MCT Oil vs. Coconut Oil: What's the Difference?

Better Nutrition|August 2020

MCT Oil vs. Coconut Oil: What's the Difference?
Both have therapeutic health effects, but they aren’t the same.
MELISSA DIANE SMITH

Q MCT oil and coconut oil seem alike in my mind. I’m not sure how they differ and which one to use. Do they have the same benefits, and can they be used interchangeably?

No, definitely not. While both can be therapeutic for certain conditions, there are key differences between MCT and coconuts oils, and each has unique benefits and uses. It’s important to understand the pros and cons of each to determine which oil is more appropriate for you—or whether you want to use them both.

Coconut oil is a historically used fat in many tropical areas of the world, and it has become popular among many health-oriented shoppers in recent years. It is considered the richest food source of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), also called medium-chain fatty acids, which are primarily capric, caprylic, and lauric acids. It also contains some long-chain fatty acids, which aren’t as easy for the body to digest.

The fact that coconut oil is listed as a rich source of MCTs should have an asterisk next to it, though. The highest percentage of fatty acids in coconut oil is from lauric acid. Even though lauric acid is considered a medium-chain fatty acid by chemists, it behaves more like a long-chain fatty acid in terms of digestion and absorption. For this reason, many experts suggest that coconut oil should not be considered an MCT-rich oil. Lauric acid has notable antimicrobial effects, but it doesn’t have the easy-to-digest characteristics of MCTs that encourage the body to burn fat and provide quick energy.

MCTs, on the other hand, don’t require the enzymes or bile acids for digestion and absorption that long-chain fatty acids require. This allows MCTs to go straight to your liver where they are either used for immediate energy or turned into ketones, compounds produced when your liver breaks down a lot of fat.

MCT oil contains 100 percent MCTs, compared with about 50 percent in coconut oil. MCT oil is made by refining coconut oil or palm oil to remove other compounds and to concentrate the MCTs naturally found in the oils.

The Benefits and Uses of MCT Oil

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August 2020