To understand the difference between pure MCT oil and coconut oil, you must understand the difference between medium-chain triglycerides and long-chain triglycerides.
In this article, we will briefly explain this difference and why it should matter to you. Additionally, we will share information regarding sources for both MCT and LCT and give advice and practical tips on how to use each. Read on to learn more.
What Are Long Chain Triglycerides (LCT)?
Triglycerides are also known as fatty acids. The body uses fatty acids for many different functions. For example, fatty acids are essential to building the structure of cell membranes. We need fatty acids to create nerve cells and to produce energy.
Long-chain triglycerides (LCT) are also referred to as Long-Chain Fatty Acids (LCFA). Fatty acids are made up of chains of carbon atoms that have hydrogen atoms attached at one end and an acid grouping at the other end. These make up the major components of dietary fats (aka triglycerides). [source]
According to modern thinking, long-chain fatty acids contain 20 or more carbon atoms; however, this has apparently not always been the case. During the mid-20th century, fatty acids containing a dozen carbon atoms (e.g. lauric acid) were classified as long chain.
One result of marketing efforts surrounding coconut and palm oil has been a gradual shifting of these classifications to have lauric acid reclassified as a medium-chain fatty acid; however, it behaves like and is processed as a long chain fatty acid.
What Does This Mean?
Basically, LCTs are good for lots of things. They help build cell structure, coat the myelin sheath of the central nervous system, and nourish the body on a regular ongoing basis. MCTs, on the other hand, provide quick results in terms of energy, athletic performance, and brain power. Lauric acid is called an MCT, but it acts like an LCT.
Types Of LCTs
Omega 3 (long chain) fatty acids are divided into two different types. They are:
- EPA – eicosapentaenoic acid
- DHA – docosahexaenoic acid
EPA is made up of 20 carbon atoms, and DHA has 22. These are long chains of carbon atoms, and this fact may go far toward explaining why lauric acid with its 12 carbon atoms is generally considered a medium chain fatty acid.
Long-chain fatty acids require more processing to be useful to the body, and this is true of lauric acid. The fact that these fatty acids require more processing does not mean that they are not desirable. They are desirable and very necessary to good health, but they do not provide the same benefits as medium chain fatty acids.
You do need LCTs, though. People who eat animal protein can get LCTs from seafood such as:
Vegetarians and vegans can find a good source of LCTs in coconut oil, and to a lesser extent in some ocean vegetables, vegetable oils, and nut oils.
LCTs Provide Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids
LCTs have carbon atom chains with many double bonds. The most abundant LCTs in the brain are DHA and another known as ARA (arachidonic acid). These are present in breast milk, and they represent one of the many important reasons why breastfeeding is important for infant development. Adults can build up supplies of ARA by eating eggs and seafood.
Long-Chain Saturated Fatty Acids
Chains of carbon atoms that are completely saturated with hydrogen atoms make up long-chain saturated fatty acids. Saturated fat solidifies at room temperature. These types of fatty acids are found in meat and dairy products, such as:
They can also be found in natural coconut oil and (to a lesser extent) palm oil.
How Do Fatty Acids Affect Health?
All the fatty acids are necessary to good health, and the health effects of each type are individual. Omega-3 fatty acids are well-known for their ability to improve overall good health by reducing the risk of heart attack, lowering blood pressure, and regulating mood swings. [source]
Polyunsaturated fatty acids are necessary for visual and brain development in people of all ages. An especially abundant supply of these fatty acids is crucial for good brain and ocular development in infants. Therefore, pregnant and nursing mothers are encouraged to consume higher levels of long-chain fatty acids and provide longer durations of breastfeeding for optimum infant brain development.
What Are Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCT)?
MCTs are also referred to as Medium-Chain Fatty Acids (MCFA). Just as with LCTs, these fatty acids are referred to regarding the length of carbon chains in their makeup.
Where LCTs are formally considered to have 20 carbon atoms per chain, MCTs are formally considered to contain between half a dozen and a dozen. The MCTs are generally recognized as:
- Caproic Acid (C6) has 6 carbon atoms.
- Caprylic Acid (C8) has 8 carbon atoms.
- Capric Acid or decanoic acid (C10) has 10 carbon atoms.
- Lauric Acid (C12) has 12 carbon atoms.
MCTs are well known for the many health benefits they convey. All are present in extra-virgin coconut oil, along with long chain fatty acids. Other sources of MCTs include goat’s milk, which is an excellent source of C6, C8, and C10, but not of C12. C6-10 are truly “medium-chain” and are good sources of immediate energy and brain boosting. There are claims that the healthy fats of MCT and Coconut Oil makes great natural remedies for alzheimer’s disease and improve other conditions involving the brain.
What About Lauric Acid?
All the MCTs are very beneficial to overall good health, but lauric acid is the most familiar of the bunch, and with good reason. It has very powerful antimicrobial properties, and it is used in natural medicines, prescription medicines, and foods because of this.
As we have mentioned, while lauric acid is categorized as a medium-chain fatty acid, it behaves and is processed more like a long-chain fatty acid because it must go through the liver to be utilized by the body. It cannot be immediately converted into sustainable energy.
Interestingly, lauric acid is the most predominant official MCT contained in coconut oil. As a matter of fact, coconut oil is about half lauric acid, so it is a very good source of this valuable fatty acid. It is important to understand that lauric acid is good, but it does not really deliver the same benefits as the other MCTs.
Coconut Oil Is A Natural Oil & MCT Oil Is A Processed Oil
MCT is put through a process known as fractionation. All the medium chain fatty acids are separated from the whole oil. Because MCTs render quick beneficial results, many people believe that MCT oil is “better” than coconut oil; however, this is a simplistic way of looking at the situation.
While lauric acid makes up about 50% of coconut oil, there is no lauric acid in MCT oil. Virgin coconut oil like this contains all the MCTs and some LCTs. As noted, it is about half lauric acid, which is classified as an MCT but acts more like an LCT. MCT oil is made up only of the true (capra) medium-chain fatty acids because all lauric acid is removed.
The fact is, fractionation is a process by which the lauric acid is removed from coconut oil because lauric acid is highly prized and used in its pure form for many medicines, cosmetics, foodstuffs, etc. MCT oil is a by-product of this process, and while it certainly has specific uses, it is not “better than” coconut oil. It is simply used differently and better suited for certain specific purposes. [source]
What Does MCT Oil Do for You?
In these modern times, most people are lacking MCTs in their diet, so being able to get a concentrated dose of these essential fatty acids is a good thing. MCTs are saturated fats that are easy to digest. They give you quick energy and boost your metabolism rather than being stored as fat. They can also assist with weight loss because they help reduce your appetite by helping you feel satiated. [source]
MCT oil is good for those who are trying to lose weight through the ketogenic diet. This kind of diet requires burning of high saturated fat contents while having a low carbohydrate intake. The process creates ketones which is used as fuel by the body and brain instead of carbs. The use of ketones in weight loss programs can also help lower blood pressure, reduce cravings, improve energy and more.
The brain octane oil is a supplement that can turn into ketones. It serves as an instant energy source for the body and brain while having a low-carb diet.
How To Use These Valuable Oils
You may see MCT Oil marketed as a liquid version of coconut oil, but this is not true. MCT oil is a fraction of coconut oil. With the lauric acid removed, the remaining oil is stabilized and will remain liquid at room temperatures. This can be a good thing for cosmetic, medicinal, and personal care applications, but it can be a negative for cooking and nutritional use.
Coconut Oil A Valuable Fatty Acid
The benefits of coconut oil are numerous. Coconut oil is the richest source of lauric acid on earth. It contains more of this valuable fatty acid than human breast milk. This fatty acid is essential for development and maintenance of the central nervous system, the eyes, and the brain. [source]
Coconut oil also contains the capra MCTs in smaller amounts, and they are especially good for boosting energy before a workout and enhancing brain power before a mental challenge or when you are tired.
For overall glowing good health, coconut oil is an exceptional product. It naturally contains a balance of MCTs and LCTs.
MCT Oil: Boost Athletic Performance & Brain Power
As a specific supplement to boost athletic performance and brain power, MCT oil has a definite place when optimum physical and mental performance is needed. Because fractionation stabilizes the oil, it is also a good ingredient for use in cosmetic and personal care recipes that call for a stable oil that remains liquid at room temperature.
10 Tips For Using Coconut Oil
- Use coconut oil for high-heat cooking, such as deep frying and pan frying. It does not become carcinogenic when exposed to high heat (as do olive oil and several other vegetable oils).
- “Butter” your toast or make your grilled cheese sandwich with it. In fact, you can add coconut oil to any dish that calls for butter. It’s very tasty and very healthy.
- Replace butter or shortening in baked goods.
- Add it to your morning smoothie to satisfy your appetite and provide valuable, balanced nutrition.
- Grease skillets and baking pans to prevent sticking. Coconut oil stays stable at high temperatures, so it won’t add carcinogens to your baked and fried goods when heated.
- Pop your popcorn. If you are popping corn the old-fashioned way (in a pot over a burner), use coconut oil to prevent sticking and add a delicate flavor and nutrition to your snack.
- Make topping for your popcorn by pouring melted coconut oil over it. Add spices of your choosing to boost flavor even more.
- Bake sweet potato chips in your oven. Oil a baking sheet with coconut oil. Slice a washed sweet potato thinly. Spread the slices on the baking sheet in a single layer and brush the tops with melted coconut oil. Bake at 400 degrees for 15 or 20 minutes or until crisp. Serve with dips as you would potato chips.
- Put a teaspoonful in your oatmeal or other hot cereal.
- Eat a teaspoonful just as you would a spoon full of peanut butter.
12 Tips For Using MCT Oil
- Boost workout performance by adding a tablespoon of MCT oil to your pre-workout smoothie.
- Add a tablespoonful to your morning coffee or tea for added energy and brain power.
- Use MCT oil for oil pulling to help improve the condition of your teeth and gums. To read our article on oil-pulling, CLICK HERE.
- Create a skin scrub with a quarter cup of MCT oil and a half cup of sea salt. This makes an exfoliating treatment for shower or bath.
- Use MCT as a shaving lotion for legs, underarms, or face. Just splash the skin with warm water, apply MCT oil generously and shave as usual. Rinse with cold water and pat dry to further reduce irritation.
- Take advantage of the natural sunscreen capabilities of coconut oil. They are present in MCT. Simply apply the oil lightly to your skin to enjoy light protection and gentle moisturizing. Add a squeeze of zinc oxide ointment or combine MCT oil with zinc oxide powder to boost sun-screening abilities even more.
- Relieve sunburn and promote healing by gently stroking on MCT oil after taking a cool bath or shower. The oil will hold the moisture from your bath in the skin, and it will soak in to help heal damage caused by too much sun.
- Make a natural insect repellent by mixing MCT with essential oil at a rate of 6 drops of essential oil per ounce of MCT. There are several types of essential oil that are effective as insect repellents. Among them include:
- Oil of Lavender
- Oil of Oregano
- Neem Oil
- Choose one or mix and match to suit your preferences.
- Remove your makeup by stroking MCT oil over your skin and then wiping it off with facial tissue. Repeat the process until the tissue comes away clean. You can wash your face to remove the oil or leave it in place as an overnight moisturizer if you wish.
- Condition your hair with MCT Oil. You can rub it between your palms and stroke it through your hair plain or scented with essential oil as you wish. The oil is equally good as a light, pre-wash treatment or as a deep conditioning treatment. Read our article on hair oils HERE.
- Condition your cuticles and nails by massaging MCT oil into the skin and nails at bedtime. Put on lightweight cotton gloves to help the oil soak in better and to protect your bedding.
- Support seizure prevention therapy in children. Talk with your pediatrician and/or neurologist about the specifics of this form of MCT therapy.
You Don’t Have To Choose Between MCT Oil And Coconut Oil!
The bottom line is that you needn’t choose between coconut oil and MCT oil. You should learn how to use each to its best advantage. Essentially, you are better off using coconut oil for cooking and for food applications to enjoy balanced nutrition the fullness of the coconut flavor.
MCT oils provide an excellent source of energy because these oils are metabolized quickly and converted into energy efficiently. Use MCT oil as a specific supplement for brain power, appetite control, and more energy. Also, use it when making homemade cosmetic and personal care products if you want them to remain pourable.