An Overview of MCT Oil and Medium-Chain Triglycerides
Medium-chain triglycerides have played a role in the food and beverage industry for several years, but their use has skyrocketed in the last decade as more consumers are seeking whole foods and healthy fats for nutrition and weight loss. An emphasis on low-carb diets and macronutrients has also driven the growth of medium-chain triglycerides in the food industry. Medium-chain triglycerides, or MCTs, are metabolized more quickly than other fatty acids to provide energy without being stored as fat. MCTs also provide many other health benefits that position them as a popular dietary supplement whose use is likely to continue to grow in the future.
What Are Medium-Chain Triglycerides?
Triglycerides are a chemical compound that is composed of a glycerol backbone and three fatty acids. These fatty acids can have different numbers of carbon atoms attached to them, forming an aliphatic tail which determines the type of triglyceride. Long-chain triglycerides (LCTs), which are the most common dietary fat, have 13 to 21 carbons in each aliphatic tail. Short-chain triglycerides have fewer than six carbons attached to each fatty acid. Medium-chain triglycerides fall right in the middle with an aliphatic tail of six to 12 carbon atoms on at least two out of three fatty acids. MCTs occur naturally in some foods but are also manufactured for their value as a healthier dietary fat.
Compared to LCTs, MCTs are easier for the body to metabolize quickly, meaning they are less likely to be stored as fat. When LCTs enter the body, they must first be broken down by pancreatic enzymes and then delivered to the lymphatic system before traveling to the liver where they can be converted to energy. The body cannot metabolize LCTs as efficiently, and excess LCTs are stored as fat. MCTs, on the other hand, can travel immediately to the liver after they are consumed to be used as instant energy. MCTs can also be turned into ketones which can travel from the blood to the brain to serve as an alternative energy source to glucose. There are a few main types of medium-chain fatty acids that are defined by the length of their aliphatic tail:
- Caproic acid or hexanoic acid (C6): As the shortest MCT with six carbons in its aliphatic tail, caproic acid metabolizes very quickly. Because it can have an unpleasant taste or smell, caproic acid is typically removed during the manufacturing of MCT oil.
- Caprylic acid or octanoic acid (C8): Because of its anti-microbial properties, caprylic acid is effective for maintaining a healthy gut. Caprylic acid is the second most efficient MCT after caproic acid but does not have an offensive taste or smell. For this reason, caprylic acid is often the primary MCT used in MCT oil.
- Capric acid or decanoic acid (C10): While capric acid metabolizes a bit slower than caprylic acid, it still turns into ketones very quickly in the liver. Capric is the other most common MCT used for MCT oil.
- Lauric acid or dodecanoic acid (C12): Lauric acid makes up most of the MCTs in coconut oil, however, it is often removed from MCT oil. Compared to other MCTs, lauric acid is the slowest to metabolize but still provides anti-microbial properties and other health benefits.
What Are the Sources of MCT Oil?
MCT oil is a byproduct of coconut or palm kernel oil that is produced by extracting pure MCTs from the whole food. Coconut oil is the primary source for MCT oil, but palm kernel oil is also very common, making up nearly 34 percent of MCT oil production. Consumers sometimes confuse MCT oil and coconut oil as being the same product, but coconut oil contains all four types of MCTs as well as other fats. MCT oil, on the other hand, contains only specific MCTs and no other kinds of fats.
MCT oil is produced in a process called fractionation that extracts the caprylic and capric acid from the other fats in the coconut or palm oil. Once these MCTs are isolated, a chemical process called lipase esterification is used to produce triglycerides using the enzyme lipase. Next, the lipase is filtered out, and the oil goes through deacidification, bleaching and deodorizing. After a quality analysis, the final product of MCT oil is ready for consumption. Despite being produced in a lab, MCT oil contains entirely natural fats.
Most MCT oil contains caprylic acid (C8), capric acid (C10) or a combination of both. Typically the proportion of MCTs in MCT oil is 50 to 80 percent caprylic acid and 20 to 50 percent capric acid. Caproic acid (C6) is often removed from MCT oil because it can have an unpleasant taste and smell. MCT oil typically does not contain lauric acid (C12) either because its benefits are debated. Because lauric acid contains 12 carbons, it is on the cusp of being a long-chain triglyceride. Some argue that lauric acid may act the same as an LCT in the body and be more difficult to absorb and process. Caprylic and capric acid are valuable for MCT oil because they can be more rapidly absorbed and processed in the body than other fatty acids.
Health Benefits of MCTs and MCT Oil
MCT and MCT oil have gained popularity as a health food and dietary supplement because of the numerous benefits they offer. In addition to providing quick and efficient energy, MCT oil can aid in weight loss, improve brain functioning and provide treatment for digestive diseases.
Here are a few of the main health benefits of MCTs and MCT oil:
- Maintains healthy weight loss and management: MCTs and MCT oil have a variety of properties that aid in weight loss and management. Compared to LCTs, MCTs have fewer calories but can better increase the feeling of fullness and reduce appetite. MCTs are also burned more rapidly by the body and are less likely to be stored as fat. Some studies have shown that MCTs may even increase the body’s ability to burn fat, to reduce accumulation of body fat and help prevent obesity. MCTs can be particularly beneficial for those on a ketogenic diet, as they produce ketones that allow a person to consume more carbs while maintaining a state of ketosis.
- Increases exercise performance: Because they can increase energy levels and burn fat, MCTs can boost exercise performance for athletes and bodybuilders. Consuming MCT oil before exercise can lead to better workouts. MCTs can also increase lean muscle mass while decreasing body fat.
- Improves gut health and digestion: MCTs improve gut health by killing harmful bacteria without impacting good bacteria in the gut. MCTs can prevent diarrhea and fat indigestion. They can also aid in restoring proper digestive functions for those who have experienced a gastrectomy.
- Improves cognitive health: Consuming MCTs may lead to better focus and more clear thinking. Because the brain is composed of fatty acids, improved gut health has a positive impact on brain functioning. The ketones produced by MCTs are also able to fuel the central nervous system better than LCTs because they can pass through the blood-brain barrier. MCTs may also be able to slow the effects of dementia in those with Alzheimer’s disease by providing ketones to the brain.
- Lowers risk of diabetes: MCTs may be beneficial for those who have diabetes as they can lower blood sugar levels and increase insulin sensitivity. Better insulin sensitivity is also an important factor in the prevention of diabetes in those who are at high risk. Consuming MCTs can also help reduce body weight which is another risk factor for diabetes.
MCTs and MCT oil can also be used to supplement treatments for more severe diseases, such as liver disease and celiac disease. MCTs have been used for a long time to treat malnutrition because they are easy for the body to digest and convert to energy. MCTs can also be used for patients who must receive food intravenously, such as after a gastrectomy.
What Foods Contain MCTs?
MCTs are found primarily in whole foods and dairy products, with different foods containing different concentrations and types of MCTs. Generally, palm kernel oil, coconut oil and other coconut products contain higher concentrations of lauric acid and lower concentrations of caprylic and capric acid.
In coconut oil, about half of the fatty acids are lauric acid. Dairy products, on the other hand, contain primarily caprylic and capric acid and have lower concentrations of lauric acid. However, palm and coconut oil still contain much more MCTs overall than dairy products do. This is why they are the primary source for MCT oil even though they contain a lower concentration of the caprylic and capric acid used for MCT oil. Below are some foods that are rich in MCTs:
- Coconut oil: As the primary source for MCT oil, more than 60 percent of the fatty acids in coconut oil are MCTs. While coconut oil contains a higher concentration of lauric acid, it still has the highest percentage of caprylic and capric acid making up 13 percent of its fatty acids.
- Palm kernel oil: Another rich source of MCT, the fatty acids in palm kernel oil are over 50 percent MCTs with about 7 percent being caprylic and capric acid.
- Coconut meat and cream: Coconut meat and cream also rank high as MCT-rich whole foods and contain a good percentage of caprylic and capric acid, at eight and four percent respectively.
- Dairy products: Butter, goat cheese and feta cheese are all great natural sources of MCT, with percentages ranging from four to eight percent of their fatty acids. Other cheeses, creams and milk contain MCTs as well but in smaller proportions.
While whole foods are a great way to naturally introduce more MCTs into your diet, they still contain a relatively low percentage of MCTs compared to MCT oil. Whole foods with MCTs also contain lauric acid and LCTs that some consumers seek to avoid and which can slow down the rapid metabolizing of MCT for energy. Supplementing with MCT oil can allow consumers to avoid lauric acid and other fatty acids while reaping the benefits of caprylic and capric acids. MCT oil contains 100 percent caprylic and capric acid, meaning consumers do not need to ingest as high of a quantity to receive the same benefits as they would with coconut oil, palm kernel oil or other whole food medium-chain triglyceride sources.
How Manufacturers and Consumers Use MCT Oil
MCT oil is quickly growing in popularity as a dietary supplement, and many consumers and manufacturers are using MCT oil as a food additive for health foods and beverages. Its ability to boost energy and performance makes MCT oil a popular additive for energy bars, drinks and powdered protein shakes.
Because it is colorless and tasteless, MCT oil can be consumed plain or added to a wide variety of products without altering their flavor. Many consumers incorporate MCT oil into homemade recipes as well for additional health benefits. Below are some popular ways to consume MCT oil:
- MCT coffee: Blending coconut oil or MCT oil into coffee is one of the most popular uses for MCT oil. This MCT-charged coffee provides a boost of energy and helps stimulate the brain at the start of the day.
- Smoothies: Adding MCT oil to post or pre-workout shakes or smoothies provides more energy for exercising and helps aid in recovery after high-intensity workouts.
- Salad dressings or marinades: MCT oil can add smoothness to salad dressing or marinade, without altering the flavor.
- Sauces: Because MCT oil has a very low smoke point, it can only be used for cooking at low temperatures. This makes it a perfect addition to sauces that can simmer without reducing the effectiveness of the MCTs.
- Homemade energy bars: MCT oil can be used to make delicious and healthy energy balls or bars when blended with dried fruit, nut butter, coconut or cacao powder.
While MCT oil does not have any serious side effects, it can take some time for a person’s body to get used to consuming MCTs. Those who are new to MCT may experience some nausea or diarrhea when they first begin using MCT oil supplements. It is recommended to start with one teaspoon a day of MCT oil and then increase the MCT intake over time.
MCT Oils in Beauty Products
MCT oil is a relatively new player in the beauty and personal care sectors but is poised to become a valuable addition. Following the popularity of coconut oil in skin care, moisturizers and other beauty products, MCT can offer many of the same benefits. MCT oil is great for adding moisture to the skin or lips and can be incorporated in lotions, moisturizers or creams. MCT oil is lightweight and does not leave skin feeling oily or greasy when used as a moisturizer.
Beauty products with MCT oil are perfect for those with sensitive skin because MCT is colorless, odorless and not harsh on the skin. MCT is also effective in massage oils as it does not clog pores. The beauty and personal care industries provide a lot of opportunities to use the health benefits of MCTs and MCT oil, and MCT use is likely to continue to expand in these industries.
What the Demand for MCT Oil Means for Manufacturers
The demand for natural, sustainable and “good-for-you” products is nothing new. From the Atkins diet of the early 2000s to the quinoa craze of 2010s to the more recent consumer obsession with coconut oil, health trends are a major driving factor of the food and beverage industry. These health trends carry over to the personal care and cosmetics industries in products such as moisturizers, makeup and skin care products. MCT oil is a natural and sustainable product that has recently gained popularity in the global market. The high consumer demand for MCT oil is driven by many factors, including its effectiveness as a dietary and weight loss supplement as well as its application in pharmaceuticals and beauty products.
In 2016, the global market size for MCTs was 271 kilotons. Dietary and health supplements accounted for over 59 percent of the total revenue from MCTs. Societal concerns about obesity, stress and other unhealthy lifestyles are factors driving this high demand, as MCT has been shown to improve metabolism and digestion while increasing energy and fat burning. The demand for medium-chain triglyceride supplements is projected to continue to grow in the future.
MCT also has applications in the pharmaceutical industry that will likely contribute to its growth in coming years. The benefits of MCT for reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes make it valuable in this industry. MCT can be used in antiviral, antifungal or antibacterial medicines. MCT is also an effective suspension medium or carrier for oil-soluble drugs and antibiotics.
The growth of demand for MCT oil in the personal care market is driven by increased consumption of care products such as lotions, ointments, moisturizers and creams for their health benefits. Because MCTs have almost no odor or taste, they can be incorporated well into beauty and personal care products without producing a harsh or unappealing scent.
North America was the largest consumer of MCT in 2016 and is projected to generate over 752 million in revenue by 2025. MCT is currently used in the food, personal care and detergent sectors and is well-established in the North American region. Asia Pacific is expected to experience the fastest growth in MCT consumption in both revenue and volume, with a projected demand of 120 kilotons of MCT by 2025. The demand in Asia Pacific is driven primarily by MCT as a dietary supplement as for personal care products. MCT growth in Europe is also driven by the personal care and dietary supplement sectors, but MCT is particularly popular in Germany in the pharmaceutical industry.
Because the demand for MCT grew very rapidly in recent years, global supply decreased just as quickly. Coconut and palm trees used to produce MCT oil take time to reach maturity before they can be harvested. Health trends are often hard to anticipate, so growers and producers of MCT oil were not prepared for the market boom. This low supply and high demand for MCT and MCT oil makes MCT oil manufacturing and MCT products a smart investment, as the high price of MCT oil is likely to remain stable in the near future. The desire for natural and healthy products is here to stay, so smart manufacturers should strive to produce products that meet this demand from consumers.
Finding a Reputable MCT Oil Supplier
Because of the boom in popularity of MCT oil, it can be tempting for manufacturers to cut corners in MCT production. Some manufacturers will include lauric acid in their MCT oil to reduce costs and increase production. However, this also depletes the health benefits of MCT oil, as lauric acid is more difficult to metabolize than caprylic and capric acid. Other suppliers may not use sustainable and clean production methods, which then reduces the effectiveness of MCT as a natural health or dietary supplement.
Using a sustainable supply chain is also becoming increasingly important to both consumers and the integrity of the final product. As a bio-based product, MCT oil should be sourced through environmentally friendly practices at all stages of production. Sustainable production of MCT and MCT oil means providing a fair price to suppliers and transporting goods in a way that reduces the production of greenhouse gases. The coconut and palm oil used in MCT production should also be sourced from sustainable farms and manufacturers. A good supplier of MCT and MCT oil will have a sustainable supply chain from bottom to top and provide pure MCT and MCT oil.
As a leading producer of oleochemicals, Acme-Hardesty has been producing high quality and sustainable products for more than 70 years. MCT oil from Acme-Hardesty is ethically sourced and contains only caprylic and capric medium-chain fatty acids. Acme-Hardesty provides a variety of bio-based products to clients across industries for comprehensive and exceptional service. Contact us to hear more about our MCT oil or request a quote for MCT oil.