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Medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) have become an increasingly popular macronutrient in recent decades.
Why is there such an increased interest in these oils?
These products aggressively compete for their place as health promoting medium chain fats.
Not surprisingly, producers and promoters of MCT oil try hard to discredit the health properties of its cheaper substitute, coconut oil.
On the other hand, manufacturers and promoters of coconut oil promote it as a medium chain triglycerides/fat product.
It is understandable that these sources use cherry-picked studies to support their own claims.
This article clarifies the difference between the two oils and which is the best product to use for specific purposes.
Differences between a composition of MCT Oil and Coconut Oil
Medium chain triglycerides/fatty acids are the main constituents of these two products and are responsible for most their health benefits.
The two major differences in the composition of MCT oil and coconut oil, that ultimately affect their properties and usability are:
- The proportion of MCFAs to LCFAs
- The proportion of Lauric acid within the MCFAs group
MCT oil is a synthetic oil. It is an extract from edible oils, such as coconut or palm oil and is composed entirely of MCFAs. Most of the MCT oil (97%) consists of caprylic oil (8C) and capric acid (10C) in varied proportions, depending on the product. (read more..)
Coconut oil is composed of only 62% of MCFAs (including Lauric acid), of which 15% of caprylic oil and capric acid. Lauric acid (12C) makes up 47% of the total contents.
Note: there are other products on the market with the abbreviation “MCT” on the label. It is important to check their composition, since they may contain various proportions of MCTs, often with high quantities of Lauric acid. (1)
Why do these proportions matter?
- The difference in MCT to LCT ratio.
LCTs and MCTs behave differently in the body.
The absorption and transportation of LCTs involves many processes and cannot occur without protein based transport vehicles. Most LCTs end up in the fatty cells as energy storage, while the body cells utilize carbohydrates as the first choice of fuel.
The majority of MCTs, on the other hand, due to their short size, better solubility and lighter molecular weight, can pass through the cellular membranes unassisted and get immediately transported to the liver, where they are rapidly transformed to energy.
The larger portion of LCTs in coconut oil significantly impacts its overall health effects.
- Differences in composition within MCTs
There are some similar properties between coconut oil and MCT oil due to their high contents of MCFAs. However, there are some differences, due to the different proportions of specific MCFAs.
Coconut oil contains 50% of lauric acid (C12) and only 15% of caprylic (C18) and capric acids (C10). (1)
Even though lauric acid possesses the chemical and physiological properties of other MCFAs, it is not as efficiently converted into energy and part of it is sent through the lymphatic system, just like LCFAs.
How much lauric acid is transported through the hepatic vein or lymphatic system depends on some conditions, such as how much of it is taken, what are the other fats taken at the same time and the overall diet (it may behave differently on a ketogenic diet rather than on a high carbohydrate diet).
This is also why some studies show conflicting results on the path of lauric acid after absorption.
- Coconut oil contains about 50% lauric acid (C12) and only 15% C8 and C10, while MCT Oil is made up of C8 and C10.
- Since lauric acid doesn’t behave the same way in the body as other MCFAs, some properties of MCT oil cannot be expected from coconut oil.
- MCT oil has about 100% of MCTs, while coconut oil has only 62%, with most of the remaining acids being long chain.
- LCFAs and MCFAs behave differently in the body. Therefore, coconut oil and MCT oil don’t have the same health effects.
Other differences between Coconut Oil and MCT Oil
There are other differences between these two products that relate to the specific properties of their constituents.
- Polyphenols in Coconut oil
Virgin coconut oils contains polyphenols which have anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. These polyphenols are removed when either the coconut oil is refined or during the MCT oitel production process.
- Properties of Lauric acid in Coconut oil
There are many health benefits of lauric acid due to its antimicrobial properties. Some of these properties overlap with other MCTs. However, there are differences in its effectiveness in specific applications.
Coconut oil’s health properties are mostly linked to its high content of lauric acids.
On the other hand, MCT oil contains only a negligent amount of these fatty acids.
- Caprylic and Capric acids
Capric acid possesses antibacterial properties, which is similar to lauric acid.
Although these acids are also present in coconut oil, it is merely in a small portion.
The best source of caprylic and capric acids is MCT Oil.
MCT Oil vs Coconut oil – what should I use?
The answer depends on what do you want to achieve.
MCT oil is, without a doubt, the best and most reliable source of MCTs.
It is also a combination of the most efficient fats for energy production.
Due to its ability to convert rapidly into energy, MACT oil is very effective in certain medical conditions where other energy nutrients, such as long chain fatty acids (fat absorption and metabolism conditions) or carbohydrates (type 2 diabetes) cannot be used or need to be restricted.
MCT oil is very useful in the Ketogenic diet, thanks to an efficient conversion into ketones. Some studies even show that using MCTs with the Ketogenic diet may allow an increase in the carbohydrate intake without compromising the effects of the diet, making it more palatable.
However, MCT oil is not suitable for cooking due to shorter fatty acid chains (most are <12 carbons). The shorter the chains, the lower the smoke point. Nevertheless, it can be added at the end of food preparation. Since it has a very mild taste, it can be added to just about anything that requires oil.
- MCT oil is best to use as a supplement for quick energy conversion.
- It has applications in fat absorption, metabolic disorders and type 2 diabetes.
- It is an excellent addition to the Ketogenic diet.
Coconut oil possesses several health benefits and is a healthier alternative to other energy nutrients, such as carbohydrates, and fats (such as omega 6 fatty acids from vegetable oils or animal fats).
Due to its properties, coconut oil can be useful in the treatment of fungal, bacterial and viral infections.
MCT Oil mostly contains fatty acids of 10 carbons or less, while most of the fatty acids in coconut oil have at least 12 carbons. Therefore, coconut oil is suitable for shallow frying and other types of cooking. However, it is not suitable for continuous deep frying due to its low smoke point.
Most contents are saturated fatty acids and, therefore, coconut oil is stable and resistant to rancidity.
Coconut oil has a strong taste, so its usage in food is restricted to suitable dishes.
Coconut oil is much cheaper than MCT oil.
- Coconut oil is a healthy substitute for other oils.
- It can be used in cooking, such as shallow frying.
- It doesn’t have a high smoke point, so it cannot be used in continuous deep frying.