As a keto diehard, I spend quite a bit of time researching ways to improve my diet.
In the process, I come across the contentious comparison of coconut oil and MCT oil – with the question always remaining: which is the better between the two.
So, I did a little digging to add to my own knowledge and personal experience with keto and prepared this little guide that I hope you’ll find informative.
Lets get to the basics of keto diet first…
Keto is an eating plan that aims at minimizing carbs and upping fats intake to get the body to use fat as a primary source of energy.
Normally, the body uses glucose (from the carbs in your diet such as pasta) to produce energy.
Depending on the quantity you take, there’s always some amount of glucose that remains in the blood, which the body then converts into fats for storage.
Bodybuilders (like myself) who are trying create some lean muscle and persons who are on weight loss programs often tear down their diet to stop the body from making more fat and instead encourage it to burn the fat it has stored – this is where keto comes in.
The plan involves lowering the intake of carbohydrates, inducing the body into a state called ketosis.
In this state, the body has little carbs to use for energy, so it starts making ketones (organic compounds produced in the liver from the breakdown of fats) which it then uses for energy in place of glucose.
Since ketosis encourages the body to burn fat, it can lead to some pretty dramatic weight loss.
Why coconut oil and MCT oil?
There is an emphasis on coconut oil and MCT oil not because they’re the only food items to use when you’re on a ketogenic diet, but because they’re some of the quickest fats to digest.
The onset of ketosis can be characterized by tiredness and feeling of brain fog as the body adapts to burning fat for the energy that the brain will be thirsting for.
Since much of the dietary fat is actually made up of long-chain fatty acids (containing 13 – 21 carbons bonded together), they can take longer to digest.
You certainly don’t want your body to stay deprived of energy for extended periods of time.
So, MCTs (abbreviation for medium-chain triglycerides, whereby triglyceride is simply another term for fat) come in handy as a quick source of the much-needed energy.
Both coconut oil and MCT oil contain the medium-chain triglycerides (fatty acids containing anywhere from 6 to 12 carbon atoms bonded together)
Because of the shorter lengths of the carbon chains in these fatty acids, MCTs are swiftly broken down and absorbed into the body for energy.
Even more importantly, MCTs are less likely to be stored as fat because the calories that they contain are more efficiently turned into energy that the body uses.
The difference between coconut oil and MCT oil
While coconut oil, as the name suggests, is obtained naturally from coconuts; straight up MCT oil does not exist naturally.
It is manufactured through the process of fractionation, which involves extracting and isolating the MCTs mainly from coconut oil.
MCTs can also be obtained from palm kernel oil, which contains fewer MCTs compared to coconut oil.
The other main difference is that coconut oil contains all four types of medium-chain triglycerides, namely: Caproic acid (C6), Caprylic acid (C8), Capric acid (C10) and Lauric acid (C12) in different concentrations.
MCT oil on the other hand generally contains pure caprylic acid (C8) and capric acid (C10) or either of the two.
Which is the better oil for a keto diet?
There is a bit of crossover between coconut oil and MCT oil as they are the two greatest sources of MCTs but are not exactly the same.
It is very important that you understand the difference between the two so that you know how to get the most out of your body.
For starters, MCT oil contains pure MCTs that go straight to the liver, bypassing the gallbladder, making it an ideal source of instant energy for the body, particularly the brain.
Coconut oil, despite being rich in MCTs, only has a small amount of long-chain triglycerides (LCTs) which generally take longer to digest.
Even more disconcerting is, coconut oil is approximately 50 percent lauric acid (C12).
Even though lauric acid is an MCT, it is, in essence, a pseudo MCT because it responds in the body as a long chain triglyceride, LCT.
So, if you are looking to get an energy boost for your workout, coconut oil may not be the ideal alternative.
With its LCTs and very large amounts of lauric acid, you may be in for a long wait for the ketones to kick in.
Personally, I use coconut oil on a regular basis post workout, but just before a workout when I need some quick energy for the action, I use MCT oil.
I particularly love that unlike coconut oil, MCT oil is virtually odorless and tasteless so I can add it to my morning coffee, sushi and desserts without a problem.
You can actually consume the MCT oil straight from the jar because of this no-taste-no-smell property.
Just don’t cook with it because it is heat intolerant and the high temperatures might just denature your MCTs before you get them.
Although you’ll come across evidence supporting that the body absorbs lauric acid more rapidly than LCTs, making a carbon chain longer by just 2 carbons can slow down the rate of diffusion by up to 100 times.
Considering that lauric acid (C12) closely borders LCTs (starting C13), you begin to see why it may be a fairly less efficient way to obtain energy compared to the MCTs in MCT oil (C8 and C10).
This explains why coconut oil can be a less efficient source of energy for your ketogenic diet.
Where coconut oil reigns superior?
The lauric acid which makes up about 50 percent of coconut oil is converted to monolaurin once it hits the body.
Monolaurin is a special agent that benefits the body’s immune system in many ways – supporting the body’s ability to ward off disease.
This means that using coconut oil for cooking can be a great way to achieve overall good health for the long run.
Both coconut oil and MCT oil have benefits that you may want to tap into.
So, if you are looking to maximize your weight loss or lean mass benefits of the MCTs then you’ll want to take them in large doses.
Needless to say, MCT oil should be your pick.
However, if you don’t want to miss out on the antimicrobial properties of lauric acid then you should incorporate coconut oil into your diet as well.
Remember, there is no harm in using both oils in your diet so long as you use each at the right time.