Medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) are fatty acids that can help you shed fat, enhance your performance at the gym, and increase your mental clarity.
While too much MCT oil can be tough on your digestive system, causing stomach pain and discomfort, MCT powder is an alternative that allows you to reap the health benefits of MCTs with fewer side-effects.
Both MCT oil and powder will provide you with the same health benefits. But read on to learn about the differences between MCT oil and MCT powder, how to use MCT powder to enhance your health and reach your goals, and how to choose the highest quality MCT supplements.
Medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), also called medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs), are triglycerides with two or three fatty acids and an aliphatic tail of six to 12 carbon atoms.
The most common MCTs are caproic acid (lipid number C6), caprylic acid (C8), capric acid (C10), and lauric acid (C12).
Coconut oil and palm kernel oil are the primary commercial sources of MCTs. The most common applications for medium-chain triglycerides are dietary and health supplements, personal care and cosmetics, and pharmaceutical manufacturing. Globally, the commercial production of MCTs exceeds 270 kilotons per year[*].
MCT powder is manufactured from MCT oil using a process called spray drying. Manufacturers use specialized industrial equipment to bind MCT oil to a microscopic fibrous carrier powder, which converts the liquid MCTs to a solid, powdered form.
During spray drying, the two substances are homogenized (blended) to create a suspension, fed through an atomizer to reduce their particle size, dried using hot air, and separated from exhaust gases.
The end result is a powdered nutritional supplement with all of the benefits of MCT oil that’s portable, easy to blend into nutritious smoothies, and suitable for use in recipes.
Although MCT oils and MCT powders both offer the same range of health benefits, there are some unique pros and cons to each type of MCT supplement.
While research shows that too much MCT oil consumption can sometimes lead to digestive issues including nausea, upset stomach, and diarrhea, many people find that MCT powder supplements are easier to digest[*]. If you’ve ever experienced these side-effects from MCT oil, MCT powder is worth a try.
Compared to liquid MCT oil, MCT powders are less messy, more convenient, and easier to transport. For anyone who’s spilled MCT oil in their kitchen, or lugged a glass bottle in their suitcase during travel, the ease of use and portability of MCT powder is a significant advantage.
Texture and Mixing
Adding healthy fats like MCTs to your coffee or other beverages is a great way to boost your dietary fat intake and delay hunger pangs. Medium-chain triglyceride oil products mix poorly and lend an oily, greasy feel to coffee and other drinks, but MCT powder mixes easily and creates a pleasant, creamy texture when added to liquids.
Whether you opt for oil or powder, choosing a high-quality MCT supplement is essential. Low-quality MCT powders often use starches or other unhealthy fillers. MCT oils don’t contain fillers, but cheap MCT oil may suffer from excessive heat during manufacturing, low-quality MCTs, and impurities.
Research comparing the effects of MCT powders to those of MCT oil is sparse because MCT powder supplements are relatively new. However, a 2017 trial found that an emulsified MCT powder supplement was more ketogenic and had fewer side-effects compared to conventional MCT oil[*].
For an in-depth discussion comparing MCT oil and MCT powder supplements, you can also check out this ten-minute video from Dr. Anthony Gustin:
Unlike most dietary fats, MCTs diffuse directly from your gastrointestinal tract (GI tract) to your portal system, without requiring bile salt production. (You need bile salts to digest all other fats.)
For this reason, doctors often give patients suffering from malnutrition, malabsorption, or impaired fat metabolism medium-chain triglycerides.
Medium-chain triglycerides are an excellent, clean source of ketogenic energy when they include the proper combination of MCTs. The highest-quality MCT supplements primarily or exclusively contain caprylic acid (C8), capric acid (C10).
Consuming medium-chain triglycerides can offer some of the benefits of ketosis before you’re completely fat-adapted.
According to a study of 28 healthy adults who took 30 milliliters (about one fluid ounce) of MCTs three times per day for 20 days, taking MCT supplements increases ketone levels and reduces the adverse symptoms that sometimes occur when starting a keto diet, aka, keto flu[*].
Other studies demonstrate that taking MCTs offers a wide range of benefits such as improving gut health, aiding immune function, reducing appetite, encouraging healthy weight loss, improving cognition and brain health, reducing the risk of heart disease, and enhancing exercise performance[*][*][*][*][*][*][*].
Most studies of the benefits of medium-chain triglycerides use dosages of 30 grams (about an ounce) one to three times per day, but lower doses also work well.
When you begin taking MCT powder, start gradually. MCT powder causes fewer adverse digestive effects compared to MCT oil, but taking too much too soon can still upset your stomach.
If you have a sensitive stomach, start by taking a teaspoon once or more each day. You can work your way up to a tablespoon several times per day, gradually, or experiment to figure out the most effective dose for your body.
There are many different ways to incorporate MCT powder into your daily routine:
- During a fast: although strict fasting doesn’t allow for any calories, you can use a teaspoon of MCT powder to increase ketone production, suppress your appetite, reduce cravings, and extend your fast period.
- At breakfast: a scoop of MCT powder is an ideal addition to your morning coffee, tea, or hot chocolate, and adds a pleasant, creamy texture to beverages.
- At lunch or dinner: you can sneak MCT powder into stews, soup, sauces, and creams since it’s flavorless and acts as a thickening agent.
- In baked or raw desserts: MCT powder is excellent for baking or making raw dessert recipes like a keto frappuccino, mocha fat bombs, or anti-inflammatory fat bombs.
- Pre- and post-workout: MCT powder is an ideal pre-workout supplement to boost your mental and physical performance. You can mix it with water, add it to a pre-workout drink, or use it after a workout in a protein smoothie to boost your recovery.
- With other supplements: use MCT powder in combination with exogenous ketones to further boost ketone production.
The only limiting factor in using MCT powder is your imagination. No matter how you use this supplement, it’s a perfect way to up your healthy fat intake, encourage ketosis, and reduce cravings and hunger pangs.
High-quality medium-chain triglyceride powder supplements are an excellent idea, but unfortunately, many MCT oil powders on the market are mixed with unnecessary ingredients. Unhealthy fillers and other additives dilute the product and reduce the effectiveness of MCTs.
Low-quality MCT powders can spike your blood sugar and halt ketosis, affect your energy levels negatively, and cause digestive issues and allergic reactions.
Here are the characteristics of high-quality MCT powder supplements, so you know how to choose the best:
- They only use natural, fiber-based carriers (like acacia fiber or tapioca starch).
- They are made from 100% coconuts, not palm oil or a blend of coconut oil and palm oil.
- They contain caprylic acid (C8) and capric acid (C10), not lauric acid (C12) which takes longer to metabolize.
- They are refined and sterilized using low-heat processing to preserve the nutritious and enzymatic qualities of the natural oils.
- They never use corn fiber or maltodextrin-based carriers.
- They don’t include emulsifiers, preservatives, thickeners, food dyes, or anti-caking agents.
- They don’t contain liquid glucose or other additives.
- They use healthy ingredients for added flavor (where applicable).
- They are allergen-free.
Manufacturers are required by law to disclose all of the ingredients in food and dietary supplement products. If you’re in doubt, start by reading the ingredients label.
Aside from healthy, natural ingredients to add flavor, there should only be two ingredients: medium-chain triglycerides and a carrier (preferably acacia fiber).
If you can’t verify that an MCT powder supplement meets these criteria, look elsewhere. Spending a little extra for a high-quality product will allow you to enjoy the full benefits of MCTs.
Medium-chain triglyceride supplements are a fast-acting, ketogenic source of energy that can reduce your appetite, promote healthy weight loss, improve your cognition, reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease, and enhance your exercise performance.
MCT powder has fewer digestive side-effects, is more portable, and is more versatile for mixing and cooking purposes compared to MCT oil. Some research also suggests that MCT powder is better absorbed for faster results.
While MCT powder is an excellent, convenient way to add medium-chain triglycerides to your diet, some people may opt for MCT oil since it’s less expensive.
Whether you choose oil or powder, sticking with high-quality MCT supplements is vital. Low-quality MCT supplements have unhealthy fillers, poor-quality MCTs, impurities, and other problems that you’re better off avoiding.