This is a guest blog post by By Ginger Hultin, MS, RD, LDN.
You may have noticed a new rack in the supplement section of your Whole Foods Market or health food store piled high with huge bottles of MCT oil. What is MCT oil, and more importantly, will it make you healthier?
MCT stands for medium-chain triglyceride and this oil has gained attention as an athletic performance enhancer that can potentially improve body composition (ie more muscle, less fat).
MCT is derived from coconut and palm kernel oils (which contain saturated fats so they are solid at room temperature) but MCT oils of all types, Whole Foods and beyond, are always liquid. This means they have been modified by fractioning coconut oil and removing the saturated fats. Fractionation is simply a separation process used commonly in science, technology, medicine and culinary practices. Pure, liquid MCT oil does not exist in nature.
You can also find lower levels of MCT oils as part of the lipid profile in full-fat dairy such as cheese, milk, butter and yogurt.
MCTs contain shorter chain fatty acids (6-12 carbon atoms) which, unlike longer chain triglycerides (12-18 carbon atoms), are digested more quickly and metabolized in the liver. This difference in digestion is the reason they are more easily used as fuel and touted as beneficial for athletes. MCT oils are generally believed to be used as a ready source of energy instead of being stored like other types of fats we eat.
Studies remain mixed as to whether MCTs actually serve as an effective source of fat during exercise metabolism and/or improve exercise performance and much of the research has been based on animal models. Proponents suggest that MCTs may have potential for raising resting energy expenditure and metabolic rate. Further, consuming MCTs may suppress appetite, which could decrease the overall calories a person takes in daily.
Most people are using MCT oil as a dietary supplement vs. as a culinary oil. MCT oils have little to no flavor, color or taste.
Before you add this oil to your diet, keep in mind that MCTs can cause significant gastrointestinal upset including diarrhea, vomiting, and abdominal discomfort. MCTs are dense in calories and excessive intake can result in weight gain, aka the opposite effect most people take it for in the first place. This type of oil is not appropriate for heating or cooking and best used cool or at room temperature. Using it as a salad dressing or dip would be the best way to incorporate it naturally into the diet.
Ginger Hultin is a clinical dietitian specializing in integrative cancer care in Chicago, Illinois. She has a Masters degree in Nutrition from Bastyr University in Seattle and believes that whole foods and an emphasis on cooking at home can help overcome some of America’s food problems. Read her blog and follow her on twitter @GingerHultinRD
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