Over the past two decades, we’ve learned an enormous amount about the natural health benefits of various plants and broadened our understanding of nutrition and how it impacts our health.
Medium-chain triglycerides, or simply MCTs, have been in the spotlight thanks to the rise of coconut products and high-profile health and wellness influencers swearing by supplements such as MCT oil.
But what is MCT oil and why should you consider taking it? Here’s everything you need to know about this trendy dietary aid. And do talk to your doctor before taking any supplements.
What is MCT oil?
Medium-chain triglycerides or MCTs are fatty acids that are naturally found in coconut and palm oil.
MCT oil is a tasteless, translucent liquid that comes from a man-made process called fractionation, which involves extracting the MCTs from a natural substance such as the coconut oil or palm oil we just mentioned.
To understand what’s in MCT oil, it’s important to understand what fatty acid “chains” are. Fats are composed of both carbon and hydrogen, but they can either be classified as short-chain fatty acids or medium-chain fatty acids (or MCFAs) depending on whether they have more or less than five carbons.
The medium-chain fatty acids are:
- Lauric acid
- Capric acid
- Caprylic acid
- And caproic acid
This is important to understand because MCT oil can be a mixture of one or more of these four different MCFAs (again, extracted typically from coconut oil or another natural oil).
However, it’s important to know that MCFAs are also found in breast milk, butter, and various forms of dairy such as cheese, albeit in smaller quantities.
The benefits of MCT oil
MCT oil has several great health benefits that can make MCT oil a powerhouse health supplement (no matter how it’s consumed):
A great source of energy
Medium-chain fatty acids are broken down in the liver, as opposed to short-chain fatty acids, which are metabolized in the stomach via regular digestion. This makes MCTs both easily digestible and a powerful form of long-lasting energy for the body.
Because of the unique digestive quality of MCTs, MCT oil is a great supplement for those who struggle with digestive issues or who don’t have a gallbladder. It’s also great for improved fat absorption in rare cases, as it’s easier to absorb MCFAs as opposed to short-chain fatty acids.
Good for your gut
You’ve probably heard a lot about gut health recently. And that’s because we’re just now starting to realize how important it is. Well, good news, MCT oil is great for that as well because it has an antibacterial quality that allows it to clean out the bacteria that gathers in our gut.
Improved immune system
In addition to improving the digestive system and your gut, MCTs are also great for your immune system thanks to an antiviral quality that helps immune function.
Balances hormones and helps with weight loss
In addition to the already powerful potential health benefits listed above, MCT oil can help your hormones. The fats we consume help create hormones for the body, so the optimal nature of MCFAs can help those who struggle with proper hormone balancing.
MCT oil is also reported to help with weight loss and maintenance, due to MCFAs being more effectively digested than other sources of energy.
How to use MCT oil
MCT can be used in several different ways. Most notably, MCT oil is great when used as a cooking oil either as a salad dressing or in cooking things such as homemade mayonnaise.
MCT oil is also great as a topical treatment for the skin and other areas of the body and is popular as a makeup removal solution and in lotions and cleansers with celebrities. It’s also been used in personal care products such as hair care, salves, and even toothpaste (it can even soothe burns).
Ultimately, how you use MCT oil comes down to what you plan to use it for, whether that’s as a natural health, beauty, or personal care supplement.
Many notable figures swear by MCT oil in its various forms (often via coconut oil). Here’s how some use it and what it does for them:
In a recent New York Times piece, it was revealed that Alicia Vikander, star of the new Tomb Raider, used MCT oil to get her body into fighting shape for the film:
To play action hero Lara Croft in the new ‘Tomb Raider’ blockbuster, Alicia Vikander needed a strong physique to go with her badass attitude. A key part of her prep was reportedly a high-fat, high-protein diet.
She took in no more than 25 grams of veggies daily, and got most of her protein from seafood. But the cornerstone of the diet were the fats: MCT oil, avocado and coconut oil, her nutritionist Magnus Lygdback told PopSugar.
When sitting down with Glamour magazine, Paltrow detailed her many uses of coconut oil:
I use coconut oil a lot. I do on my face, on my skin and in my cooking. And I just started oil pulling, which is when you swish coconut oil around [in your mouth] for 20 minutes, and it’s supposed to be great for oral health and making your teeth white. It’s supposed to clear up your skin, as well.
In a recent interview with Dana Oliver of the Huffington Post, Miranda Kerr raved about the multi-faceted benefits of coconut/MCT oil:
I cook with it, use it in my hair, it’s great to remove makeup … really good for eye makeup if you’ve got sensitive eyes. If you have a burn, like if you’ve burned yourself with a curling iron, you can put a bit of that on there to help. Sometimes I sleep with coconut oil in my hair. The Clear Intense Hydration Mask, which has coconut oil in it, is good to put on the ends of your hair to smooth and keep nourished.
And in a recent interview with Vogue, Emma Stone mentioned her love of coconut oil as a beauty supplement:
I’m allergic to everything so I just use extra virgin olive oil on my skin because I know it won’t cause a reaction. At night, I take off my makeup with coconut oil.
What to look for when shopping for MCT oil
So, what should you look for when shopping for MCT oil?
While you can get MCTs from whole foods such as coconut oil, cheese, butter, yogurt, and even milk, it’s important to know that the amount is very low in each of those (highest in coconut oil, but it still only represents 15% of its total fat content).
MCT oil, on the other hand, is much more concentrated. But how do you know what to look for when buying? Here are some tips:
1. Make sure it’s organic and non-GMO
Coconut trees, which are ultimately the origin point of MCT oil before the coconuts are harvested and the MCT oil is extracted from them, tend to be naturally grown without pesticides. However, it’s still important to check that the MCT oil you’re buying is organic and non-GMO to ensure maximum quality.
2. Check the source
This may or may not be something you’re concerned about, however, while MCT oil can be made using both palm and coconut oil, palm oil isn’t sustainable and causes considerable damage to forest life. Coconut oil, on the other hand, can be sustainably produced. So, make sure it’s harvested from coconuts!
3. Check the exact MCFA combination
As we mentioned earlier, a big part of what makes up a particular MCT oil is how much of each of the four MCFAs (medium-chain fatty acids) it has.
The shorter MCFAs, including caproic and caprylic fatty acids, are the fastest absorbing and therefore generally the best for producing pure-burning energy for the body. However, the longer MCFAs such as capric and especially lauric fatty acids have some amazing additional benefits.
You can get a healthy amount of lauric acid from coconut oil, and it’s but better to focus on consuming the shorter MCFAs because you’ll get more of the potential health benefits listed above, so you’ll generally want to stick with an MCT oil supplement that has more (or only) caproic and caprylic acid.
Our top MCT oil supplement recommendations
Below are our recommendations for three of the highest quality MCT oil supplements available.
As mentioned earlier, while you can get MCT oil naturally from coconut and other products, a pure MCT oil supplement is much more powerful:
1. Sports Research Sustainably Sourced MCT Oil
Sports Research MCT oil contains the full range of MCFA’s including lauric acid:
- Sustainably sourced
- Vegan, ketogenic, and Paleo diet-approved
2. Left Coast Premium MCT Oil
Left Coast’s Premium MCT Oil is perhaps the highest quality of the recommendations listed (at least on paper) due to its independent quality testing and triple filtration process:
- Independently tested for quality
- Triple filtration process produces the highest quality pure MCT oil
- Ketogenic and paleo friendly
- Gluten free
- Produced and packaged in the U.S.A.
3. Viva Naturals Non-GMO Pure Coconut MCT Oil
Currently the most-reviewed MCT oil on Amazon, Viva Naturals MCT Oil is one of the highest-quality you’ll find anywhere:
- Derived entirely from coconuts
- Vegan and paleo diet approved
- Naturally Extracted and Sustainably Sourced
- Gluten free