Healthy Fats Demystified: What’s the Difference Between Coconut Oil and MCT Oil?

November 17, 2015

Among vegans, vegetarians, and the health-conscious crowd, coconut oil is king—but elite athletes and biohackers are turning to MCT oil for their daily dose of healthy fats. What’s the difference between these two powerful ingredients that are derived from the same source?

First, the basics. Coconut oil is made from extracting naturally occurring oils and fatty acids from coconut meat. The oil has a slightly sweet, coconutty taste and is mostly comprised of lauric acid and a few other medium chain triglyceride fatty acids.  Lauded for its health benefits and versatility, coconut oil has landed itself a permanent spot on the shelves of most Thrivers’ pantries.

MCT oil is comprised of medium chain triglycerides—yes, the nutritious fatty component of coconut oil—and is manufactured by processing and extracting medium-chain triglycerides from other fat sources found in nature. The oil itself is clear and generally doesn’t taste like anything at all, which makes it optimal for cooking or even adding into coffee or smoothies because it won’t disturb the flavor.

So if MCTs are basically a processed version of coconut oil, when and why would MCT be used over coconut oil?

Many athletes are choosing to add MCT to their morning smoothies because of its metabolism-revving and fat-burning abilities. Scientists aren’t exactly sure why ingesting this oil may help people lose belly fat, but the fact that it’s easier to digest than other healthy fats and keeps you fuller for longer might have something to do with it.

Unlike other fats, like the kinds found in dairy, nuts, or even meat, MCTs basically bypass the whole digestive process, making it easier for the body to immediately absorb nutrients. That means it’s metabolized much more quickly by the body, and you’ll be able to use MCT as energy as opposed to storing it in fat cells and creating more body fat. Plus, it leaves you fuller for longer—in one study, men who ate more MCT ingested 256 less calories per day. 

Lots of proponents notice they have more energy for longer after using this miracle oil regularly, and it’s gaining popularity among athletes because it’s a healthy source of fat that gives long-lasting energy while burning excess body fat… Basically, a win-win for anyone.

But don’t throw out that jar of coconut oil just yet. Sure, MCT is a wonderful nutritional supplement, but other than boosting energy and burning fat, there isn’t much else this oil is good for. Coconut oil, on the other hand, actually contains MCTs and boasts a plethora of additional health and beauty benefits. (For comparison, coconut oil has about two grams of medium-chain triglycerides per tablespoon while MCT oil has about 15 grams.)

Naturally antibacterial and anti-inflammatory, the mighty coconut can also improve blood cholesterol levels and even block 20 percent of the sun’s damaging UV rays when applied to skin. Plus, the sweet flavor of coconut tastes great on its own or in recipes too.

Feeling torn between these two superfoods? We feel you. Try using MCT oil when you need long-lasting energy. It works perfectly in a morning smoothie or blended into a cup of coffee, and will keep you full through lunchtime. Because it’s flavorless, it’s also a great oil to use for cooking delicate foods like fish or grains.

Use coconut oil whenever you want a healthy fat source that’s loaded with antioxidants and medium chain triglycerides—take advantage of it’s light sweet taste by folding it into dishes that need a little more flavor or depth. Plus, you can slather the stuff all over as super natural moisturizer and conditioner. And did we mention oil-pulling?

Our recommendation? Experiment with both and see which works best. One size doesn’t fit all when it comes to health and diet, and it takes a little bit of experimentation to find out what your body prefers. Favor one over the other? Let us know in the comments below!

Illustration by Karley Koenig

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Michelle Pellizzon

Certified health coach and endorphin enthusiast, Michelle is an expert in healthy living and eating. When she's not writing you can find her running trails, reading about nutrition, and eating lots of guacamole.

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