What is MCT Oil, and Is it Healthy?

We usually look for things with the simplest ingredients when we share recipes. Mainly because they are easy to make at home. But also because we think you should know what’s going into your body!

If you remember the blogger Vani Hari, known as “the food babe,” who was popular in the early 2010s, you probably remember her rule that “If you can’t pronounce it that probably means the material has been part of the human diet for a minute period of time in terms of the human evolutionary or developmental process. Using many of these substances is a grand experiment that many people would prefer not subjecting themselves or their children to.”

That sounds like good advice at first. For instance, many of us might think the chemical name dihydrogen monoxide sounds alarming. You might not want to drink it. It sounds even worse when you learn that every single person who drinks it will die. But when you realize that that is simply water, it becomes clear that chemical names can be off-putting but aren’t always bad.

Sometimes, the recipes we share call for MCT oil. In the recipes we pick, it’s always optional. We want people to be able to skip it because the science on its health impacts is still out. Today, we are examining what MCT oil is so that you can make your own decisions about whether or not to include it in your diet.

MCT oil is a supplement made from medium-chain triglycerides. They are shorter chains of fat than most in our diet. Your bloodstream absorbs them quickly so they can be used faster for energy. They are usually extracted from coconut oil or palm kernel oil.

The medical claims around MCT oils are ambiguous. People claim it can help with weight loss and appetite, boost energy, lower inflammation and help with the absorption of nutrients. Most of these statements haven’t been well-researched. There is some evidence that it can aid muscle strength in older people, but not much to back up claims that it improves workouts. It may help people with cognitive disorders have clearer thinking. However, nothing suggests it aids people with healthy minds to think more clearly.

MCT oil does help the body make ketones. That is a proven fact. If you are on a keto diet, taking MCT oil may allow you to eat more vegetables and fruit and remain in ketosis.

MCT oil is mostly saturated fat, which is generally considered unhealthy.  Some animal research has suggested that MCTs may aid heart health. Other studies found it didn’t impact cholesterol but did slightly increase triglycerides. If you add MCT to your diet, it’s important to account for it in your nutritional calculations and keep track of it as saturated fat.

Some doctors believe MCT oil can help people’s microbiomes. It has proven antibacterial and antifungal properties that could benefit people with unbalanced microbiome. It may also reduce bloating. But watching your intake is important as it can cause stomach and bowel problems. It’s not a good fit for everyone.

Many claims have been made about the health benefits MCTs provide, which has placed a ‘health halo’ around this nutrient,” said registered dietitian Anthony DiMarino. “However, researchers have been unable to provide concrete evidence.”

When you look at the health claims of MCT oil, almost every single one needs more research. That doesn’t mean they’re untrue; it means we don’t know. Some people swear by it. That’s why we always ensure the recipes we share where it’s an ingredient don’t rely on it. It should be your choice and something you look into more and discuss with a doctor who knows your health needs.  

We’ll update our opinions when there is more solid research about MCT oil. Right now, you must use your best judgment and make these important food choices based on your research.

Banner image: Peter Fazekas via Pexels

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