on June 18, 2019
Coconut oil is made by pressing the oil from a dried coconut. This results in a white oil with a mildly sweet coconut flavor that is solid at room temperature.
A tablespoon of coconut oil contains 120 calories and 13 grams of fat, fairly similar to most other fats. Coconut oil is solid because it is about 92% saturated fat. Saturated fats, like butter and lard, remain solid at room temperature, while unsaturated fats, like olive oil, are liquid at room temperature. Coconut oil is not a major source of carbohydrates, protein, vitamins, or minerals.
There are three main types of coconut oil you might come across. Not all of them are particularly healthy. These include:
Coconut oil is very versatile in cooking and baking. It can be heated to high temperatures, making it more desirable for frying or baking than other oils. Many food manufacturers have used it to replace other trans fats because it is fairly shelf-stable and doesn’t have the same negative health consequences.
Now for a bit of organic chemistry, I promise it won’t get too boring. All fats are a long chain of carbon molecules strung together and covered by hydrogens. The length of the chain and the bond between the carbon and hydrogen determine the type of fat it is.
Fats are organized by the number of carbons in a strand:
Most of the fat in coconut oil, about 42-53%, is a medium-chain fat called lauric acid. Lauric acid has 12 carbons. The rest of fats in coconut oil are other types of medium and long-chain fats.
But, there is some controversy whether lauric acid should even be considered an MCT. It doesn’t quite act like the shorter MCTs in your body. We will get more into the details of the shorter MCTs in a bit, but those with 6, 8, or 10 carbons are easily used for energy and not as readily stored as fat.
Whereas, lauric acid acts more like a long-chain fat in the body. It cannot be as easily used as energy and is usually stored as fat. Every two additional carbons on a fat molecule can slow down the diffusion and utilization rate by 100 times. Many argue that lauric acid is lower quality than the other MCTs for this reason.
Some manufacturers mislabel liquid coconut oil (sometimes called fractionated coconut oil) as MCT oil. But, this is not true MCT oil because it does not have a high percentage of the shorter MCTs (C8 & C10), it is mostly lauric acid.
There is nothing inherently wrong with lauric acid, however if you're following a ketogenic diet MCT oil is a superior supplement.
Just because coconut oil is high in lauric acid, it shouldn’t be discounted. It still does have quite a few research-backed health benefits.
As you can see, there are lots of benefits to adding coconut oil to your diet. But, the impact seen in most of these studies is likely due to the MCT content of coconut oil, which is where the real magic happens.
MCT, as we have discussed, stands for “medium-chain triglyceride”. These are fats that have between 6 to 12 carbon molecules per chain.
Most MCT oils contain two fats with 8 and 10 carbons called caprylic and capric acid.
MCT oil is liquid at room temperature and has no color or smell. This makes it easy to add to foods, since unlike coconut oil, it doesn’t add any significant flavor. Since it is liquid, it has a lower smoke point, therefore it shouldn’t be heated to a high temperature.
These fats are effectively used by the body for energy, as opposed to being immediately stored as fat. This makes them extremely useful for keeping a steady flow of energy for those following a ketogenic diet or who practice intermittent fasting.
MCT oil is a man-made fat sourced from coconut or palm oil. It is made through a process called fractionation, a fancy word for separation. This process separates the C8 and C10 from the other fats found in coconut oil. This will result in a liquid oil with no taste or smell.
Depending on the brand of MCT oil, the C8 and C10 will remain separated or be blended back together into a mixed product. The quantity of each varies depending on the brand.
MCT Oil is extracted from coconut or palm kernel oil.
Many companies label there MCT Oil as from coconut/palm oil. Make no mistake, a product labeled as coconut/palm contains mostly palm oil. Palm oil is much cheaper than coconut oil and as such the MCT oil derived from it is also much cheaper.
We strictly use coconut oil for our MCT oil two reasons:
First, it is a higher quality product. Years ago, when we sold coconut/palm oil MCT we noticed a much higher number of digestive issues with customers. The coconut/palm oil MCT Oil also tended to spoil easier. On paper the product is the exact same but it quickly became clear; coconut MCT oil is a better product.
If you've ever had one brand of MCT oil upset your stomach and no reaction to another brand this is likely why.
The second reason we switched our product from coconut/palm to strictly coconut oil is for environmental reasons. Palm production has lead to mass destruction of rain forests and it has destroyed most of the Orangutang's habitat. Coconut is a far more sustainable crop than palm.
Even if the label states "MCT oil from coconut" I would encourage you to ask the brand you buy from for documentation that confirm this. A reputable company producing MCT oil from coconut oil will have this documentation.
There are four main types of MCTs. They differ based on chain length. Each has its own benefits. The MCTs are:
Caproic acid (C6) sometimes called hexanoic acid has six carbon molecules. It has a very potent smell and may make an MCT oil taste a bit “off”. There isn’t enough of it in most products MCT oils to stand out, if there is any at all. Coconut oil is only about 1% caproic acid.
Caprylic acid (C8) has eight carbon molecules. It makes up about 12% of the MCTs in coconut oil. This type of MCT is most effectively used by the body to create ketones. It also has antifungal and antibacterial properties.
Capric acid (C10) has ten carbon molecules. It has antibacterial and immune boosting properties. It makes up about 10% of the MCTs in coconut oil. It is very effectively used for energy in the body.
Lauric acid (C12) has 12 carbon molecules and the major MCT in coconut oil. May help improve insulin sensitivity and promote weight loss. Found to be particularly beneficial in killing the bacteria that causes acne.
Most high quality MCT oils on the market only include C8 and C10. These are considered the “true” MCT oils with the most health benefits.
Thought coconut oil had benefits? Well, pure MCT oil has even more. Here are a few research highlights:
With all this research behind it, you can see how pure MCT oil has many more health benefits compared to coconut oil.,
MCTs are found in fatty foods. The highest food sources of MCTs include:
In terms of percentage of MCTs, the fat in dairy products is actually higher in C8 and C10 than coconut or palm oil. Of course the purest source of MCT oil is a pure MCT Oil.
A healthy diet can include both MCT and coconut oil. MCT oil, being a liquid, has a lower smoke point compared to coconut oil. This means it shouldn’t be heated to a high temperature. MCT oil is best used for drizzling over foods, added to coffee, or taken as a dietary supplement. If you want to use an oil for baking or high-temperature cooking, use coconut oil.
If you are looking to get into ketosis quickly or just need a boost of energy as you transition into a ketogenic diet, MCTs can help. It can also be used for sustaining your energy if you practice intermittent fasting.
If your goal is weight loss, stick with MCT oil. It will be most effective for energy, without being stored as fat. It may also boost your metabolism and help you lose more abdominal fat. Coconut oil has other fats in it that will not boost metabolism quite as much. MCT is also slightly lower in calories.
Both MCT and coconut oil can be used as a moisturizer. Coconut oil may be slightly easier to apply, since it is not liquid. Coconut oil is an effective treatment for diaper rash as well.
Both coconut oil and MCT oil are an amazing fat choice for someone following a keto diet. They provide the healthy fats that body needs to make ketone bodies.
Think of MCT as a more efficient form of coconut oil without any unnecessary extras. It cuts right to the chase by only including C8 and C10, without the lauric acid to slow things down. If you are starting keto, MCT is your best bet to help you transition to faster into ketosis with fewer energy slumps.