Nutrition Spotlight: MCT Oil

The nutrition field is super exciting. I feel like every day there is a new health food trend on social media. I find it all fascinating and the first thing I do is go to the research to see if these health claims are true! (PS: I found a great resource called Cleveland Clinic’s Supplement Review that gives you evidence-based information on popular supplements!) Anyway, recently I’ve been seeing MCT (or Medium Chain Triglyceride) oil making an appearance on social media. I thought it was interesting because we learn about MCTs in metabolism. Now it is on my facebook feed! MCT oil is being sold in health food stores claiming miraculous health benefits and it’s pretty expensive.

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What is a Medium-Chain Triglyceride (MCT)?

First of all, a triglyceride is what makes up fat. It is molecule made up of a glycerol backbone with three fatty acid chains attached.

structure of a triglyceride

Medium-chain triglycerides are those with medium-sized fatty acid chains attached to the glycerol backbone.

Fatty+Acid+Structures

The difference between MCTs and short and long chain triglycerides is the process that they undergo when they are broken down by the body. MCTs are absorbed directly into the liver from your intestines to be used as energy, while the others have to pass into the lymphatic system first. MCTs don’t require bile to be digested, while the others require bile for breakdown. Palm kernel oil and coconut oil are both rich sources of MCTs. Dairy fats (like from butter, cheese and milk) also contain MCTs. This feature is why products claim they are a good source of energy.

Are there any health benefits?

MCT oil is usually used for those on a ketogenic diet. This diet is used to treat neurological diseases like epilepsy. MCTs are also used as a supplement for those with malabsorption problems like inflammatory bowel disease. But chances are you are seeing MCTs because they claim to help you lose weight! Some studies show that use of MCT oil can promote weight loss because keeps you full longer. But most other studies have been inconclusive. Calories are another thing to consider.  One tablespoon of MCT oil contains 115 calories, which is something to keep in mind if you are watching your intake. Cleveland Clinic Supplement Review states that MCT oil is a “safe and effective short-term product for weight loss, metabolic syndrome, obesity and improving inflammatory markers. This is a high-calorie food, however, and it is quite filling, so it may act as a replacement for other calories in the diet.”

I am a proponent for getting your nutrients from actual food versus supplements, so I’d recommend to get your MCTs from foods, such as dairy, cheese or milk, rather than oil. I know I’d rather eat real food than to just eat a tablespoon of oil. Also, keep in mind that MCTs are a saturated fat, and eating too much saturated fat can lead to heart disease. So unless you are eating a very healthy diet most of the time, I wouldn’t go crazy with MCT oil. My Plate recommends that 20 to 35 percent of your daily total calories come fat, which should include unsaturated fats, those healthy fatty acids like omega-3s and omega-6s we get from nuts, seeds, olives, avocados and fatty fish like salmon. These are important for improving HDL (good cholesterol)  and lowering LDL (bad cholesterol) and pertinent to heart health!

I enjoyed researching MCT oil and I hope that you are now better informed. If there is anything other hot nutrition trend you’d like to me write about, leave a comment or email me!

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