There’s currently a divide in the keto diet community about whether MCT oil is a good or bad idea when you’re trying to lose weight. While some say you should add butter, coconut oil, and MCTs to your keto coffee, others say you shouldn’t add unnecessary calories.
This article tackles both sides of the MCT oil weight loss debate and settles the issue once and for all. But before diving into the benefits of this powerful keto superfood, it’s helpful to understand what MCT oil is and why it has become so popular.
Medium-chain triglycerides, or MCTs, are a form of saturated fatty acid (also known as saturated fat) usually extracted from coconut oil. This type of fat is also in palm oil and some dairy products.
MCTs and coconut oil are not technically the same. While coconut oil contains around 55-65% of MCTs, MCT oil contains 100% MCTs. It’s important to make this distinction because although both healthy fats stem from coconuts, they don’t do the same things in your body.
What’s special about MCTs (and why many people are using them) is that they’re a fast-acting energy source for your body. Since they bypass the normal digestive process, your body and brain can use them almost immediately.
On the other hand, long-chain triglycerides (LCTs) and longer-chain fatty acids like those found in olive oil and avocados have more carbon atoms and require more energy to process.
If your body doesn’t need all of the newly created energy molecules right away, it doesn’t store them for later use as it does with glucose.
Improved energy is just one of the many perks associated with MCTs.
The other potential health benefits of these powerful medium-chain triglycerides deliver include:
- Better mental clarity and brain function[*]
- Greater metabolic and cellular function[*]
- Healthy digestion[*]
- Normal hormonal function[*]
- Type 2 diabetes prevention, improved insulin resistance, and improved blood sugar levels[*]
- Stronger heart and cognitive health (such as Alzheimer’s)[*].
- Improved heart health[*]
- Improved cholesterol levels[*]
- Higher energy levels and satiety levels[*]
Digesting MCTs also produces a higher thermogenic effect, which means it can increase your fat-burning potential.
MCTs can also help with weight loss, which is another reason why many people use them –especially on the keto diet.
If you’ve ever read or heard that MCT oil or similar products like exogenous ketones prevent your body from shedding fat or using your own stored fat as fuel, you might have reconsidered taking them.
The theory 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. According to those who believe this idea, when you consume MCTs and exogenous ketones (EK), you’re also turning off the signal to produce your own ketones.
This myth relies on the misconception that your body won’t burn fat until everything else you’ve consumed has been digested first.
There are plenty of studies to show what happens when people take MCTs — and it’s probably not what you think.
MCTs Can Help 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 that those consuming MCT oil[*]:
- Reduced their body weight
- Lowered their total fat mass
- Decreased abdominal fat and waist circumference
In a double-blind, controlled study examining the long-term effects of medium-chain triglycerides consumption on overall health, researchers discovered weight loss was “significantly greater in the MCT group.”
They also noticed that subcutaneous fat — the frustrating layer that hinders potential for a toned midsection — was also reduced with MCTs[*].
MCTs Might 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 could 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 may not contribute to weight gain, cause negative side effects, or increase metabolic risk factors[*].
The most astonishing news here is that 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[*].
Overall, MCT oil has proven to be effective for helping people get on a healthier track and improve their overall health. However, merely adding MCT oil to your diet doesn’t 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 usually comes down to user error.
Even though MCT oil and medium-chain fatty acids can help you reach your keto goals faster, consuming a high-quality MCT oil doesn’t give you a free pass to ketosis.
The best way to get into nutritional ketosis is by staying under your recommended daily carb limits. 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 when it comes to weight loss.
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’re fasting or increasing the interval between meals.
The best and most popular ways to use both liquid MCT oil and MCT oil powder include adding it to recipes for:
- Keto coffee
- Salad dressings, toppings, and marinades
- Fat bombs and keto desserts
- Protein shakes and keto smoothies
If you’re looking for a way to help erase your carb-filled cheat days and get back in or reach ketosis, you’ll want to call on exogenous ketones for help.
Depending on how far off the beaten path you deviated, EKs will help boost your ketone levels when you’ve had more carbs than usual.
MCT oil makes an excellent replacement for long-chain triglycerides in your diet for many reasons, but when it comes to weight loss, there’s one thing that you must keep in mind — the dose.
The exact amount of MCTs you should consume to assist your weight loss efforts comes down to your daily caloric needs. Even though this form of energy is delivered directly to your liver, it still counts towards your total energy intake for the day.
In general, ten grams of MCT Oil Powder will yield around 70 calories. If your daily energy burn is 2000 calories and your goal is weight loss, you want to ensure that you’re consuming less than 2000 calories per day.
Although weight loss isn’t as simple as energy in-energy out, understanding your general daily calorie burn can give you some guidelines to live by. If you consistently meet or go over your daily allotment of calories, you simply won’t lose weight.
A typical serving of MCTs is about 10 grams (70 calories), so most people will benefit from sticking to one to two servings of MCTs a day. This will give you the metabolic benefit of this type of fat, with a calorie input of around 140 kcal.
Beware that if you go overboard with MCTs, or any type of food for that matter, you could easily surpass your calorie needs for the day. With this in mind, when taking MCTs, treat them more like a food than a supplement.
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 myth.
However, 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 to help you burn more calories throughout the day.
- Reduce both your body fat and weight.
- Suppress your appetite, so you’re not tempted to overeat.
As studies have shown, medium-chain fatty acids found in MCT oil are especially beneficial when it comes to losing fat on keto — but only if you’re following a high-fat, low-carb ketogenic diet.
If you slash carbs and you’re still not losing weight, 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.
The bottom line is that MCT oil and exogenous ketones will not prevent you from losing weight on keto as long as you’re using them correctly.