Medium chain triglycerides (MCT) oils are saturated fats of shorter chain length than other consumed saturated fats.
If you care about the details, saturated fats are made of fatty acids. These fatty acids are made up of strips of carbon atoms that come in different lengths, from four carbon chains to 22 carbon chains. Most oils consist of long chain triglycerides (LCT), more than 12 carbons long. Medium chain triglycerides are six to 12 carbons long.
The reason this matters is because the length of the carbon chain can make a difference in how your body processes and metabolizes the fat.
In the past it was thought that all saturated fats were bad fats. Now, there are claims that some saturated fats such as MCTs are helpful to weight loss, keeping us fuller longer and improving cognitive function. Some recommend that we switch our fat consumption to things like coconut oil and butter from grass-fed beef to reap the benefits of MCT oil.
However, the research on switching to MCTs is mixed.
In one study, researchers suggested that medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) may slow fat deposition and preserve insulin sensitivity, helping to prevent metabolic disorders.
In another study, mice were given either palm oil or coconut oil and then tested while swimming in an aquarium. The mice given the coconut oil showed greater endurance than the mice that were given palm oil.
Other researchers found that compared to corn oil, coconut oil does not help with weight management — at least in a small study of children.
Researchers who did a review of 13 studies comparing MCTs to LCTs believe that further independent and well-designed research is required to confirm (or debunk) the benefits of MCTs.
The bottom line is that when it comes to MCTs, most agree that the research to date has shown that eating foods which contain medium chain triglycerides may be a good idea. Remember that coconut oil is not the only source of MCTs. Dairy is also a rich source and has been shown to reduce body weight compared to LCTs.
However, most would also agree that MCTs are not the answer for those pursuing weight loss. Exercise and eating a well-balanced diet that eliminates as many overly processed foods as possible is still the best way to remain healthy.
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Tracy Davenport, Ph.D., is a freelance health writer and the C.E.O. of Tracy’s Smoothie Place. She serves as the expert on a weekly radio show about health and wellness and is the author of Making Life Better for a Baby with Acid Reflux and multiple articles about the cost of caregiving. She can be found on Twitter and Instagram @drinksmoothies.