What Is MCT Oil—and Should You Be Getting More of It? Here's What the Research and Experts Say

Nutritionists explain the potential benefits of adding MCT oil into your diet.

If you pay any attention to the health and wellness space, you might have come across MCT oil, or heard chatter about taking MCT oil supplements. But what exactly is MCT oil—and why do people want more of it in their diets?

MCT oil contains MCTs—or medium-chain triglycerides. Medium-chain triglycerides are fatty acids that can be found in food sources like coconut oil, palm kernel oil, and some dairy products. And people attribute a range of different benefits to MCT oil—including boosted energy and reduced inflammation.

We asked experts for the low-down on MCT oil, its potential benefits, and whether or not you should consider adding some to your diet.

MCT Oil, Explained

MCT oil is an oil containing MCTs, or medium-chain triglycerides. That's a bit of a mouthful. So bear with us while we break it down.

A triglyceride is a type of fat. (In fact, triglycerides are the most common type of fat in your body.) And each triglyceride is made up of a chain of atoms. This chain can be short (six or fewer atoms), long (12 or more atoms), or medium-length (somewhere in between). So a medium-chain triglyceride is a triglyceride with medium-length chains.

What's so special about MCTs? They're easier for your body to break down than triglycerides with longer chains (long-chain triglycerides or LCTs.)

"Because of their shorter length, MCTs are [more easily] digested than the long-chain fatty acids found in most foods," explains Lisa Young, PhD, RDN. This means your body can metabolize MCTs more easily and more quickly convert them into a source of energy. Young adds that MCTs may be a good option for people who have trouble digesting other, more complex fats.

3 Potential Benefits of MCT Oil

01 of 03

Increased Energy

Since MCTs are easily digested, they may provide a quick and efficient source of energy. "This may help athletes and bodybuilders who have high energy needs," says Jeanette Kimszal, RDN, owner of Root Nutrition & Education. So far, some studies have suggested that MCTs may boost energy and enable people to tackle longer bouts of high-intensity exercise. Others have suggested that since MCTs can be digested quickly, they may be converted into energy, instead of being stored as fat. That said, it's important to note that research on the subject is still pretty limited.

02 of 03

Promote Feelings of Fullness

Some research has suggested that MCTs can make you feel fuller because they're linked to an increase in peptide YY and leptin—two hormones that signal to your brain that you're full.

RELATED: Every Question You've Ever Had About Cooking Oils, Answered

03 of 03

Improved Memory and Brain Function

Some research has found that MCTs may boost brain function and improve memory, especially in people with Alzheimer's disease. (Though research on the subject is still quite preliminary.)

What Foods Contain MCT Oil?

MCT oil supplements are a popular way to add more MCTs to your diet. But they're not your only option. "You can also look to food to get your MCTs," Kimszal says.

Some foods that contain MCT oil include:

  • Coconut oil
  • Palm kernel oil
  • Butter
  • Whole milk
  • Cheese
  • Yogurt

Since MCTs are naturally occurring in many foods, they're generally safe to consume. That said, they have been associated with a few potential side effects, including:

  • Nausea
  • Indigestion
  • Gas
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

What About MCT Oil Supplements?

Research on MCT oil and its potential benefits is still pretty limited, so we can't really tell you that you should start taking some. That said, if you're interested in taking MCT oil supplements—or adding more MCT-rich foods to your diet—you should consider talking to your doctor about it.

It's always a good idea to talk to your primary care provider before trying a new supplement or changing your diet. But your doctor can also help you clarify your goals and understand whether increasing your MCT intake could actually help you meet them. They can also help you increase your MCT intake in a safe way—and they can help you manage any side effects you end up experiencing along the way.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles