Does taking MCT oil stop fat loss?
There’s currently a divide in the keto diet community about whether MCT oil is a good or bad idea if you’re trying to lose weight.
While some say you should definitely add butter or coconut oil and MCTs to your fatty coffee, others say you should avoid keto coffee completely.
So what’s the truth?
This article tackles both sides of the debate and settles this issue once and for all by explaining:
Before we make our way to the science, it’s helpful to first understand what MCT oil is and why it’s become so popular.
Medium chain triglycerides, or MCTs as they’re more commonly known, are a form of saturated fatty acid (also known as saturated fat), which is extracted from coconut oil.
MCTs and coconut oil are not technically the same; coconut oil contains around 55–65% of MCTs whereas MCT oil contains 100% of MCTs.
This need to be specific is important because even though both healthy fats stem from coconuts, they don’t quite perform equally.
What’s interesting and special about MCTs, and why many people are turning to them, is:
They’re a fast-acting energy source for your body. Since they don’t require digestive enzymes to process, your body and brain use them almost immediately.
This is also where their name comes from.
Long chain triglycerides and longer-chain fatty acids like olive oil have more carbon atoms and require more energy to process. It also takes your body longer to do so.
On the other hand, medium chain fatty acids like MCTs are shorter in their carbon chain so they’re processed much faster.
And if your body doesn’t need all of the newly created energy molecules right away, it doesn’t store them for later like your body does with glucose.
Instead, it switches from fat storage to using fat for energy.
MCTs trigger your body to create ketones once consumed. Ketones are energy molecules that become your body’s preferred source of fuel when you’re in ketosis.
The MCTs you eat keep converting to usable ketones to help you power through your day at a steady pace.
And improved energy is just one of the many perks associated with MCTs.
The other positive health benefits these powerful medium chain triglycerides deliver include:
- Better mental clarity
- Improved cell function
- Greater metabolic function
- Healthy digestion
- Normal hormonal function
- Type 2 diabetes prevention and improved insulin resistance
- Stronger heart and cognitive health
- Heart disease prevention
- Higher energy levels
Digesting MCTs also produces a higher thermogenic effect, which means you’ll up your fat burning potential.
MCTs also help with weight loss, which is another reason why many people turn to them, especially on a ketogenic diet.
While I can gush about how MCT is killer for losing weight all day, we’ve already covered the topic in this guide.
To sum up that research briefly, consuming MCT oil can:
- Keep you feeling fuller longer, which can help you reduce how much and how often you’re eating.
- Raise your metabolic rate so you torch more calories throughout the day.
- Reduce both your body fat and weight.
- Suppress your appetite so you’re not as tempted to overeat.
So what’s all the noise about MCT oil halting fat loss?
Despite this research busting the outdated myth that “eating fat makes you fat,” there are still rumors spreading about why MCT oil isn’t the best if shedding LBs is your goal.
We’ll see the debate from both sides — and find out why MCT oil still comes out on top — next.
If you read or heard that MCT oil or similar products like exogenous ketones prevent your body from losing weight or tapping into your own stored fat, you’re probably freaking out.
The “logic” behind this claim is that when you take MCTs, your body burns this dietary fat first instead of using your stored body fat for energy.
Not only that, according to those who believe this theory, you’re also turning off the signal to produce your own ketones when you consume MCTs and exogenous ketones (EK).
So if your goal is to lose weight on keto, you would be doing yourself a disservice by consuming MCTs and EKs since you won’t be able to tap into your stored fat or make your own ketones.
But this is just not the case.
This myth relies on the misconception that your body won’t burn fat until all your other food, drinks, or supplements have been digested first.
If this were really true, you’d need to wait until your glucose levels dropped to zero before you’d be able to lose any weight — and also, you’d be dead.
Before I dive into the research showing this, I want to share a simple analogy from our very own Alex Cunningham, Head of Partnerships, to help make this concept easier to understand:
Your body acts like both a refrigerator and a freezer for the energy you get from your diet.
The “food in your fridge” consists of energy substrates, like glucose or ketones, in your blood.
As you go about your day, your body needs a steady stream of energy within reach to function properly. So the protein, carbs, butter, MCTs, ketones, etc., all fill up your fridge first.
When your body needs a quick, available energy source, it reaches into the fridge, just like most of us do with our own fridges IRL on a daily basis.
But your body also naturally moves energy from the fridge to the freezer when it’s full and to replenish your energy stores.
The “food in your freezer” is stored energy, which you’ll find in your adipose tissue, or body fat.
This mechanism operates more like a trapdoor: it’s triggered once your insulin dips very low.
So during this window of time, your body will move energy from the freezer to the fridge so it becomes easier to access during this time of insulin starvation.
This means your body actively starts burning your stored fat reserves as fuel (and you lose weight).
However, your body’s freezer also shuts off when your fridge is full.
What causes a full fridge?
It’s not butter, MCTs, or exogenous ketones — it’s insulin.
High insulin levels mean your body will never move energy from your freezer to your fridge. And that means you’ll never burn that stored belly fat.
Here’s what’s even worse: if your insulin levels are really high, the overflow of fridge food will eventually spill into your freezer and lead to weight gain.
So the secret to stored fat burning is low insulin levels.
Eating and digesting food always affects your insulin levels, but you can’t just not eat.
What’s important here is the degree to which your insulin spikes, and that all depends on the food you eat.
Your fridge doesn’t need to be completely empty to tell your freezer to move energy to the fridge, but your insulin levels need to be low.
Butter, MCTs, and ketones are not insulin spiking yet they do cause insulin to secrete so you’ll have low levels of it, which will trigger stored fat loss.
On the other hand, carbs and high insulin-spiking foods like fruit, candy, and bread will keep your fridge and freezer way too full — and that will prevent fat loss.
So the focus should be on keeping insulin low and periodically going without food (like using intermittent fasting, or fasting overnight for example).
Since you and I are both massive organisms requiring tons of energy to function, fats like MCT oil will give our bodies a chance to work through the food in the fridge while still giving us energy.
Every cell in your body needs fat to function properly, as Alex points out.
Cell walls are made of lipids, which are the “building blocks of cellular membranes”, after all[*].
But besides energy storage and cell communication, fats also regulate what goes in and out of your cells so you’re also protected from foreign pathogens.
So ditching MCT oil and other fatty keto staples is actually a mistake if you’re trying to lose weight.
And we’ll let the evidence show you why.
There are plenty of studies to show what happens when people take MCTs — and it’s probably not what you think.
MCTs Help People Reduce Body Fat
One study of overweight men and women had participants consume either MCT oil or olive oil to see which fat would help them lose more body fat.
Researchers noticed those consuming MCT oil[*]:
- Reduced their body weight
- Lowered their total fat mass
- Decreased abdominal fat
So you may want to sub out MCT oil for olive oil in your next salad dressing recipe knowing this intel.
And in a double-blind, controlled protocol style study examining the long term effects on overall health from taking medium chain triglycerides, researchers discovered weight loss was “significantly greater in the MCT group.”
They also noticed, once again, that subcutaneous fat, or the frustrating layer that’s covering your potential for a toned midsection, was also reduced with MCTs[*].
And these aren’t the only positive effects witnessed by experts.
MCTs Don’t Hinder Fat Loss; They Prevent Weight Gain
Another body of research shows that since MCTs are processed so much quicker than long chain triglycerides, they have a “very low tendency to deposit as body fat”[*].
When overweight men were given MCTs in one study, they[*]:
- Increased their ability to burn fat
- Improved their energy expenditure
- Lost more adipose body fat
These results were so promising that researchers concluded MCTs should be used to prevent obesity while also kick starting weight loss.
Scientists strongly believe MCTs are safe to include in a weight loss program because they do not contribute to weight gain, cause negative side effects, or increase metabolic risk factors[*].
The most astonishing news here is certain participants using MCT oil who were diagnosed with metabolic syndrome at the beginning of the trial were cleared of this diagnosis once the trial ended[*].
Metabolic syndrome is the name for a cluster of health issues including obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and more, so this is a big win!
MCT oil has proven time and again to be effective for helping people get on a healthier track and improve their overall health.
But simply adding MCT oil to your diet doesn’t make you the epitome of keto health — or guarantee rapid weight loss.
When people use MCT oil and exogenous ketones and don’t see the positive results they’re capable of producing, it may come down to user error.
Consuming a high-quality MCT oil does not give you a free pass to ketosis.
MCT oil and medium-chain fatty acids can help you reach your keto goals faster, but that’s only if you’re willing to keep up your end of the bargain.
And that means staying under your carb limits so you actually get in ketosis.
If you’re trying to use MCT oil to clean up your diet and undo all the excess carbs you’re eating, you’re going to be disappointed with the results, especially as they relate to weight loss.
But you can’t blame MCT oil for that.
MCT oil is best used in addition to an already clean and optimized keto diet. It’s an easy way to jump start your brain and body with available ketones while you fast, or go longer between meals.
- Keto coffee
- Salad dressings, toppings, and marinades
- Fat bombs and keto desserts
- Protein shakes and keto smoothies
Now if you’re looking for a way to help erase your carby cheat days and get back in or reach ketosis faster, you’ll want to call on exogenous ketones for help.
Depending on how far off the beaten path you deviated, EKs will flood your system with ketones to help restore the balance when you’ve had more carbs than usual.
If your fat loss has stalled, or you’re no longer losing weight on keto, check out this podcast on the keto plateau or this guide which pinpoints the real issues that may be to blame (hint: it’s not exogenous ketones or MCT oil).
And if you’re curious to learn more about common MCT oil uses, this guide is ready for you.
Myth Busted: MCT Oil Will Not Stop Fat Loss from Happening
Adding MCT oil to a poor diet in the hopes of it magically cleaning up your act, pushing you into ketosis, or helping you lose weight is a total myth.
As the studies showed today, the medium chain fatty acids found in MCT oil are especially beneficial when it comes to losing fat on keto — but only if you’re actually going low carb.
If you slash carbs and you’re still not banking scale victories, you’ll need to take a closer look at other factors in your diet and lifestyle to see what’s really at the root of this issue.
But don’t believe the rumors: MCT oil and exogenous ketones will NOT prevent you from losing weight on keto (if you’re using them correctly).
End of story.