MCT oil seems to be one of those buzzed-about supplements that keeps popping up on our radar. What it is about this oil supplement that warrants so much hype—and is it just hype?

Brierley Horton, M.S., R.D.
January 16, 2020
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Remember when coconut oil first came onto the alternative health scene? People were using it for everything—in their cooking, on their skin, as a mouth rinse. Well coconut oil's good-for-everything reputation was because it contains MCTs (learn more about coconut oil and if it's healthy)

What Are MCTs and What Is MCT Oil?

MCT stands for medium-chain triglyceride, which is the scientific way of describing the size of the fatty acid (specifically MCTs are 8 to 10 carbons long). Its length makes the way it is absorbed and used in your body unique—and that's where the various health claims stem from. (So-called long-chain fatty acids (or LCTs) are 12 to 18 carbons long and are the predominant form of fat in the American diet. Olive oil is an example of a LCT-rich oil.)

MCT oil can be found in some grocery stores and, of course online. Most commercial forms of MCT oil are meant to be added to meals (think: in a sauce or salad dressing) or consumed by the spoonful. One tablespoon contains 130 calories and 14 grams saturated fat. For some, consuming MCT oil alone causes an upset stomach or nausea. Those seem to be the only immediate adverse effect, though.

What Are the Health Benefits of MCT Oil?

In addition to being found in coconut oil, MCTs are also in palm kernel oil, and MCT oil can be made from both of those oils. MCT oil is said to help with weight loss and boost energy. It's also popular among people following a ketogenic diet because MCT oil is believed to help you stay in ketosis.

But how legit are these purported benefits? Let's dig in.

Will MCT Oil Give Boost Your Energy Levels?

The research suggests that, yes, MCT oil may give you an energy boost. But not the kind of jolt that a cup of coffee or an energy drink deliver (here are some other energy-boosting foods to try). MCT oil gives you a literal energy boost in that it fuels your body's cells, and quickly because it's metabolized as quickly as glucose—and glucose is one of the fastest energy sources for your body. Another study showed that MCT oil supplements helped recreational athletes exercise longer at high-intensity.

Will MCT Oil Help You Lose Weight?

Most of the research done on MCT oil has been on body weight. And the current take is that it can help with weight loss. One study, published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, gave overweight dieters either MCT oil or olive oil to add to their regimen. After 4 months, the MCT oil group lost about 3½ more pounds than the dieters who were given olive oil. Other research found that men who include MCTs in their diets (versus olive oil) burn more fat; and women boost their metabolism slightly.

Getty Images / a_namenko

Should You Take MCT Oil if You're Following the Ketogenic Diet?

One of the current markets MCT oil is targeted towards are people on the ketogenic diet—and that's because MCT oil is said to keep your body in ketosis longer. How? When your body breaks down (aka metabolizes) MCT oil, the production of another compound is increased—and that compound once it goes through a few more steps eventually helps to produce ketones. That extra production of ketones helps to keep you in ketosis.

Bottom Line

MCT oil isn't as magical as some of the claims suggest. It has the potential, though, to give you a small boost in calorie burn and even maybe a little extra oomph in the gym. Beyond that, it's just another source of saturated fat in your diet.