It’s very easy for the body to digest and use, and it may have a variety of beneficial effects — like regulating appetite and helping your body burn more calories. All told, these effects could help you lose weight a little bit faster.
Here’s our guide to using MCT oil for weight loss.
What Is MCT Oil?
Medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) oil is a unique type of oil that may offer some metabolic health benefits. It’s derived from coconut, and has a different structure than most fats.
Many fats take the form of triglycerides, which — at a microscopic level — are three fatty acids joined together. Most fatty acids, and therefore most triglycerides, have long chains of carbon atoms on their “tails.” However, MCTs are slightly shorter in length — containing 8-10 carbon atoms on their chain (*).
Most MCTs are composed of two main fatty acids: capric acid and caprylic acid. These are saturated fats that are most commonly found in coconut and full-fat dairy (*).
Because MCTs are composed of shorter chains, they’re easier for the body to digest. Unlike other fats, they bypass many steps of digestion and are sent straight to the liver where they can be converted into ketones. The body can use these ketones for energy (*).
These unique properties also give MCT oil with some helpful metabolic health advantages.
It’s important to note, though, that MCT oil isn’t the best for cooking because of its low smoke point. You can use it in low-temperature cooking applications, like drizzling over or mixing into prepared food, or making salad dressing. However, it’s generally used as a dietary supplement.
How MCT Oil Helps with Weight Loss
MCT oil may be helpful for weight loss. In a 2015 review of several studies, researchers found that — when compared to long-chain triglycerides — MCTs helped reduce body weight, waist and hip circumference, and body fat (*).
There are four major ways that MCT oil may help with weight loss: increasing fat and calorie burn, reducing appetite, improving insulin sensitivity, and supporting exercise endurance. Here’s a quick review of the research on each of these factors.
Fat and Calorie Burn
One way MCT oil promotes weight loss is through increasing fat oxidation, or fat burn. In one study comparing MCT oil and olive oil, researchers found that the study participants who received MCT oil for 16 weeks lost more body fat than participants in the olive oil group (*).
In another study comparing MCT oil with olive oil, researchers noted that the MCT oil group burned more calories than the olive oil group — suggesting that they were burning more fat. However, they found that this effect was stronger in participants of a smaller size (*).
MCT oil may also increase the thermic effect of food, or the amount of calories your body burns during the process of digesting a meal. In one study, hot chili and MCT oil added to a breakfast meal increased its thermic effect by over 50 percent (*).
Keep in mind, though, that these are very slight changes in calorie burn. Although these changes can contribute to a small degree to weight loss, MCT oil shouldn’t be the main player in your weight loss strategy.
MCT oil may also improve exercise tolerance. This won’t directly lead to weight loss, but could help people exercise more — which burns additional calories.
In an animal study, researchers found that MCT helped prevent exercise impairments in high-temperature settings (*).
Keep in mind, though, that this study was done on animals and not on humans. More research is needed before firm conclusions on MCT oil for exercise can be made.
MCT oil may also help improve insulin sensitivity. Insulin is a hormone that helps to regulate your blood sugar levels, and many people who are overweight or obese may have some degree of “resistance” to this hormone. This means that their body doesn’t respond well to it, so higher levels of insulin are needed to achieve blood sugar control (*).
Unfortunately, high insulin levels prime the body to store fat — making it difficult to lose weight. However, improving insulin sensitivity can help to reverse this (*).
In one study on MCT oil for people with moderate overweight, researchers found that — after 90 days — MCT oil helped improve body weight, reduce calorie intake, and improve insulin resistance compared to corn oil (*).
Finally, MCT oil may help to reduce appetite and calorie consumption.
In one study, men with overweight consumed 20 grams of either MCT oil or corn oil prior to eating lunch. Researchers found that those in the MCT oil group ate nearly 300 fewer calories at lunch than the corn oil group. Additionally, the MCT oil group had higher levels of the appetite-regulating hormones leptin and peptide YY (*).
However, it’s important to remember that these studies were all fairly small. It’s hard to generalize from such small studies, so remember not to overestimate the potential effect that MCT oil may have on your weight loss.
How to Use MCT Oil for Weight Loss
Using MCT oil for weight loss is fairly easy. All you need to do is add it to your daily routine and stay consistent with it. Most people add MCT oil to a beverage, like coffee or a protein shake.
Because it’s an oil, it has a tendency to separate from liquids if it’s not mixed well though. For this reason, using a shaker bottle, a blender, or a milk frother is a great option to help you mix it well.
Also, it’s important to start small with MCT oil. After you determine your target dose, which for most people is one or two tablespoons per day, you’ll want to start with just a teaspoon or two per day and then slowly over a few weeks increase your dose.
This is because, if you’re not used to MCT oil, large quantities may cause unpleasant side effects like gas, abdominal pain, or diarrhea (10).
What Is the Best Type of MCT Oil for Weight Loss?
MCT oil is available in a few different forms — most commonly liquid and powdered.
Either one of these is fine to use, but most people tend to prefer powdered MCT oil because it mixes more easily.
Additionally, powdered MCT oil may also come in flavored varieties that can be added to coffee or other drinks.
Be sure that the product you purchase is MCT oil, though — not coconut oil. Regular coconut oil doesn’t contain a high enough concentration of MCTs to be effective as an MCT oil supplement.
How Much MCT Oil Should I Take Per Day for Weight Loss?
Most experts recommend taking one to two tablespoons of MCT oil per day for weight loss. This aligns with the amount that researchers have noted is effective for weight loss, which is 18 to 24 grams — or between one and two tablespoons.
Remember to include these calories in your daily calorie allotment if you’re tracking calories, though. Like other fats and oils, MCT oil contains about 120 calories per tablespoon.
When to Take MCT Oil for Weight Loss?
You can take MCT oil at any time of the day. You may find it easiest to take it with a meal, to help reduce your risk of unpleasant digestive side effects.
How Soon Will I Lose Weight When Consuming MCT Oil?
How rapidly you lose weight depends on several factors. Taking MCT oil will not guarantee any amount of weight loss or any certain weight loss timeline. It may provide a very slight advantage if you’re trying to lose weight, but your total calorie intake will still be the most important factor.
To lose weight successfully with or without MCT oil, you need to consume fewer calories than you burn. This can be accomplished through eating fewer calories, exercising more, or a combination of the two. Keto can be really helpful if you’re trying to lose weight, since it’s very filling and can help to regulate your hunger hormones to naturally reduce your appetite and food cravings.
Additionally, keto and MCT oil supplementation often go hand-in-hand. Many people on keto add MCT oil to butter coffee or other beverages.
However, it’s really important to remember that MCT oil isn’t a “quick fix” weight loss solution. Instead, it’s one more tool at your disposal that may help you reach your goals just a little bit sooner.
The Bottom Line
MCT oil can be helpful for a variety of weight loss-related reasons, including increasing calorie burn, improving insulin sensitivity, and regulating appetite.
However, it’s just a tool. Adding MCT oil to your daily routine without making other lifestyle changes probably won’t lead to the weight loss results you want. Also, most of the research on MCT oil is from small studies — making it hard to draw conclusions about this oil for weight loss.
Still, it can be a great addition to help you lose weight a little more efficiently on keto.
Onge M et al. Greater rise in fat oxidation with medium-chain triglyceride consumption relative to long-chain triglyceride is associated with lower initial body weight and greater loss of subcutaneous adipose tissue. 2003 December