I am often asked what I think about MCT oil. ‘Is it healthy?’, ‘Would I recommend it?’ and ‘How much should I put in my coffee?’
There are numerous health claims ranging from weight management to improved brain function. So here are some of your questions answered.
First a quick basic chemistry lesson….
The building blocks of fats are fatty acids and glycerol and stored in the body in the form of triglycerides. Fatty acids are made up of carbon and hydrogen atoms strung together. The position that the fatty acid sits on the glycerol molecule, decides its characteristics, ie its digestibility and melting point.
MCT is short for medium-chain triglycerides or medium-chain fatty acids, which is the length of their chemical structure. They have unique properties, contain 6 to 12 carbon atoms and are more water-soluble the long chain fatty acids. This enables our fat digesting lipase enzymes to digests them more rapidly. They require less bile salts and lecithin for digestion so are easier for our system to process.
Coconut oil contains several types of fatty acids and four strains of MCTs:
- Caproic acid (C6) (C6 means it contains six carbon atoms)
- Caprylic acid (C8) 6% of coconut oil (Brain Octane oil; 1 tbsp = 18 tbsp coconut oil)
- Capric acid (C10) 9% coconut oil (XCT oil, cheaper than caprylic acid; 1 tbsp XCT oil = 6 tbsp coconut)
- Lauric acid (C12) 50% of coconut oil (long chain triglyceride)
C6, 8 and 10 bypass our digestive tract, they’re easily converted into energy and absorbed more quickly than other fats, with the exception of lauric acid. Unfortunately lauric acid is the main component in coconut oil and is nearly a long chain fatty acid and studies show you can’t get enough of the beneficial MCT’s from just eating a so called ‘MCT oil’ diluted with lauric acid or coconut oil alone. Too many MCTs can produce an unpleasant scratchy sensation at the back of the throat.
Manufacturers are legally allowed to claim that lauric acid is an MCT because it was named that way by chemists, although biochemists knows it behaves as a long chain fatty acid in the body.
Is it healthy?
MTCs are an industrial intervention with some therapeutic benefits. They do not exist in nature in the concentrated form in which we obtain them from bottles. They are triglycerides who’s fatty acids are saturated, and have medium chain lengths. According to Udo Erasmus, MCTs are separated from palm kernel and coconut oils by clipping fatty acids off glycerol (hydrolysis) are, followed by separating medium chain from long chain fatty acids (fractionation), and finally reconnecting the median chain fatty acid to glycerol (re-esterification), having lost the minor components of the coconuts from which they’ll made. So MCTs can be a byproduct of fractionation used to separate lauric and myristic acid-rich fractions from these oils for use in margarines.
Do I recommend MCT oil?
Its low smoke point means it shouldn’t be used for cooking. What is the shelf life of your oil? And has it been stored in a dark glass bottle in a cold environment? Are you adding it to boiling water? Does it smell rancid?
Be careful its not doing you more harm than good.
MCT oil production produces byproducts toxic to the human body and can cause diarrhoea, bloating, nausea, cramping and irritation, so oil purity is imperative to avoid free radical damage in the body. Because of all these factors I don’t personally recommend MCT oil, I cook with Ghee and coconut oil and use avocado olive and sesame oils.
‘Fats that heal, fats that harm’ Udo Erasmus