By: Nutrition expert- Vidula Kozarekar, Mumbai.
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MCTs are composed of fatty acids that contain between 6 and 12 carbon molecules. We commonly consume foods high in long-chain triglycerides (LCTs) that have more than 12 carbon molecules. Foods high in LCTs include nuts, seeds, avocados, fish, and meat; however, there are only a handful of foods that are high in MCTs (human breast milk, cow’s milk, goat’s milk, coconut oil, palm kernel oil, coconut meat, and dried coconut) (1).
Compared to LCTs, MCTs are easier for the body to metabolize quickly, meaning they are less likely to be stored as fat. When LCTs enter the body, they must first be broken down by pancreatic enzymes and then delivered to the lymphatic system before traveling to the liver where they can be converted to energy. The body cannot metabolize LCTs as efficiently, and excess LCTs are stored as fat.
MCTs, on the other hand, can travel immediately to the liver after they are consumed to be used as instant energy. MCTs can also be turned into ketones which can travel from the blood to the brain to serve as an alternative energy source to glucose.
There are a few main types of medium-chain fatty acids that are defined by the length of their aliphatic tail: (2)
- Caproic acid or hexanoic acid (C6): As the shortest MCT with six carbons in its aliphatic tail, caproic acid metabolizes very quickly. Because it can have an unpleasant taste or smell, caproic acid is typically removed during the manufacturing of MCT oil.
- Caprylic acid or octanoic acid (C8): Because of its anti-microbial properties, caprylic acid is effective for maintaining a healthy gut. Caprylic acid is the second most efficient MCT after caproic acid but does not have an offensive taste or smell. For this reason, caprylic acid is often the primary MCT used in MCT oil.
- Capric acid or decanoic acid (C10): While capric acid metabolizes a bit slower than caprylic acid, it still turns into ketones very quickly in the liver. Capric is the other most common MCT used for MCT oil.
- Lauric acid or dodecanoic acid (C12): Lauric acid makes up most of the MCTs in coconut oil, however, it is often removed from MCT oil. Compared to other MCTs, lauric acid is the slowest to metabolize but still provides anti-microbial properties and other health benefits.
What is MCT oil?
Medium chain triglyceride (MCT) oil is synthetic oil made from medium chain C8 and C10 fatty acids.
What is difference between MCT oil and Coconut oil?
Fractionated coconut oil is oil from the fruit of the coconut palm (Cocos nucifera) tree that has had the lauric acid removed. The word “fractionate” means to separate. Fractionation of coconut oil is a process that uses heat to separate the oil into its components—in this case, to separate out certain fatty acids.
Fractionated coconut oil is often sold as MCT oil and is used by many for health reasons.
MCT oil is a concentrated source of 100% MCTs that’s more effective at boosting weight loss and energy production than coconut oil.
Coconut oil has an MCT content of about 54%. It’s best used as a cooking oil and may be beneficial for a variety of beauty applications and skin conditions, such as acne, eczema, and skin dryness.
Health benefits of MCT oil: (3, 4, 5, 6, 7)
- MCTs are directly shuttled to the liver to rapidly be used for energy both in the form of fat and ketones.
- MCTs may help increase weight loss by reducing body fat.
- MCTs may also help support cognitive health (such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimers disease) and may preserve brain function in diabetic patients.
- Energy expenditure is increased with consumption of MCT oil as compared to regular long chain triglycerides.
- MCTs may improve insulin sensitivity in people with type 2 diabetes.