Whether MCT oil is a staple in your diet (keto followers, looking at you) or you’ve just stumbled upon it in a smoothie recipe or two, chances are you’ve had *some* type of interaction with this buzzy supplement. But no matter your exposure to it, the fact remains that, for those who aren’t highly tapped into the nutrition world, MCT oil and its benefits, use, and what it even is can be a little fuzzy.
But first, what it actually is: “Medium chain triglycerides (MCT) are fats, specifically, triglycerides, and are found in foods such as dairy products, coconuts, or palm kernel oil,” Maya Feller, MS, RD, CDN of Brooklyn-based Maya Feller Nutrition, tells TZR over email. “The chemical structure of all triglycerides is a glycerol molecule and three fatty acids. MCTs are medium-chain fatty acids that have 6-12 carbon atoms.”
Yes, that’s all pretty technical — but essentially, as Feller explains, these fatty chains assist our bodies in storing energy and transporting nutrients. “The shorter the chain of the fatty acid, the easier it is for the body to break them down,” she continues. “In fact, MCTs are readily absorbed by the body and can be available for immediate use.”
As for how that plays out in terms of benefits? Well, in some cases, it’s not totally clear yet. “There have been a number of smaller studies where MCT oil has been researched in relation to its possible involvement in weight loss, blood sugar management, and reducing cardiovascular disease,” says Feller. “Varying doses have been provided; however, further long-term larger-scale research is needed to investigate any long-term health benefits.”
Seattle-based registered dietitian Ginger Hultin, Spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and owner of ChampagneNutrition, says that as a dietitian, she’s mostly used MCTs clinically: “It’s helpful for those who have problems digesting and absorbing the food they eat and it’s also a great, dense source of added calories that I use when people need to gain weight.” Additionally, she says, MCT oil can be beneficial for people who need to be in ketosis for medical reasons, such as cancer or epilepsy.
Of course, if you’re here, there’s a chance you’re interested in MCT oil because it’s a popular part of the the ketogenic diet, a high-fat, low-carb diet that’s exploded in popularity the past couple of years. “MCTs can be easily converted to ‘ketones,’ so taking MCT oil can help some people stay in ketosis more easily because it can actually help increase ketone production,” explains Hultin.
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But again, it’s important to know that there’s no one conclusive finding on the outcome of consuming it for this reason. “There’s a lot of excitement about using MCTs for weight loss or fat burning but keep in mind that the studies are still very mixed about how well it will work and a lot are based on animal studies,” Hultin continues.
If you do decide to take it, don’t assume that there’s a formula that will tell you how much to take, as each person’s medical history, diet, and goals are extremely different, says Hultin. Instead, she explains, you should “work with a health care provider like a doctor or registered dietitian nutritionist who can really help tailor a plan” specifically to your needs.
As for its actual use, there are a number of ways you can incorporate MCT oil into your diet should you decide to. Hultin often uses it in smoothies with her patients, as well as in “fat bombs,” which are high-fat snacks that are keto-friendly. However, both experts warn against heating MCT oil, as Feller says it “has a low smoke point making it susceptible to degradation at high heat.”
When it comes to shopping for MCT oil, Feller stresses that consumers should make informed decisions and “be mindful of how and why they are using MCT oil.” Additionally, she says “the label should clearly list the source, i.e. ‘coconuts’ or ‘palm kernel oil,'” and that you should “choose ones without additives or harmful chemicals” and with a third-party certification. A few you can shop now, ahead.
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