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Home / Nutrition / MCT Oil vs. Coconut Oil: The Differences

MCT Oil vs. Coconut Oil: The Differences

author avatar Dr. Eric Berg 09/12/2021

Both MCT oil and coconut oil are packed full of healthy fats and essential fatty acids. They’re both keto-friendly and have numerous proven health benefits, but what’s the difference? 

Let’s take a look at the differences between MCT oil and coconut oil. 

MCT oil vs. coconut oil

What are medium-chain triglycerides? 

There are three categories of fatty acids: short-chain fatty acids, medium-chain fatty acids, and long-chain fatty acids. These can also be referred to as short-chain triglycerides, long-chain triglycerides, and medium-chain triglycerides or MCTs

Medium-chain triglycerides are a type of fat that doesn’t need help from the gallbladder to be broken down. These fatty acids turn into ketones very quickly, offering immediate energy.

Structurally, medium-chain triglycerides are composed of two to three fatty acid chains and 6 to 12 carbon atoms.

There are four medium-chain triglycerides: 

Caproic acid (C6)

This medium-chain triglyceride turns into ketones very quickly. Although it has many health benefits, there isn’t much of it available in coconut oil to be extracted. 

Caprylic acid (C8)

Caprylic acid provides quick, stable energy and mental clarity. It also has potent antibacterial properties and can protect you against infections like strep and staph.

Capric acid (C10)

Capric acid acts as a powerful antifungal, and it’s especially effective against candida.

Lauric acid (C12)

Lauric acid makes up about 49% of coconut oil and has some unique health benefits. It’s one of the most powerful antibacterial/antimicrobial compounds found in nature. 

In the body, lauric acid behaves as an antiviral known as monolaurin. Monolaurin is great for the immune system and helps fight off viruses and bacteria like measles, herpes, staph, and E. coli. 

The key difference between MCT oil and coconut oil

The main difference between MCT oil and coconut oil is the MCT content. 

Both MCT oil and coconut oil contain medium-chain triglycerides. However, MCT oil is a much better source. MCT oil is 100% medium-chain fatty acids, whereas coconut oil is only about 50%.

palmitic acid and linoleic acid

The benefits of MCT oil

MCT oil, also known as medium-chain triglyceride oil, is 100% medium-chain triglycerides. It’s made up of 50 to 80% caprylic acid and 20 to 50% capric acid. 

MCT oil is extracted from either coconut oil or palm oil. There are also medium-chain triglycerides in dairy products like butter, although they aren’t common sources of MCT oil.

MCT oil is popular as a dietary supplement and can be added to coffee and salad dressings or consumed straight with a spoon. Let’s explore some of the health benefits of MCT oil.

Increases energy production

Because MCT oil is rapidly digested, ketone production occurs incredibly fast. It goes through the stomach, bypasses the gallbladder, and goes straight to the small intestine. 

MCT oil is then absorbed into the lymphatic system, transported to the liver, and immediately converted into ketones. This provides the body with an immediate, efficient source of energy but will also help improve sleep.

Brain support 

MCT oil supports brain function, so it’s a great option for students, writers, and even athletes. It increases cognitive function and brain energy, so it’s especially useful if you need to focus for long periods of time. 

MCT oil has even been shown to improve symptoms of epilepsy, seizures, and autism. If you have any brain or heart problems, medium-chain triglycerides may help. MCTs have the unique ability to bypass damaged pathways and fuel the cells of the brain and heart. 

Helps you lose weight

If you’re just starting a keto diet, MCT oil can boost fat loss by reducing your appetite and helping you go longer between meals, especially if you’re also doing intermittent fasting. 

MCT oil does not get stored as body fat because it’s quickly converted into energy. It can suppress fat accumulation and decrease your cravings for carbs. MCTs can also speed up your metabolism!

Promotes healthy blood sugar levels

MCT oil is composed of saturated fat, so it doesn’t spike insulin. This makes it an excellent choice if you have insulin resistance. It also won’t interfere with fasting since it has a very minimal effect on insulin. 

Not only does MCT oil prevent insulin spikes, but it also promotes healthy blood sugar, making it a great option for people with diabetes or other blood sugar issues.

Great source of antioxidants

MCT oil contains antioxidant compounds and also helps you better absorb fat-soluble vitamins. 

Option after gallbladder removal

MCT oil is an excellent way to get your dietary fats, even if you’ve had your gallbladder removed. You don’t need bile acids to digest MCT oils, so this is a great option for people who have no gallbladder, gallbladder issues, or even liver issues. 

Be sure to introduce MCT oil into your diet gradually. Too much MCT oil too quickly can cause digestive problems. It can also have a laxative effect in the beginning. Try starting with around half a teaspoon, working up towards a tablespoon or more per day. 

coconut oil consumption

The benefits of coconut oil

Coconut oil is made from the meat of mature coconuts that is cold-pressed into an oil. It contains medium-chain triglycerides, but significantly less than pure MCT oil. Coconut oil is 54% MCTs—7% caprylic acid, 5% capric acid, and 42% lauric acid. 

Coconut oil is also 45% long-chain triglycerides, so it takes longer to digest than MCT oil. Long-chain triglycerides require the help of bile for digestion.  

Let’s take a look at some of the benefits of coconut oil.

Brain health

Like MCT oil, coconut oil is excellent for cognitive function. Although coconut oil takes longer to turn into ketones, it is still a rich source of saturated fats and MCTs. 

MCTs in coconut oil are turned into ketones and help protect your brain from stress. Coconut oil can be beneficial for people who have dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Excellent cooking oil

Coconut oil has a high smoke point, so it's a great option for cooking. It can be used in place of butter, shortening, olive oil, or other vegetable oils. 

Coconut oil is also a great addition to keto-friendly fat bombs to satisfy dessert cravings without spiking insulin.

Saturated fat 

Coconut oil is about 90% saturated fat and has been shown to significantly increase HDL cholesterol, or “good” cholesterol. Cholesterol is necessary for important bodily functions like hormone production and proper brain function. 

Check out this fascinating study showing that not only does dietary coconut oil increase HDL cholesterol, it actually reduces the risk for cardiovascular disease. 

Antibacterial properties

Coconut oil is rich in lauric acid, caprylic acid, and capric acid. These fatty acids have antimicrobial, antibacterial, and antifungal properties

Immune support

Lauric acid is a precursor to monolaurin, which has unique antiviral properties. Monolaurin has the capacity to dismantle and destroy the lipid bilayer of certain viruses. This is excellent for your immune system.

Dental benefits

Coconut oil has been shown to decrease plaque and alleviate symptoms of gingivitis. When used for oil pulling, it can whiten teeth, freshen breath, and remove oral bacteria. 

Oil pulling involves swishing coconut oil around in the mouth as if it were mouthwash. MCT oil is excellent for oil pulling.

Beauty benefits

Coconut oil has been added to many popular beauty products and even acts alone as an excellent moisturizer for the skin. Coconut oil can also help improve skin conditions like eczema and strengthen and moisturize your hair.

Why you need healthy fats on keto

When you start a keto diet, the ultimate goal is to get into a state of ketosis or fat-burning. A ketogenic diet greatly reduces your carbohydrate intake and increases your intake of both saturated and unsaturated fats. Once you’re in ketosis, your body will no longer rely on carbs and sugar for fuel—you’ll rely on fat.

Because fat is your new fuel source, you’ll need to greatly increase your intake to produce enough ketones. 

Ketones have antioxidative and anti-inflammatory effects on the body—so not only will you look better, but you’ll also feel better.

Coconut oil and MCT oil can provide your body with more ketones as you adapt to ketosis. MCT oil is a better source of readily available ketones because it is digested and turned into ketones much more quickly than coconut oil. Coconut milk is keto-friendly and also an excellent source of ketones.

Healthy oils for cooking

Key takeaways

While MCT oil and coconut oil both have unique properties and health benefits, the key difference lies in their composition. 

MCT oil provides an immediate source of energy that is quickly absorbed and turned into ketones. Coconut oil has both medium-chain triglycerides and long-chain triglycerides, so it takes more time to digest.

MCT oil can be broken down without bile, while coconut oil requires bile and enzymes for proper breakdown and utilization. Both oils provide unsaturated and saturated fats for ketone production. 

Switching to ketones for fuel rather than sugar can improve your health, weight, and body composition. Try adding MCT oil and coconut oil to your diet today and see how they work for you!

FAQ

1. What is medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) oil?

MCT oil is an oil extracted from either coconut oil or palm oil. It’s composed of 100% medium-chain fatty acids or triglycerides. 

2. Is MCT oil the same as coconut oil?

MCT oil is typically made from coconut oil, so they are not the same thing. MCT oil can also be made from palm oil. They are both rich in saturated fats and antioxidants and have many potential health benefits.

3. Is MCT oil coconut-free?

MCT oil can be coconut-free if it’s derived from palm oil instead of coconut oil.

4. Can coconut oil replace MCT oil?

Coconut oil and MCT oil each have a place in a healthy diet. Coconut oil can replace MCT oil if MCT oil causes you digestive upset. You can also get the benefits of medium-chain fatty acids by consuming coconut oil.

5. What is the healthiest cooking oil?

Virgin coconut oil is an excellent option for cooking due to its high smoke point. Extra virgin olive oil is a great choice as well. MCT oil is better added to foods or taken as a supplement rather than a cooking oil because of its low smoke point.

6. Which is better, MCT oil or coconut oil?

MCT oil and coconut oil are both healthy, keto-friendly oils. Coconut oil is better for cooking, and MCT oil is better for quick energy production. Both oils offer numerous health benefits and are an excellent source of healthy fat.

7. Is MCT oil healthy?

Yes! MCT oil offers the body 100% medium-chain fatty acids that can be used immediately to produce ketones. MCT oil is an excellent option if you’ve had your gallbladder removed because it does not require bile to be broken down and turned into ketones. MCT oil is also helpful if you have liver issues or low bile.

8. Can I cook with coconut oil? 

Coconut oil is an excellent oil to cook with. It has a high smoke point and can be used to fry or sauté just about anything.

9. Is coconut oil healthy? 

Coconut oil is incredibly healthy and is rich in both MCT fatty acids and long-chain fatty acids. It’s an excellent source of lauric acid, which has natural antiviral and antimicrobial properties. Lauric acid is also found in human breast milk.

10. Does MCT oil and coconut oil come from the same source?

Sometimes. If the MCT oil is derived from coconut oil, then they both come from coconuts. MCT oil is sometimes derived from palm oil or a combination of coconut and palm oil. 

11. Can I have MCT oil if I’m allergic to coconut?

As long as it’s derived from palm oil, you can have MCT oil if you’re allergic to coconut. 

12. What are the benefits of MCT oil?

MCT oil has numerous proven health benefits! It can help boost your energy, support fat loss, and act as a natural antibacterial and antimicrobial.

13. Can I have MCT oil while fasting? 

Absolutely. Minimal amounts of MCT oil will not break your fast because it doesn’t spike insulin. MCT oil can help you feel full between meals while you’re fasting. 

14. Will coconut oil break a fast? 

Yes, coconut oil will break your fast. MCT oil is a much better option when fasting!

15. What’s the difference between virgin coconut oil and refined coconut oil?

Refined coconut oil has been heated and has a milder flavor than virgin coconut oil, so it’s a good option if you don’t like coconut flavor. Virgin coconut oil has been minimally processed, so it retains most of its micronutrients and antibacterial properties.

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