Keto dieters as well as celebrities like Halle Berry, Ayesha Curry, and Kourtney Kardashian all swear by adding MCT oil to their favorite beverages.
The supercharged oil is made with fatty acids that may help provide an energy boost and regulate diets in some cases.
But nutritionists say that those new to MCT oil need to exercise caution as they add the odorless, flavorless oil to their meals and drinks.
We already think of our morning cup of joe as being the jumpstart to our busy day (don't talk to me before coffee, right?!). But some coffee fanatics swear they've found a way to make their java so much more energizing — and possibly even an asset for weight loss. Coffee and MCT oil has long been enjoyed hand in hand by keto dieters as a way to supercharge their breakfast routines. Fans of this morning duo, like food icon Ayesha Curry ("It's for your brain fuel [and] so you can function," she told Harper's Bazaar) and wellness mainstay Halle Berry, say that adding MCT oil into their routines has helped them stay invigorated and focused. While the supplement has been made popular thanks to the jeto-fueled Bulletproof coffee trend, these days you can also find MCT oil popping up in things like salad dressings, and other straight supplements, too. So, are non-keto dieters missing out on the next big thing?
There is some established evidence suggesting that MCT oil may provide dieters an added brain boost. But to understand that data, you'll need to understand how MCTs interact with the body — and why benefits only apply in certain circumstances. And while nutritionists agree that an MCT oil-enhanced coffee can be enjoyed without ruining your dietary intake, one has a few tips for smoothly incorporating it into your routine safely.
What is MCT oil?
This supplement is jam packed with a fatty acid that occurs naturally, explains Brierley Horton, MS, RD, a registered dietitian and nutritionist who frequently analyzes coffee trends. "MCT stands for medium-chain triglyceride. It's the science-y way of describing the size of the fatty acid in question," Horton tells Good Housekeeping. "MCTs are 8 to 10 carbons long — for comparison, olive oil is rich in long-chain fatty acids, known as LCTs, and those are 12 to 18 carbons in length."
Normally, MCT oil is made with extracts from MCT-rich sources like coconut oil (another keto staple) and palm kernel oil. It's usually flavorless and odorless, which is why many people often incorporate it into a meal or a beverage of their choice. You can find MCT oil in many supplement aisles in health stores or at speciality grocery retailers — a single 16oz bottle of one of the most popular products on the market, Bulletproofs' Brain Octane, retails for about $20 in most places.
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Why do keto dieters often incorporate MCT oil into their routine, you might ask? It has to do with the science of how the body processes the shorter-chain MCT fatty acids, Horton explains, and how the process helps the body maintain ketosis, where your metabolism primarily runs on fats as a main source of fuel for your day (as opposed to carbohydrates).
Is MCT oil actually healthy?
Whether you've just started the Keto diet or aren't on it currently, Horton says that the body interacts differently with the medium-sized acids compared to longer-chain acids. Mainly, because of their structure, a body can digest MCTs much faster compared to LCTs. Our own team of nutrition experts have previously shared how the body reacts to MCTs: These kinds of acids are processed directly in the liver, requiring more energy in the process, and often are less likely to be stored as fat in the body for most individuals.
Some may be unaware of the nutritional weight that MCT oil carries as an addition to a beverage or a meal: Horton points out that it's a major source of calories and saturated fat. "One tablespoon contains 130 calories and 14 grams saturated fat, so you'll need to account for that calorie and fat boost in your diet," she explains. "And also, 14g of saturated fat is a whopping 70% of your daily recommended cap — which doesn't leave much room for things like full-fat dairy, red meat, or even oily fish."
That being said, there are pieces of clinical evidence that suggest MCT oil may be worth its weight in fat and calories. A 2009 study published in the Journal of Nutritional Science and Vitaminology found that recreational athletes who consumed MCT oil were "able to exercise at a higher intensity for a longer period of time" compared to those who did not, Horton says. Research like this suggests that MCT oils give you more than just the zap of instant peppiness you expect from coffee; the acids are processed quickly, giving your body something to metabolize rapidly, and you may feel those effects sooner rather than later.
As for keto dieters, they may be onto something in using MCT oil on their mission to lose weight. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published the results of a study that suggest that MCT oil may promote weight loss: Researchers supplied two groups of dieters with MCT oil or olive oil consistently, and after 4 months, those who consumed MCT oil lost upwards of 4 pounds more than those consuming olive oil ("with all else being equal," Horton adds).
What are the side effects of MCT oil?
While MCT oils do not include ingredients that should cause concern with most Americans, there may be dietary setbacks associated with consuming large amounts of MCT oil — especially if you don't adjust your diet beforehand. MCT oil in coffee could help replace some of the sugary additions you normally consume, and may help you feel more energized in the long run, but that all hinges on how you normally drink your coffee. Adding MCT oil to already sugary or calorie-dense meals or beverages can actually cause you to gain weight if you're not careful. Furthermore, a review published in Physiology & Behavior suggests that drinking sources of fat and calories (rather than chewing and swallowing them) could make some more likely to overeat at the next meal.
More importantly, however, is the fact that more research needs to be conducted on holistic health benefits, Horton says. While elementary data suggests that MCT oil may boost dietary efforts and provide your body more energy in a shorter amount of time, scientists have yet to establish how much one needs to consume to reap these potential benefits. Most coffee drinkers seemingly incorporate a tablespoon or two of MCT oil in their cup, but it's not clear if less (or more!) is needed for optimal results.
Finally, Horton says that newcomers to the MCT oil trend may experience severe nausea or abdominal pain at first. If you've never added MCT oil to any of your meals, be sure to start slow: Half the amount that a recipe calls for, or if you're adding it in yourself, start with just a few drops to see how your body reacts at first.
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