Is MCT Oil the Next Fish Oil?

Find out why MCT oil is trending, and how it differs from other heart-healthy oils on the market.

Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.

MCT stands for medium-chain triglycerides, which is a form of saturated fats that have some interesting features. It has long been used by bodybuilders as a supplement due to their tendency 
to be burned by the body as energy rather than stored as fat around your waist. And there’s a lot of ongoing research on MCTs and the brain.

First, some background. All fatty acids are chains of carbon molecules, and they are categorized by the number of carbons in their chain. Short-chain fatty acids are fatty acids with six or fewer carbons; long-chain fatty acids are those 
with 12 or more carbons; and medium-chain fatty acids are 
those with eight to 10 carbons.

Many integrative neurologists – such as David Perlmutter, MD – recommend diets high in MCTs because of their positive effect on the brain. Indeed, ketogenic diets with MCTs are an accepted treatment for childhood epilepsy 
at many of the top hospitals around the country because MCTs produce ketones, which help stabilize brain waves. Ketones are a wonderful alternative to glucose (sugar) as a source of fuel for the heart, brain and skeletal muscles. There are even MCT-based drugs and medical foods being tested in clinical trials that may help Alzheimer’s patients by creating ketones that help brain neurons become better able to utilize glucose in order to fuel and energize the brain.  

The main fat in coconut oil is actually lauric acid, which, at a carbon length of 12, doesn’t really qualify as an MCT even though 
many manufacturers call it one 
(and include it in the percentage of MCTs they claim for their coconut oil). Meanwhile, a true MCT oil supplement – such as Bulletproof Brain Octane – won’t contain any lauric acid, only one or both of the two true medium-chain fatty acids, caprylic acid (eight carbons) and capric acid (10 carbons). 

Both coconut oil and MCT oil have their advocates, and many people use both. MCT oil is a good, fast-burning source of calories and a very healthy fat that apparently has some nice benefits for the brain because it stabilizes brain waves and fuels 
the brain with energy. But you 
can’t cook with it because it is very unstable at high heat. On the other hand, coconut oil is terrific for cooking. And its main fat, lauric acid, may not technically be an MCT, but it’s highly antimicrobial and good for the immune system. I see uses for and like both of them, so incorporate both into your clean-eating diet. 

Trending on Clean Eating

Show Your Liver Some Love: A Clean Eating Webinar

Join Clean Eating dietitians Tiffani Bachus and Erin Macdonald for an exclusive webinar all about liver health and wellness.