to ketoacidosis (this is all kinds of bad). But this doesn’t apply to type-2 diabetics or regular healthy people.
Always good to check with a healthcare provider before diving into a new supplement.
Who shouldn’t take coconut oil?
Coconut oil is a no-go if you have a coconut allergy or fat absorption problems. And if you’re watching your cholesterol or heart health, chat with your doc first.