We were recently asked about MCT oil and wanted to share our answer.
Q & A: is MCT oil good for me?
A: MCT is short for medium chain triglycerides. The short answer for “are they good?” is maybe. They might help with weight loss if (and only if) they replace a large portion of the fat in your diet. This seems to stem from the fact that MCT’s contain slightly fewer calories than other fats*, and they also yield slightly fewer calories. Basically, you can think of this as replacing your fat with a slightly lower calorie fat… or, cutting calories.
What about as a supplement?:
MCT’s are fats, and fats are extremely dense sources of calories. In other words fats pack more than double the calories per gram or ounce than any other nutrient such as carbs or protein. So, if you are asking about supplementing with MCT, then the answer is almost certainly no for helping with weight loss.
Why? Calories. To supplement with a tablespoon or more of MCT oil per day means adding 120 calories or more per day to your diet. Weight loss is calories in minus calories out, so if you do something to add more calories (“healthy” or not) then you have made losing weight more difficult.
Supplementing with anything with calories is the equivalent of trying to spend your way out of debt. Even if you are getting the deal of the century on whatever it is you are buying the fact remains that you are buying something (money out), and there is no way that money spent can be saved or put towards debt.
Perhaps, if you eat a lot of mayonnaise, or other room temperature or cold foods with fat in them, then replacing the fat in the mayo (or whatever) with an equivalent amount of MCT could lead to a net savings in your calorie intake. I mention cold or room temperature because MCT’s have a low smoke point, so they’re not going to work well for sautéing onions.
What about heart health:
There’s conflicting data on if MCT’s improve your lipid values (the things in the blood tests from your annual physical such as total cholesterol, triglycerides, etc.). MCT’s might work for some people and not for others.
However, you are more likely to improve your heart health by reducing your saturated fat intake and losing some body-fat (even 5% of your body weight). I say “more likely” because there’s a lot of well done scientific data on these interventions. A lot of good nutrition is about subtraction over addition, except when it comes to fiber and protein. Fiber and protein seem to be the only things that people usually need to add.
*When you read “triglyceride” think “dietary fat.” The medium in MCT refers to the length of the fat molecule. Most fats are 14 carbons or longer, and medium chain fats are 6-12 carbons long. The energy stored in food is primarily the energy in the bonds between the carbons, so the longer the fat the more bonds there are to break and the more energy (calories) it contains. (This is the first time I’ve used anything from a biochemistry class in 15 years.)