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How To Use MCT Oil For Weight Loss
This article has been written by experts and fact-checked by experts, including licensed nutritionists, dietitians or medical professionals. The information in the article is based on scientific studies and research.
It is designed to be honest, unbiased and objective, and opinions from both sides of an argument are presented wherever there is disagreement.
The scientific references in this article (marked by 1, 2, 3, etc.) are clickable links to peer-reviewed research material on the subject being discussed.
What’s the best way to lose weight?
Exercise. Cutting out junk and packaged food. Eating smaller meals spaced throughout the day. “Mindful eating.” Those are some of the methods that health professionals recommend for weight loss.
Atkins, Paleo, Keto, HCG, Mediterranean, Intermittent Fasting, Weight Watchers. Those are some of the most popular diets people find online, hear about on TV, or read about in magazines.
Garcinia Cambogia, Hydroxycut, Raspberry Ketones, Green Coffee Bean Extract. Those are some of the (often questionable) diet supplements that Americans spend millions of dollars on every year.
And then there’s MCT oil. Which of those categories does it fall into? More to the point, exactly what is it?
To answer the first question, you could probably put MCT oil into any one of those categories. It’s definitely a diet supplement. Many health and wellness experts certainly recommend it. And keto dieters often use it as an integral component in their weight loss regimen.
The second question, “what is MCT oil?” requires a more in-depth explanation.
Let’s learn more about this newly-popular oil – and the ways you can use MCT oil for weight loss.
MCT Oil: Where Did It Come From?
No, we don’t mean “where does it come from?” We’ll get to that. We’re really asking a different question: how did a relatively-unknown type of oil become so popular so quickly?
Some of the credit belongs to mid-20th century medical researchers. Some belongs to late-20th century athletes, trainers and dietitians. But perhaps the most influential figure in the emergence of MCT oil in popular culture – and especially in the “diet world” – is a man named Dave Asprey.
Here’s a brief look at the timeline.
- In the mid-1900s, experts first tried medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) as an alternate food source and supplemental treatment for epileptic patients suffering with some types of seizures. They worked well.
- In the 1980s, the use of MCTs came to the sports world. They were substituted for other types of dietary fats or oils, because it had been found that MCTs supplied the quick boost of energy needed in endurance sports.
- But in the early 21st century, everything changed. Dave Asprey, a marketer promoting a beverage he called “Bulletproof Coffee,” convinced a large number of people that adding MCT oil and butter to their coffee could help them lose weight. As it turns out, his timing was perfect. Bulletproof coffee became one of the signature beverages of the ketogenic diet, and MCT oil became a highly-praised supplement
Epilepsy…athletic endurance…weight loss. What’s the common thread?
To find it, we need to explain what MCTs are, and how they act in the body.
What Makes MCTs Unique?
Anyone who pays attention to nutrition and general wellness is familiar with fatty acids.
They are lipids (the fancy word for fats) that play important roles in a number of bodily functions. The two that are best-known, Omega-3s and Omega-6s, are known as essential fatty acids. Since the body can’t produce them, we have to consume them in foods or supplements. Both of those fatty acids play huge roles in fighting health issues ranging from cardiovascular disease to cancer.
Those aren’t the only two fatty acids we consume in our diet. Actually, all of the fat we eat is composed of fatty acids. They perform an enormous number of functions in the body; two of the most important are serving as the “building blocks” of cellular membranes, and facilitating energy storage.
Fatty acid molecules are usually joined together in groups of three – which is why they’re known as triglycerides. And those triglycerides are usually strung together in chains with carbon atoms attached to them; each type of fat has a different chain length. (Don’t worry, the hard part is over now.)
Most triglycerides have more than 12 carbon atoms in their chain, so they’re known as “long-chain triglycerides” (LCTs). But a few types of triglycerides have only 6-12 carbon atoms attached, and they’re called “medium-chain triglycerides” (MCTs).
The longer-chain triglycerides are so long that it takes a while for them to be digested after they’re consumed. MCTs, on the other hand, are so short that they don’t even have to be digested. They’re sent right to the liver, where they can be used to supply fast energy or for other purposes.
And now we can understand the reasons why MCTs turned out to be a valuable alternate food source for some epileptic patients. Their disease made it difficult for them to digest food, and MCTs didn’t have to be digested.
We also can understand why MCTs were found valuable by endurance athletes. They got a quick and effective energy boost from the medium-chain fats, and didn’t have to deal with potential health issues linked to traditional “carb-loading” (consuming large amounts of carbohydrates for energy).
But what’s the link between MCTs, weight loss and the keto diet?
MCTs and the Liver
The liver is ordinarily responsible for turning the carbohydrates in our diet into glucose (blood sugar). That’s the fuel that normally powers the body and brain.
But what happens when the body doesn’t get enough carbs for the liver to make glucose? That’s when things get a bit complicated.
Once all of its stored glucose (called glycogen) has been used up, the body begins to panic – and it enters a metabolic state called ketosis. At that point, the liver begins producing an alternate source of energy: molecules called ketone bodies, or ketones for short. The body and brain can function just fine on ketones when glucose isn’t available.
Now things get even more interesting.
We’ve mentioned that once medium-chain fatty acids are consumed, they’re sent straight to the liver. And guess what the liver produces when it breaks down MCTs? That’s right, ketones. So consuming MCTs can increase the amount of ketones available to the body when it’s in ketosis.
Bingo! We can now tie everything together.
MCTs and the Keto Diet
The reason most people follow a low-carb diet like keto, of course, is to lose weight. And the keto diet only works when you eat so few carbohydrates that the body is forced into ketosis. At that point, it’s forced to use ketones instead of glucose for energy.
What does that have to do with losing weight?
It’s simple. In order to make ketones, the liver burns stored body fat – the stubborn stuff that’s the major factor in obesity. The progression is ingenious: very few carbs…body enters ketosis…body burns fat to make ketones…weight loss!
But if fat-burning is the key to producing ketones, what role do MCTs play?
Potentially, a big one. Anyone following a keto diet knows that they can only lose weight if they “stay in ketosis.” They’re repeatedly told “Keep your carb consumption low, or you’ll be kicked right out of ketosis!”
And when the liver turns MCTs into ketones, that process increases the amount of ketones available for energy. The more ketones in the body, the easier it is for a keto dieter to stay in ketosis.
In other words, consuming MCT oil keeps the keto diet working.
MCT Oil: Where Does It Come From?
We told you we’d eventually get here.
As we’ve discussed, most fatty acids are LCTs. Just a few are MCTs. In fact, medium-chain triglycerides only occur naturally in a few foods; the most common ones are coconuts, milk and dairy products (even breast milk), and palm kernels (the edible seed of the palm tree). Those foods are certainly good for you, and they allow you to consume a small amount of MCTs. Concentrated MCT oil, however, is much more effective.
Obtaining MCT oil isn’t as easy as it might sound. MCTs are almost impossible to extract from dairy products. And both coconut oil extracted from coconuts, and palm kernel oil extracted from palm kernels, contain medium-chain and long-chain fatty acids. Coconut oil and palm oil provide some of the benefits of MCT oil, but MCT oil is vastly preferable.
That means there’s one more step for manufacturers to take. They extract MCT oils from coconut or palm oil by a process called fractionalization – which also allows them to separate the different forms of MCTs. The best MCT oil contains caprylic acid (with a chain of eight carbons) and/or capric acid (with a chain of 10 carbons). Caproic acid (6 carbons) and lauric acid (12 carbons) are usually removed to make the MCT oil more palatable and easier to digest.
OK, we now have MCT oil. What do we do with it?
How to Use MCT Oil for Weight Loss
You already know the #1 method keto dieters use to consume MCT oil. They blend it with black coffee, and grass-fed butter or ghee, to make bulletproof coffee. The butter provides some of the healthy fats that replace carbs on the keto diet, and the MCTs can help dieters stay in ketosis.
There are a couple of risks and side effects associated with this approach, though.
First, a single cup of keto coffee contains a full day’s recommended maximum amount of saturated fat, and nearly one-fifth of a day’s calories. That’s not dangerous. It’s just rather unhealthy. Two cups of bulletproof coffee, however, contain way too many calories and grams of saturated fat from a nutritional standpoint.
Second, bulletproof coffee is very filling, leading many dieters to skip the rest of their breakfast – and by doing that, they lose out on the important nutrients they should be getting from protein, veggies and fruit.
There are actually several better choices than keto coffee. One is to simply add MCT oil into coffee (or tea) without the butter or ghee. The other is to choose a ready-to-drink, keto-friendly coffee like Super Coffee, which comes with MCT oil already mixed in and contains much fewer calories and very little saturated fat.
You don’t have to drink coffee to use MCT oil, though.
Other Methods to Use MCT Oil for Weight Loss
The second most-popular way to use MCT oil is to add it to smoothies. Since it’s almost tasteless, it won’t affect the flavor. If you’re on keto, though, be careful to use only low-carb ingredients.
Another method used by many keto dieters is to mix MCT oil into so-called “fat bombs,” small keto-friendly snacks that deliver fat and sweetness in just a few bites. An underrated approach is to mix MCT oil into salad dressings or sauces. Once again, it won’t change the flavor, but it can easily replace olive or vegetable oil to deliver extra health benefits. But don’t try cooking with MCT oil, since it has a low smoke point and burns quickly. Use coconut oil instead.
Finally, there’s nothing wrong with just using MCT oil the way you’d use any other liquid supplement: right out of the bottle. Start with a teaspoon to see how you react (pro tip: don’t take it on an empty stomach), and build up to 1-2 tablespoons per day.
What about even more than that? The only documented problems come with consuming twice that amount every day, which could cause the release of hormones that make you feel hungry, and can even cause liver damage over time.
Using MCT oil is easy. But does it really help you burn fat and lose body weight?
MCT Oil and Fat Loss: The Evidence
There’s plenty of scientific evidence documenting the ability of MCT oil to help keto dieters achieve and stay in ketosis, and the fact that it provides a “robust” increase in ketones. Evidence also clearly shows that a strict keto diet can lead to rapid and impressive weight loss, as long as the dieter remains in ketosis.
Just as importantly, there’s evidence that MCT oil can help with weight loss even when users are not on a ketogenic diet.
We’ve already alluded to the fact that MCT oil makes you feel full; that feeling of satiety can stop people from eating too much when they’re trying to lose weight. Even more help: MCTs appear to induce thermogenesis, or heat generation in the body – helping dieters to burn fat and reduce their weight.
A related study showed that consuming MCTs increased the body’s energy expenditure in overweight men, leading to a loss of body fat. MCTs also appear to support gut health, and a healthy gut microbiome is crucial to weight loss efforts. Finally, MCTs are rarely stored as fat, meaning they don’t “add to the problem” when people are trying to get rid of excess pounds.
It’s quite clear that MCT oil is a useful addition to any dieter’s weight loss regime.
But, as Porky Pig might say…that’s not all, folks!
Other Health Benefits of MCT Oil
Once you’ve managed to lose the weight, there are still good reasons to keep using MCT oil; it’s just plain good for your health. Here are some of the benefits linked to the effects of medium-chain triglycerides.
- Type 2 Diabetes: Studies show that MCT oil can help lower insulin resistance, a major cause of diabetes, and that it helps diabetics keep glucose levels under control.
- Heart Health: Obviously, losing weight is a good way to help prevent heart disease. So is improving cholesterol levels, and research shows that MCTs appear to boost good cholesterol (HDL) while lowering bad cholesterol (LDL) levels in the body.
- Brain Function: MCT oil’s ability to help the brain goes far beyond relieving epileptic symptoms. Studies have shown a wide range of potential benefits provided by MCTs, from better cognitive function and memory performance, to helping those on the autism scale and those suffering with Alzheimer’s disease.
- Exercise Endurance: Since MCTs can be broken down quickly, they’re able to increase energy in those who are exercising and working out. They’ve also been shown to lower the body’s lactate levels; muscles produce lactic acid during strenuous exercise, inducing the cramps and body aches we’re all familiar with. MCTs can provide relief and help extend workouts.
Overall Health: MCTs appear to have antioxidant properties, crucial in helping to prevent damage to the body that can be caused by oxidation and oxidative stress.