If you're following the keto diet or a real-food lifestyle, you're probably focused on increasing your intake of high-quality fats. Two well-known healthy, keto-friendly fat sources are MCT oil and coconut oil, but is there any difference between the two?
Both MCT oil and coconut oil are saturated fats that come with a number of health benefits attached. Below, we dive into the MCT oil vs. coconut oil debate, explaining what they are, what they have in common and how they're different. Plus, we'll offer several ideas as to how to incorporate both fats into your diet.
First Things First: What Are MCTs?
To get to the bottom of the MCT oil vs. coconut oil debate, we need to take a step back and understand what MCTs actually are.
MCTs stand for medium-chain triglycerides — a molecule with three fatty acid chains. Each of these fatty acids have different chain lengths, containing 6-12 carbons apiece . Unlike other lipid profiles (like long-chain triglycerides, or LCTs), MCTs are more easily absorbed into the bloodstream, making them a readily available source of energy. They are also smaller in molecular weight, water soluble and contain a lower smoke point .
There are four types of MCT fatty acids, including:
- Caproic acid: with 6 carbon atoms
- Caprylic acid: with 8 carbon atoms
- Capric acid: with 10 carbon atoms
- Lauric acid: with 12 carbon atoms
These fatty acids can be found in a number of saturated fats, such as coconut oil, MCT oil and palm kernel oil. You can even find MCTs in milk too.
MCT Oil vs. Coconut Oil: What Are They?
Coconut and MCT oil often get confused — which is completely understandable, considering coconut oil is actually a source of MCTs. Below, we dive into exactly what MCT oil and coconut oil are, to help you distinguish these two fats.
What Is Coconut Oil?
Coconut oil is 100% fat, 80-90% of which is saturated fat . It does not contain any cholesterol, carbs, protein or fibre, and contains only trace amounts of vitamins and minerals.
Nearly half (47%) of the fat found in coconut oil is lauric acid, a type of MCT (medium-chain triglyceride). Lauric acid (C12) although a MCT it actually behaves more like a long-chain fatty acid in the body, causing slow digestion and absorption. Coconut also contains caprylic acid (C8, 9%) and capric acid (C10, 7%), two other forms of medium-chain fatty acids  - the ones known for their health promoting benefits.
What Is MCT Oil?
MCT oil is a concentrated source of MCTs made up of 100% medium-chain triglycerides and avoids the use of C12 which acts more like a long-chain fat.
MCT oil is usually extracted from coconuts or palm oil. During the extraction process, all other ingredients are removed, leaving just 100% MCT oil.
Unlike coconut oil, which is made up primarily of lauric acid (C12), MCT oil usually contains between 50-100% caprylic acid (C8) and 20-50% capric acid (C10). Many argue that this causes MCT oil to be more rapidly digested than coconut oil, as lauric acid (C12) takes longer to move from the digestive tract to the bloodstream and does not have the same ketosis-boosting effects that solely C8 and C10 have.
What about C6 MCT? If you see an MCT oil containing Caproic (C6) MCTs — put it straight back on the shelf. C6 has somewhat of a cheesy, farmyard-type smell and can cause stomach upset if consumed in larger quantities. Look for an MCT oil without C6 and that has a neutral aroma and taste.
MCT Oil vs. Coconut Oil: What Are the Benefits?
Both MCT and coconut oil offer various dietary and nutritional benefits — many of which overlap. Let’s explore the benefits of each oil.
1. Both Can Help You Enter Ketosis but MCT Is Better
If you're following the ketogenic diet, you'll be happy to know that MCT and coconut oil can help you transition to a fat-burning state. Both oils are made up entirely of fat (and zero carbohydrates), which can help your body begin to burn ketones — rather than glucose — for fuel when combined with a keto lifestyle. Transitioning into ketosis, in turn, can help boost fat loss and improve body composition.
It's important to note that pure MCT oil is a more efficient energy source than coconut oil. It is rapidly metabolised by the liver, thereby quickly converted into ketones. Since MCT oil contains 100% MCTs, it moves more swiftly from your digestive tract to your bloodstream than coconut oil, where it’s used for energy.
2. Both Can Help Improve Cognitive Function
Want to improve your brain health? You may want to increase your MCT intake.
Research shows that MCTs — like those found in MCT and coconut oil — can help improve brain function . In addition, research shows that supplementing with MCTs can help prevent the onset of Alzheimer's disease and dementia .
3. Both Can Help Reduce Blood Sugar Levels
If high blood sugar or diabetes runs in your family, you may want to increase your consumption of MCTs.
Studies show that the type of fat found in coconut and MCT oil can help reduce blood sugar levels . In addition, MCTs have been shown to help improve insulin sensitivity, which can decrease your risk of developing diabetes .
4. Both Have Antimicrobial Properties
5. Both Can Be Used in the Kitchen
One of the benefits of coconut oil is that it can be used for high-heat cooking. Unlike many vegetable, seed and extra virgin olive oils, which can become oxidised at high temperatures, this cooking oil can be safely used for frying, roasting and baking.
While it can’t be used for high-heat cooking as it has a smoke point of 170 degrees Celsius, MCT is still a versatile oil in the kitchen. Since MCT is a flavourless oil, you can use it in salad dressings, marinades and other recipes without changing the taste of the dish.
The Differences Between MCT Oil vs. Coconut Oil
While coconut oil and MCT oil contain a number of similarities, they are two distinctly different oils. As you decide which oil is right for you, consider these differences:
- MCT concentration: While coconut oil contains some MCTs, pure MCT oil is a better source because it is made up entirely of MCTs.
- Energy production: Because MCT oil is made up of 100% MCTs, it is a more efficient energy source than coconut oil.
- Breaking a fast: While coconut oil will break your fast, MCT oil may not — read more here.
- High-heat cooking: Coconut oil can be used for high-heat cooking, but MCT oil cannot as it has a smoke point of 170 degrees Celsius.
- Fat composition: While MCT oil is made up entirely of medium-chain triglycerides, coconut oil is made up of medium- and long-chain triglycerides. In addition, coconut oil is primarily lauric acid (C12) while MCT oil is primarily made up of caprylic acid (C8) and capric acid (C10).
- Composition: Coconut oil is solid at room temperature and is therefore great for making soap, fat bombs and keto treats whereas MCT oil is liquid at room temperature.
How to Get More MCT and Coconut Oil in Your Diet
MCT and coconut oil are two healthy fats with a number of benefits. To get more MCTs in your diet, try the following:
- Add it to coffee: This bulletproof coffee recipe combines MCT oil, collagen and grass-fed butter for a morning boost.
- Blend it into smoothies: This low-carb berry smoothie combines berries, collagen, MCT oil and coconut milk for a breakfast or afternoon treat.
- Mix it into salad dressings: Since MCT oil is flavourless, it can easily be added to salad dressings — just like this paleo salmon, fennel and blood orange salad.
Enjoy MCT Oil to Get More MCTs in Your Diet
While both MCT and coconut oil are high-quality sources of medium-chain triglycerides, MCT oil is distinct in a few ways. The benefits of both oils range from boosting ketone production, reducing body fat and improving mental clarity.
But MCT oil has some additional perks — it's the best source of fatty acids since it's entirely made up of MCTs, it's a more efficient energy source, and it likely won't break a fast.
To get more MCTs in your diet, add MCT oil to your smoothies, salad dressings and even your morning coffee. To enjoy these and other ancestrally inspired recipes, be sure to try Hunter & Gather MCT Oil, made 100% from coconuts.
All information provided on our website and within our articles is simply information, opinion, anecdotal thoughts and experiences to provide you with the tools to thrive.
It is not intended to treat or diagnose symptoms, and is definitely not intended to be misconstrued for medical advice. We always advise you seek the advice of a trained professional when implementing any changes to your lifestyle and dietary habits.
We do, however, recommend seeking the services of a trained professional who questions the conventional wisdom to enable you to become the best version of yourself.