You know that fat is essential to the keto diet. But are there some types of fat that are better than others for the keto diet? Coconut oil has gained significant attention because it naturally contains a type of fat called Medium-Chain Triglycerides.
MCT oil is almost completely composed of Medium-Chain Triglycerides. Is there an advantage of one over the other? In this article, we are going to take a look at coconut oil vs. MCT oil and determine which is best for the keto diet.
Let’s review: the nutritional goal of the keto diet is to reach a state of nutritional ketosis – when your body uses ketones from the breakdown of fat for energy instead of glucose from the breakdown of carbohydrates. To achieve this in a way that is beneficial for your health, you need to make sure to be consuming enough fat to meet your energy needs. The fat must be high-quality, however. As you probably know, low-quality fat, like artificial trans-fat, should be avoided at all costs.
Getting high-quality fat in your everyday meals can be tricky. In addition to eating animal protein and full-fat dairy, you should be eating pure fats like butter and oils. Supplemental oil, like coconut oil and MCT oil, could also be very helpful in allowing you to achieve your macro goals while ensuring the quality of your fat intake.
Now that we are all on the same page regarding the importance of fat quality in the keto diet, let’s get down to business – how does coconut oil compare to MCT oil?
Coconut oil comes from the white, meaty part of coconuts. Before the oil is extracted, the dried meat, called “copra,” contains 62-65% fat, 7-5% protein, 15% carbohydrates and 10-15% other components. In order to obtain the oil, the copra goes through an oil expeller 1. The oil should be stored in an air-tight container in a cool and dry place to extend its shelf-life.
Extra virgin coconut oil the oil that is first extracted. It is obtained mechanically, and this is the most pure. Virgin coconut oil is the oil that results from the second extraction. Sometimes, manufacturers may use chemical agents to help release the oil from the rest of the coconut copra. This is why extra virgin coconut oil is seen as “more pure” than other forms of coconut oil.
Coconut oil may be solid or liquid, but if it is pure, non-hydrogenated coconut oil (in other words, coconut oil that isn’t chemically liquified), the composition isn’t different. Since coconut oil solidifies at temperatures above 75ºF, depending on the temperature of your home, you might find that coconut oil is white and solid, or clear and liquid 2. The nutritional content of both oils is the same.
While nutritional value labels put different types of saturated fats in one category, there are significant differences between medium-chain fatty acids (or medium-chain triglycerides) and long-chain fatty acids.
As mentioned earlier in this article, MCT stands for Medium-Chain Triglycerides. It is a form of saturated fatty acid that is found in several oily plant sources, including palm kernel and coconut oil, as well as in the butter from grass-fed animals.
Coconut Oil vs. MCT Oil: Know the Difference
Before we get into the composition of the two different types of oils, it is important to differentiate between the different types of medium-chain triglycerides, which are key components of both coconut oil and MCT oil.
There are four different types of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), which are also called medium-chain fatty acids 3:
- Caproic acid (C6)
- Caprylic acid (C8)
- Capric acid (C10)
- Lauric acid (C12)
MCTs are different from long-chain fatty acids. Long chain fatty acids are believed to be the cause of many of the negative health impacts of fatty acids on the heart and blood and may promote obesity 10.
Each type of MCT has different properties, and coconut oil and MCT oil have different compositions of MCTs.
Composition of coconut oil
Why was coconut oil viewed as healthy, after so many years of the western diet running from it? We now know that coconut oil contains significant amounts of Lauric Acid, a type of medium-chain triglyceride. Lauric acid has many health benefits because it is metabolized differently – it diffuses freely across cell membranes to become available for use 6.
Coconut oil contains about 60% MCTs, and about 30% long-chain fatty acids. Remember that longer-chain fatty acids don’t have the nutritional benefits that MCTs do 3. Of the MCTs, about 80% come from lauric acid. Capric (C10) and caprylic acid (C8) are the next most abundant, and caproic acid (C6) is the least abundant of the MCTs in coconut oil.
Composition of MCT oil
MCT oil contains 100% MCTs, but in different proportions than coconut oil.
The composition of MCT oil depends on the manufacturer. For the sake of illustration, let’s look at the fatty acid composition of Kiss My Keto’s MCT oil capsules:
- 55% caprylic acid (C8)
- 48% capric acid (C10)
Some compositions also contain lauric acid (C12), but C8 and C12 fatty acids are found in most abundance.
Health benefits of coconut oil
While it was traditionally believed that saturated fat of all kinds, including plant-based saturated fat, was detrimental for health and could result in high cholesterol levels; there are several studies that demonstrate the opposite, specifically for the types of fat contained in coconut.
Landmark studies in the 70s and 80s showed how societies that consume significant amounts of coconut in different forms, like the Polynesians and Bicolanos have healthy blood lipid profiles, despite consuming significant amounts of fat from coconut oil 4, 5.
There is evidence that consuming virgin coconut oil has also been found to increase the antioxidant status of rats. This means that our bodies are more equipped to fight against free radicals, which, if uncontrolled, can damage cells and cause inflammation and cancer 11.
It is important to mention that between 30-50% of fat in coconut oil is not composed of MCTs. Instead, it is composed of long-chain triglycerides, which are not linked to many of the health benefits mentioned above 16.
Health benefits of MCT oil
Most MCT oil contains C10 and C8 fatty acids and may contain small amounts of lauric acid (C12). C6 fatty acids tend to have a bad taste, which is why they are usually avoided as an ingredient in supplements.
MCTs have several metabolic advantages over other sorts of fat. The absorption and transport process is much shorter than for long-chain fatty acids, and they are a preferred source of energy for the body. MCTs may help boost weight loss, especially fat loss 12. In fact, when MCTs are at least 45% of fat intake, research has shown that there is a tendency for fat loss when compared to subjects with diets with long-chain triglycerides 13, 14. This may be because MCTs boost metabolism and increase energy expenditure 14.
The MCT oil capsules mentioned above an abundance of capric acid (C10) and caprylic acid (C8). C8 fatty acids can greatly improve gut health and have strong antioxidant properties 7. C8 fatty acids can possibly have a beneficial effect on brain health and may help to prevent and treat Alzheimer’s disease 8.
Risks and side effects
Risks and side effects of coconut oil
As mentioned previously, coconut oil is not 100% MCTs. Only about half of the fat in coconut oil are MCTs, and most of the remaining composition is long-chain fatty acids. Long-chain fatty acids take longer to absorb and be made available for energy. It is also easier for these types of fat to be converted to body fat and more likely to have negative effects on the cardiovascular system 16.
Even if coconut oil contains significant amounts of beneficial lauric acid, we cannot forget that coconut oil is a rich source of calories. Coconut oil, if consumed, should only be consumed moderately.
Over-consuming coconut oil could lead to gastrointestinal issues like indigestion, diarrhea, vomiting gas, and essential fatty acid deficiency 17.
Risks and side effects of MCT oil
MCT oil has removed the long-chain triglycerides from the formulation so that the brain- and energy-boosting MCTs remain. However, like with coconut oil, MCT oil is very high in calories. The key to the ketogenic diet is ensuring that you stay within your macronutrient limits designed to either maintain weight or lose weight. While it is more difficult to do with MCT oil than with other forms of saturated fat, if you severely over-consume MCT oil, you could gain fat simply because you are consuming more calories than you are using.
While consuming MCT oil is perfectly safe for most people, as with any supplement, it is important not to exceed the recommended dose and monitor your energy, alertness, and bowel movements to make sure you aren’t having any unwanted side effects.
Just like with coconut oil, in people who are not accustomed to consuming high-fat diets, over-consuming MCT oil could lead to gastrointestinal issues like indigestion, diarrhea, vomiting gas, and essential fatty acid deficiency 17.
Uses of coconut oil
Coconut oil is commonly used for food and non-food purposes. It is used in cooking, especially Polynesian and Southeast Asian cooking. It is also commonly used for beauty-care purposes, including moisturizing your skin and hair, boosting dental health, relieving skin irritation, and others 18. With the rise of the Keto diet, coconut oil is used as a replacement for other vegetable oils in cooking, and as a supplement to boost the fat content of different foods. Recently capsules of coconut oil have also been developed.
Uses of MCT oil
MCT oil is used primarily as a supplement. It is designed to take as a pill or added to foods and drinks with the main purpose of boosting medium-chain triglyceride intake.
Price of coconut oil
Coconut oil can be found at a variety of prices depending on the desired quality.
A 16 fl oz tub of extra virgin coconut oil can vary in price from $10-$40. The price increases depending on the purity and processing techniques, and whether it has organic and free-trade certifications.
Coconut oil that comes in capsules specifically for supplementation purposes can cost between $8 and $20 for 120 capsules.
Price of MCT oil
As with coconut oil, the price of MCTs can vary greatly depending on quality and manufacturing techniques. Because we can only vouch for Kiss My Keto’s quality, we will focus on the prices of supplements made by this manufacturer.
For liquid MCT oil, one 32 Oz bottle of C8 MCT Oil costs $32.99.
Powdered forms of MCT oil, which allow for a more diverse use of MCT oil, costs between $28 – $38 for 3.5 oz.
As for capsules, the cost of Kiss My Keto’s MCT Oil Capsules is $28 for 300 units.
Remember that while MCT oil may be more expensive than some brands of coconut oil, it contains only premium oil. In other words, MCT oil contains only the type of fat that boosts energy and brain function, while cutting out the other types of saturated fat that could act against you. MCT oil supplements also come in a diversity of presentations – powdered, flavored and in capsules, so you can choose which works best for your lifestyle.
While coconut oil wins points for use as a cooking agent and for its lower price, MCT oil is the better choice for supplemental nutrition purposes.
MCT oil contains only the type of saturated fats that are known to be absorbed quickly, boost energy and brain health, and boost fat loss – all while protecting heart health.
Coconut oil contains lauric acid, which has demonstrated several health benefits, but it also contains several saturated fats that don’t have the health properties MCTs do.
MCT oil finishes ahead because of its benefits for the ketogenic diet.
- Both coconut oil and MCT oil contain beneficial medium-chain triglycerides
- There are hundreds of studies that support the health benefits of both coconut oil and MCTs in general.
- Coconut oil contains controversial, less-beneficial saturated fats, in addition to the more beneficial MCTs.
- Coconut oil is generally cheaper than MCTs, but MCT oil has extracted premium MCTs from coconut oil which are most beneficial for a keto dieter.