MCT oils stirred up interest as key components of "bulletproof coffee" — a blend of coffee, butter and MCT oil that's touted for its ability to increase energy levels, improve focus, decrease appetite and promote weight loss. But what are MCT oils, and is there any science behind including them in your diet?
MCT oil is a supplement made up of medium-length fatty acids known as triglycerides. These fatty acids are strings of multiple carbon molecules that can vary in length. In MCT oil, this carbon "chain" has between six and 12 carbons, thus earning its name "medium chain triglycerides (MCT)." For reference, short-chain fatty acids have less than six carbons, while long-chain fatty acids have 13-21 carbon atoms.
The buzz around MCT oils is largely due to the popularity of the ketogenic diet. This diet focuses on manipulating your food intake so that your body uses primarily ketones from fats for energy, rather than glucose.
Supporters of MCT oil argue that fats of medium-length oils aren't often consumed in the standard Western diet. These oils are digested differently than longer-chain oils. They go directly from the digestive system to the liver, bypassing the step where they may be stored as fat in the body. Therefore, MCTs can be directly consumed by your body as a source of energy.
Although there have been studies done on MCT oil as a supplement, the academic discussion of MCT oils is often directly related to the ketogenic diet. So far, these studies have suggested that taking MCT oil can help improve memory (particularly in Alzheimer's), weight management, energy and drive healthier levels of cholesterol and glucose in some people.
Studies have also shown that when MCT oil is consumed at high levels or as an exclusive source of fat, it winds up being stored in your body the same way other fats do. Just like any other fat, eating excessive amounts of MCT oil can still lead to weight gain and fat storage, digestive issues, and metabolic changes.
HOW TO USE IT
MCT oil most commonly comes as a taste-free liquid that can be added to beverages, smoothies, salad dressings or sauces, but can also be taken in the form of predosed capsules or a powder. Or add these medium-length oils to your diet from food sources such as coconut oil, palm kernel oil, and dairy products.