MCT Oil vs. Coconut Oil: Which Supplement is Better?

MCT Oil vs. Coconut Oil: Which Supplement is Better?

Authored by Ryan Rodal • 
July 26, 2019
 • 9 min read

If you’re at all familiar with the ketogenic diet, you’re well aware of the diet’s end goal: increasing ketone production. MCTs can be used for quick energy—both in the form of fat and the conversion of that fat into ketones.

Think of MCT oil as a high octane ketogenic fuel for your body in the form of high quality fat. It’s like hopping in the fast lane to ketosis.

You may be wondering how MCT oil is different than coconut oil. While there is some overlap, they are not the same compounds. MCT oil can actually be derived from coconut, but it is a much more concentrated compound when compared to coconut oil. MCT oil contains 100% MCTs, whereas coconut oil only contains about 45% - 65% MCTs (and the remainder is lesser grade lauric acid MCTs, but we’ll touch back on this later).

Let’s explore the benefits of both MCT oil and coconut oil so you can determine which one may be beneficial for your keto diet.

What are MCTs?

To understand MCTs, let’s start from the beginning. MCT stands for medium chain triglycerides, which are three fatty acid groups with a glycerol backbone.

Triglycerides are a type of fat found in the blood, which are created from any unused calories the body doesn’t immediately use; they’re stored in the fat cells. But many people hear “triglycerides” and associate the term with heart disease and bad cholesterol.

High levels of triglycerides in the blood may pose a risk of cardiovascular disease, however, not all triglycerides are inherently negative.

Truth be told, some MCTs are considered to be healthy fats.

The chain length determines what category each fatty acid fits into: short-chain, medium-chain, and long-chain. The length of these “chains” refer to the number of carbon atoms bound together to create fatty acids.

  • Short-chain fatty acids (or triglycerides): composed of 0 - 5 carbon atoms
  • Medium-chain fatty acids (or triglycerides): composed of 6 - 12 carbon atoms
  • Long-chain fatty acids (or triglycerides): composed of 13 - 21 carbon atoms

Short-chain fatty acids function as friendly gut bacteria that ferment fiber in your colon. They provide the main source of energy for cells lining your colon.1 Long-chain fatty acids are obtained through food sources and can be found in most fats and oils, such as extra virgin olive oil, soybean oil, fish, nuts, avocados, and other meats.

MCTs can be found in certain food sources such as coconut oil and palm oil. But what separates MCTs from other types of fats is in how they're processed by the body—they’re not absorbed in the same exact fashion as other fat sources.

LCTs are preferentially metabolized in the intestine, which results in their incorporation into chylomicrons (fat transporting systems), which end up being used by cells or stored as fat.2 MCTs can be absorbed intact, and are transported to the liver intact, without any metabolic steps. Furthermore, MCTs can directly enter the mitochondria, the cells powerhouse, and help it produce energy.

This is why MCTs, even though they are "fats" have such unique properties. MCTs are directly shuttled to the liver to rapidly be used for energy both in the form of fat and ketones.3 But why is that process beneficial?

Benefits of MCTs

Besides the rapidly increased ketone production from MCTs, there are several secondary benefits of regular MCT use.

MCTs may help increase weight loss.

A study compared the effects of daily consumption of ~20g of MCT vs olive oil in a group of overweight adults.4 All participants underwent a structured weight-loss plan, with one group given ~20g of MCT oil daily and another given an equivalent quantity of olive oil. MCT consumption came out on top, resulting in a lower endpoint of body weight as well as lower total fat mass (plus trunk and intra-abdominal fat) than olive oil. Results of this study suggest that MCT oil consumption can improve weight loss and fat burning when implemented as part of a weight-loss plan.

Another benefit of MCT is increased energy expenditure.

Since medium chain fatty acids are readily oxidized in the liver, they can rapidly be used for energy—both in the form of fat and ketones.

A review on medium-chain triglycerides summarized results from a study where subjects consumed a meal containing 15% energy from protein, 55% from carbohydrates and 30% from fat from either corn oil or MCT oil.5 They measured energy expenditure before eating and six hours after consuming the meal. The results found a 48% increase in energy expenditure in lean individuals and a 65% greater energy expenditure in obese individuals when taking MCTs compared to LCTs. In essence, you're burning more calories while eating the same amount of food.

MCTs may also help support cognitive health.6 In a study performed on eleven patients with type 1 diabetes, participants received either MCT-based drinks or placebo drinks before undergoing a series of cognitive tests. The results found cognitive improvements in areas such as verbal memory, digit symbol coding, and other mental tests. This illustrates MCTs can improve cognitive function and may preserve brain function in diabetic patients.

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Different Types of MCTs

Not all MCTs are created equal. There are four primary types of MCTs, distinguished by the number of carbons they contain:

  • Caproic acid (C6)
  • Caprylic acid (C8)
  • Capric acid (C10)
  • Lauric acid (C12)

All four types of fatty acids are categorized as MCTs, but only C6, C8, and C10 can go straight to the liver to be broken down for ketone production. C12, on the other hand, is digested through the stomach, broken down in the stomach, and absorbed in your blood for energy. Let’s take a look at the makeup of each MCT that can be found in MCT oil and coconut oil.

The types of MCTs include Caproic Acid, Caprylic Acid, Capric Acid, and Lauric Acid.

Caproic Acid (C6)

Known as the shortest MCT, caproic acid has six carbons in each fatty acid chain. Like other MCTs, it can quickly be converted to ketones, but comes with a bitter taste and may cause stomach issues.

Although some MCT products may use caproic acid, its generally not considered the best source of MCTs for ketone production.

Caprylic Acid (C8)

Most people consider caprylic acid (or C8) to be the most ketogenic form of MCT. It contains eight carbon atoms in each fatty acid chain and can be converted to ketones faster than other forms of MCTs.7

One study investigated the ketone-inducing effects of various preparations of MCT oil: coconut oil (3% C8 concentration), classic MCT oil (55% C8 concentration), a mostly C8 concentrate (95%), a mostly C10 concentrate (95%), and a coconut oil mixture combined with 50% C8 or C10 were compared.7 The mostly C8 concentrated milk had the highest net ketogenic effect, inducing the highest plasma ketones at a rate of 800% more than control subjects. Results showcase high levels of C8 in MCT oil can lead to higher plasma ketone production compared to other MCTs.

If you’re following keto, you’ll want products with the highest levels of caprylic acid (C8) to help rapidly increase ketone production.

H.V.M.N.’s MCT Oil powder contains the purest form of C8 along with gut-friendly prebiotic acacia fiber. It also contains zero net carbs and is a fast way to quickly increase ketone production and boost metabolism.

C8 is the world’s most ketogenic high-quality MCT. As such you should strive to make sure the majority of MCTs in your ketogenic diet contain C8 to maximize ketone production.

Capric Acid (C10)

Capric acid, or C10, can be found in coconut oil and certain types of animal milks. There is limited research on C10, but some studies suggest it can provide benefits to the immune system.

In one limited study, 50 microliters of capric acid were applied orally to Candida-infected (a fungal infection) mice.8 The capric acid suppressed growth of the fungus on the tongue’s surface. Although there is not much research on capric acid, it is reasonable to believe it may have antimicrobial benefits.

Lauric Acid (C12)

The scientific community has extensively debated if lauric acid is in fact an MCT. The only reason it is considered as such is because chemists believed 12 carbons fell within the “medium” chain triglyceride range. However, researchers have suggested it behaves more similarly to a long-chain fatty acid, and will not break down into ketones unless you follow a strict low-carb diet.

That’s not to say there aren’t certain health benefits associated with lauric acid. A study showed it may provide antimicrobial and antibacterial properties, but can be less effective for ketone production.9

What is Coconut Oil?

Recently, coconut oil has achieved superfood status. Pure coconut oil comes from coconut flesh, extracting away the fiber, carbohydrates, and proteins—leaving behind just the fat content.

Over 90% of coconut oil is made of saturated fats. Coconut oil mainly contains C12 (approximately 45%-53%), so you may still experience some MCT benefits such as weight loss and increased energy expenditure.10 However, as we previously discussed, lauric acid is a less effective MCT source for producing ketones due to its higher-chained carbon number (because it closely resembles a LCT as opposed to a MCT).

There are some benefits to stand-alone coconut oil such as improving good HDL cholesterol and lowering bad LDL cholesterol.

In a study performed on 40 women, groups were given 30mL of soy bean oil or coconut oil over a 12-week period while following a hypo-caloric diet and walking 50 minutes per day.11 Women who supplemented with coconut oil experienced higher HDL levels (the good cholesterol) and lower LDL levels (the bad cholesterol), as well as a reduction in waist circumference. Based on the data, it appears stand-alone coconut oil may improve cholesterol, reduce weight, and lower the risk of heart disease.

The image describes what coconut oil is and how it's extracted along with some of its benefits.,

Another benefit of coconut oil is it’s skin-care abilities. In a study performed on 34 patients with xerosis, gave either coconut oil or mineral oil twice a day for two weeks.12 Both oils showed significant improvements in skin hydration and skin surface lipid levels. Although this study does not prove coconut oil is superior to mineral oil, it still leads us to believe it can hydrate dry skin.

Coconut oil can provide certain health benefits not seen in pure MCT oil. But it depends on your goals. If it’s to produce ketones, coconut oil isn’t the best choice. If it’s to hydrate skin, stick with the coconut oil.

How to Cook with MCT Oil and Coconut Oil

Now that you understand the differences between MCT and coconut oil, let’s put them into action.

Some people consume these oils directly (depending again, on their need). But you can mix them into food and drink for more palatability, and also to develop a consistent routine when using them.

MCT oil is versatile as it can be used in butter coffee, as a cooking oil, smoothie ingredient, or even to create tasty fat bombs.

The good thing about MCT oil is its flavorless profile—it can be a chameleon, used in virtually any cooking situation.

It also mixes flawlessly due to its liquid texture. You can blend it, drizzle it, or use it in place of other oils such as vegetable oil, coconut oil, or even olive oil.

The image describes the differences between MCT Oil and Coconut Oil. MCT Oil is flavorless while Coconut Oil is sweet. MCT oil is easily mixed while Coconut Oil is solid at room temperature. MCT oil is great for butter coffee while coconut oil can be used for cooking.

An alternative to MCT oil is MCT oil powder, which is made through a process called spray drying. A liquid supplement (MCT oil) is converted into a solid form (MCT powder), then spray dried and micro-encapsulated with a powder “carrier shell” to give it the appearance and convenience of a powder.

MCT powder products are may be easier to incorporate into baking recipes and can also be used for convenient on-the-go single servings. H.V.M.N. MCT Oil Powder is a great option for high-quality ketogenic fat, as it's made with pure C8 MCT and a base of acacia fiber (a gut-friendly prebiotic). It’s a great way to hit your keto goals—whether it’s feeling energetic, increasing mental clarity, or switching your metabolism into fat burning mode.

Coconut oil is great for cooking and baking, given its taste. You can find plenty of recipes, such as coconut macaroons or even coconut oil stir-fry. The one bad part about coconut oil? Its solidity at room temperature—it can be difficult to use in certain recipes such as salad dressings, without first melting it.

Both MCT oil and coconut oil can be incorporated into your diet as a healthy source of fat. You just have to get creative with your cooking style and determine which recipes you enjoy most.

MCT Oil vs. Coconut Oil: Which Wins?

To summarize: the main difference between MCT oil and coconut oil lies in their MCT content.

Pure 100% C8 MCT oil can rapidly be used for energy, both in the form of fat and ketones.7 It can also improve fat loss when included as part of a structured weight loss program. Pure MCTs also increase energy expenditure compared to LCTs.

When you use MCT products, be sure to research their MCT content, as not all MCTs provide the exact same health benefits.

If you’re looking for the highest-quality fats along with a gut-friendly prebiotic, give MCT Oil Powder by H.V.M.N. a try—stop combing through nutrition labels, we have you covered.

Coconut oil contains all four types of medium-chain fatty acids, but only limited amounts of C8, (which is best for quickly increasing ketone production). Coconut oil can provide its own set of health benefits, but should be viewed differently from stand-alone MCT oil. Most of the MCTs found in coconut oil come from lauric acid (C12), which behaves more similarly to a LCT even though it is labeled as a MCT.

Both coconut oil and MCT oil can provide benefits for your body to tap into, but if you're looking for more rapid ketone production, pure C8 MCT oil is second to none.

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Scientific Citations

1.Cook SI, Sellin JH. Review article: short chain fatty acids in health and disease. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 1998;12(6):499-507.
2.Beermann C, Jelinek J, Reinecker T, Hauenschild A, Boehm G, Klör HU. Short term effects of dietary medium-chain fatty acids and n-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids on the fat metabolism of healthy volunteers. Lipids Health Dis. 2003;2:10.
3.Takeuchi H, Sekine S, Kojima K, Aoyama T. The application of medium-chain fatty acids: edible oil with a suppressing effect on body fat accumulation. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 2008;17 Suppl 1:320-3.
4.St-onge MP, Bosarge A. Weight-loss diet that includes consumption of medium-chain triacylglycerol oil leads to a greater rate of weight and fat mass loss than does olive oil. Am J Clin Nutr. 2008;87(3):621-6.
5.St-onge MP, Jones PJ. Physiological effects of medium-chain triglycerides: potential agents in the prevention of obesity. J Nutr. 2002;132(3):329-32.
6.Page, K.A., Williamson, A., Yu, N., McNay, E.C., Dzuira, J., McCrimmon, R.J., and Sherwin, R.S. (2009). Medium-chain fatty acids improve cognitive function in intensively treated type 1 diabetic patients and support in vitro synaptic transmission during acute hypoglycemia. Diabetes 58, 1237-44.
7.Vandenberghe, C., St-Pierre, V., Pierotti, T., Fortier, M., Castellano, C.-A., and Cunnane, S.C. (2017). Tricaprylin Alone Increases Plasma Ketone Response More Than Coconut Oil or Other Medium-Chain Triglycerides: An Acute Crossover Study in Healthy Adults. Current Developments in Nutrition 1.
8.Takahashi M, Inoue S, Hayama K, Ninomiya K, Abe S. [Inhibition of Candida mycelia growth by a medium chain fatty acids, capric acid in vitro and its therapeutic efficacy in murine oral candidiasis]. Med Mycol J. 2012;53(4):255-61.
9.Nakatsuji T, Kao MC, Fang JY, et al. Antimicrobial property of lauric acid against Propionibacterium acnes: its therapeutic potential for inflammatory acne vulgaris. J Invest Dermatol. 2009;129(10):2480-8.
10.Dayrit F. The Properties of Lauric Acid and Their Significance in Coconut Oil. Journal of the American Oil Chemists' Society. 2015;92(1):1-15. doi:10.1007/s11746-014-2562-7.
11.Assunção ML, Ferreira HS, Dos santos AF, Cabral CR, Florêncio TM. Effects of dietary coconut oil on the biochemical and anthropometric profiles of women presenting abdominal obesity. Lipids. 2009;44(7):593-601.
12.Agero AL, Verallo-rowell VM. A randomized double-blind controlled trial comparing extra virgin coconut oil with mineral oil as a moisturizer for mild to moderate xerosis. Dermatitis. 2004;15(3):109-16.
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© 2019 HVMN Inc. All Rights Reserved. H.V.M.N.®, Health Via Modern Nutrition™, Nootrobox®, Rise™, Sprint®, Yawn®, Kado™, and GO Cubes® are registered trademarks of HVMN Inc. ΔG® is a trademark of TΔS® and used under exclusive license by HVMN Inc.