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MCT oil vs. Coconut oil: What’s the Difference?

MCT is an acronym for medium-chain triglyceride. MCT oil and coconut oil are becoming increasingly popular alongside the keto diet.

Although they have overlapping characteristics, both oils are made of different compounds with great uses and benefits.

This article gives a detailed comparison between MCT oil and coconut oil and is better for reaching specific goals.


What are medium-chain triglycerides?

MCTs are naturally present in many foods, such as palm kernel oil and coconut oil, plus dairy products like yogurt, cheese, and milk.

A triglyceride is made up of three fatty acids and one glycerol molecule. The fatty acids comprise carbon atoms combined in chains of varying lengths.

Dietary triglycerides are made up of long-chain fatty acids, meaning no less than 12 carbon atoms.

Contrastingly, MCTs have fatty acids of medium length, containing between 6–12 carbon atoms.

The difference in the length of the fatty acid chain is what makes MCTs unique. On the other hand, most dietary sources of fat, like avocado, fish, seeds, nuts, and olive oil, are made up of long-chain triglycerides.

Because MCTs have medium-chain lengths, they do not require the bile acids of enzymes for digestion and absorption than long-chain triglycerides.

Because of this, MCTs can move straight into your liver, where they undergo rapid digestion and absorption and are used for energy or converted into ketones. Ketones are formed from the breakdown of fat by your liver. Therefore, your body can use ketones for energy rather than sugar or glucose.

It is also worth mentioning that MCTs are not readily stored as fat and may promote weight loss much more than other fatty acids.

There are four main types of MCTs. They are listed below in order of fatty acid chain length:

· Caproic acid — 6 atoms of carbon

· Caprylic acid — 8 atoms of carbon

· Capric acid — 10 atoms of carbon

· Lauric acid — 12 atoms of carbon


What’s the Difference between MCT oil and coconut oil?

Although they share some similarities, MCT oils and coconut oils have some differences, such as the types of MCT and the proportion of MCT molecules present in them.

MCT oil

There is a 100% MCT concentration in MCT oil. So, MCT oil is a highly concentrated source of MCT.

It is produced by refining raw palm or coconut oil to extract other compounds and then concentrate the medium-chain triglycerides naturally in oils.

MCT oils contain an average of 50–80% caprylic acid and 20–50% caproic acid.

Coconut oil

Coconut oil is produced from copra, the meat or kernel of coconuts.

Coconut oil is very rich in MCTs — comprising nearly 50% of the fat in copra. MCTs are naturally present in coconut oil. They include lauric acid (42%), caprylic acid (7%), and capric acid (5%).

It is also important to note that coconut oils also contain unsaturated fats and LCTs.

Lauric acid is somewhat similar to an LCT due to its slow digestion and absorption. As such, researchers suggest that it is out of line to consider coconut oil as an MCT-rich oil, given its very high lauric acid content.


Benefits of MCT oil

  • Keto dieters widely use MCT oil. The keto diet is known for its low-carb, high-fat, and moderate protein content.
  • A high-fat diet and low-carb intake cause your body to switch to a state of ketosis. In nutritional ketosis, your body burns fat for fuel instead of glucose.
  • MCT oil plays a better role in ketone production compared with coconut oil. Fatty acids that promote ketone formation are referred to as ketogenic.
  • The proportion of ketogenic MCTs in MCT oil is more significant than coconut oil, which contains a very high concentration of lauric acid (which has the least ketogenic MCT).
  • It is also important to note that MCTs may decrease the time required to reach nutritional ketosis and its symptoms, namely fatigue and irritability, compared with LCTs.
  • It is also important to note that MCT oil aids fat loss by enhancing metabolism and promoting satiety (feelings of fullness) compared with LCTs and coconut oil.

Benefits of MCT oil

Coconut oil may not have the same weight loss or ketogenic properties as MCT oil, but it is beneficial in other ways.

Cooking

Coconut oil is excellent for cooking. Its high smoke point makes it very useful for pan-frying and stir-frying.

Smoke point is the temperature at which fat starts to oxidize, affecting the nutritional content and taste of the oil negatively.

The smoke point of coconut oil is 1770C (3500F), while MCT oil is 1500C (3020F).

Skincare and beauty

The percentage of lauric acid in coconut oil is high, making it beneficial for skin and beauty care.

For instance, lauric acid has powerful antibacterial properties that effectively treat acne in humans.

Coconut oil also improves the symptoms of eczema (atopic dermatitis), including itchiness and redness.

Coconut oil also has a hydrating effect on the skin. This helps in alleviating xerosis. Xerosis is a skin condition characterized by itchy and dry skin.


Takeaway

Both coconut oil and MCT oil are highly beneficial — but serve different purposes.

MCT oil is 100% concentrated with MCT and highly effective at enhancing energy production and boosting weight loss.

On the other hand, the MCT content of coconut oil is approximately 54%. Therefore, it is a very potent cooking oil and beneficial for various skin conditions, such as skin dryness, eczema, acne, and beauty applications.


References

Labarthe, F., Gélinas, R., & Des Rosiers, C. (2008). Medium-chain fatty acids as a metabolic therapy in cardiac disease. Cardiovascular drugs and therapy, 22(2), 97–106. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10557-008-6084-0

Schönfeld, P., & Wojtczak, L. (2016). Short- and medium-chain fatty acids in energy metabolism: the cellular perspective. Journal of lipid research, 57(6), 943–954. https://doi.org/10.1194/jlr.R067629

St-Onge, M. P., & Bosarge, A. (2008). A weight-loss diet that includes consumption of medium-chain triacylglycerol oil leads to a greater weight and fat mass loss rate than does olive oil. The American Journal of clinical nutrition, 87(3), 621–626. https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/87.3.621

Sankararaman, S., & Sferra, T. J. (2018). Are We Going Nuts on Coconut Oil? Current nutrition reports, 7(3), 107–115. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13668-018-0230-5

D C Harvey, C. J., Schofield, G. M., Williden, M., & McQuillan, J. A. (2018). The Effect of Medium Chain Triglycerides on Time to Nutritional Ketosis and Symptoms of Keto-Induction in Healthy Adults: A Randomised Controlled Clinical Trial. Journal of nutrition and metabolism, 2018, 2630565. https://doi.org/10.1155/2018/2630565

Nakatsuji, T., Kao, M. C., Fang, J. Y., Zouboulis, C. C., Zhang, L., Gallo, R. L., & Huang, C. M. (2009). Antimicrobial property of lauric acid against Propionibacterium acnes: its therapeutic potential for inflammatory acne vulgaris. The Journal of investigative dermatology, 129(10), 2480–2488. https://doi.org/10.1038/jid.2009.93

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