With the fat phobia of the ‘80’s and ‘90’s now well and truly behind us, it’s no surprise we’re beginning to see more fat related supplements or “functional foods” hitting the shelves. One of the more popular options currently are MCTs, or medium-chain triglycerides.
What are MCTs?
MCTs are a type of saturated fat composed of fatty acids containing 6-10 carbons. They’re naturally found in small amounts in a handful of foods, with the main sources being coconut and palm kernel oil and full-fat dairy.
What you need to know about MCT oil
MCT oil is simply a liquid composed entirely of medium-chain triglycerides that have been isolated from their natural sources to create a unique fat. And while MCT oil has been used medicinally for several decades, it has gained prominence in the last decade as a health and fitness supplement, specifically when it comes to fat loss.
The reason MCTs have gained popularity in the fat loss market is due to their unique properties when compared to other fats. In particular, MCT oil has the ability to influence both the energy in (kilojoules eaten) and energy out (kilojoules expended) sides of the weight loss equation.
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The link between MCT oil and fat loss
Firstly, MCTs aren’t digested and absorbed like regular fats. In fact, they are treated much more like carbohydrates, due to being rapidly absorbed and transported straight to our livers to be broken down and used for energy. This unique ability means that they’re much more likely to be used for energy than stored as body fat. This rapid absorption also means that they’re highly ketogenic, increasing the rate of ketones produced in the liver. Even if you’re not following a ketogenic diet, researchers believe that it’s MCTs ability to rapidly produce ketones that may partly explain its appetite suppressing effects.
Multiple studies have shown that when MCTs are substituted for other types of fats, participants tend to eat less at their next meal, as well as have a lower kilojoule intake over 24 hours.
In addition to their possible appetite suppressing effects, MCT oil has also been shown to have a small, positive effect on our metabolic rate via an increase in diet induced thermogenesis (DIT). This means it costs the body more energy to breakdown and use than other fats.
While this all sounds good on paper, you may be thinking, “but will I actually lose fat?”
Well, one study by researchers at Colombia University found that individuals who added MCT oil rather than olive oil to their diet lost twice as much fat mass during a 16-week weight loss program.
In agreement with these findings, two recent review papers found that MCTs did have a small but significant benefit on reducing body weight, body fat, and waist circumference when replacing other fats in the diet.
MCTs aren’t your ticket to melting fat while sitting on the couch binge watching Friends re-runs. In all of the above studies, MCTs were replacing other fats in the diet, not in addition to. In other words, just adding MCTs to a less than stellar diet isn’t going to guarantee fat loss. Sorry.
Like all supplements, it may be a useful addition to an already healthy diet focused on nutrient dense, whole foods.
How to add MCT oil into your diet
There’s a number of ways to easily add MCT oil into your diet:
1. Get cooking
You can replace conventional oils with MCT oil, or use it along with regular coconut oil and/or butter (half and half). You can sub out about 1/4 to 1/3 of the coconut oil for MCT oil instead. This makes for more nutritional baking! Just note, I wouldn’t recommend cooking over 180 degrees with MCT oil due to its medium heat smoke index. This means MCT oil won’t oxidize from heat (becoming rancid) when baking/cooking at 180 degrees or lower.
2. Saucy salads
Get creative with your favourite salad dressings, you can replace the oil (or part of the oil) in your homemade dressings with MCT oil.
3. In coffee
For an easy addition to your diet, you can simply add a few teaspoons to your morning coffee. You can also get your hands on instant coffee sachets like the one from Body Science.
James Kuhn is an Accredited Practising Nutritionist and expert for Body Science.