Oil is an indispensable ingredient in our kitchens, both in baking and cooking, as well as to make dressings. This article will investigate which type is more suitable for a keto diet, MCT or coconut oil?
We will initially give some background for these two choices, display their nutritional properties, and contrast and compare them for a host of variables. This will be followed by a conclusion drawn from the evidence shown to help you make an informed choice on which oil to ooze into your pan!
This is simply the oil produced from the meat of the coconut fruit. There are various methods that can be employed to extract the oil, some using heat and some that extract it using a “cold pressed” method.
There is also a variance in what meat is used. Virgin and/or extra virgin coconut oil is made by using fresh coconut meat, whereas refined coconut oil uses dried coconut meat, also known as copra.
The main global producer of this product is the Philippines as well as India and Indonesia.
For those of you who studied biology, no, this has nothing to do with mitochondria! MCT simply stands for medium-chain-triglycerides.
Allow me to give you some background. In general, when we speak of fats, we are in fact referring to fatty acid chains. These are chains of carbon atoms of varying lengths. To help you understand, imagine a paper chain; each paper strip represents a carbon atom. Medium chain triglycerides are fatty acid chains with between 6 and 12 carbon atoms present.
So, in a nutshell, when you buy MCT oil, this means you are buying an oil product that is processed to contain 100% of these fatty acids. As you may know, pure oil is 100% fat, which is usually made up of some saturated and some unsaturated fatty acid chains of varying lengths. Fatty acid saturation is just another modification of this paper chain and has nothing to do with the number of carbons present.
MCT products are usually made from coconut and/or palm kernel oil using a process of fractionation. Basically, this separates the different lengths of fatty acids into distinct groups, ready for reformulation.
|Nutrition factors |
(per 1 tablespoon)
|MCT oil||Coconut oil|
|Energy||120 kcal||104 kcal|
|Fat||14 g||11.5 g|
|Protein||0 g||0 g|
|Net carbs||0 g||0.1 g|
|Total carbs||0 g||0.1 g|
|Fiber||0 g||0 g|
As you can see, these two products have very similar macronutrient profiles. Both are predominantly fat with virtually no protein and negligible carbohydrates. On the basis of that alone they would both be valid candidates for a ketogenic diet.
However, let’s drill down a bit more and see more details. Let’s first look at the fat profile; the fats in coconut oil are predominantly saturated fats. Of these, 66% are medium chain fatty acids with 6-12 carbons on the chain. The rest are predominantly long chain fatty acids, a mixture of both saturated and unsaturated chains.
This information is important as we are advised to keep our saturated fatty acid intake to a minimum due to its association with elevating cholesterol levels and coronary heart disease.
Other nutrients present in coconut oil include small amounts of Vitamin E and negligible amounts of Vitamin K, as well minerals such as calcium and iron.
Now let’s analyze MCT’s. The fatty acid profile of this product is that it contains only the medium chain triglycerides. These are nevertheless still saturated fatty acids and thus MCT oil contains even more saturated fats than its source! Regarding other nutrients, there is simply no data available to share.
However, it is important to point out that MCT’s are known to have a different metabolism to other fatty acids, they are absorbed straight into the portal vein, which drains most nutrients from the cells of the small intestine and to the liver.
There are a few things to consider when comparing these two items:
It would seem that while both are okay and acceptable, MCT oil is the number one choice. We know that ketosis is a metabolic state where due to the lack of available carbohydrate, insulin levels decrease causing the release of fatty acids from fat stores. These fatty acids are transported to the liver where they are converted into ketone bodies; an energy source used as a substitute for glucose.
We mentioned that the medium chain fatty acids are absorbed quickly into the cells of the gut and then exported into the portal vein and sent straight to the liver. This means all the MCT oil you consume will be quickly available for conversion into ketones bodies.
This is an advantage in that it may help you reach ketosis in a shorter time frame due to available substrate. It could also positively impact the feeling of satiety and thus induce an automatic calorie restriction.
This is a clear advantage that MCT holds over coconut oil, which, due to other fatty acids present, will take considerably longer to reach the liver.
After thoroughly investigating these two products, we can say with confidence that in essence both are acceptable for consumption on a keto-compliant diet. There are some advantages to MCT due to its rapid turnaround and metabolism into ketone bodies; a process that takes much longer for coconut oil. However, this may be offset by the increased cost. So, you must balance that into the equation and decide for yourself.
However, the saturated fat content is still a concern so feel free to use on a ketogenic diet but do eat in moderation.