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MCT Oil vs. Coconut Oil: What Is MCT Oil Really?

By: Dave Asprey
April 7, 2015

MCT Oil vs. Coconut Oil: What Is MCT Oil Really?

  • Coconut oil is good for you. It’s a cheap and abundant source of lauric acid, a medium chain triglyceride (MCT).
  • In the US, coconut oil and MCT oil manufacturers are legally allowed to claim that lauric acid is an MCT because chemists named it that way, even though biochemists recognize that it does not act like other true biological MCTs in your body.
  • If you are counting on plain coconut oil or “MCT-labeled” oil to get enough useful MCTs, think again. Odds are you’re getting very few of the potent shorter chain MCTs (C8 and C10), and lots of the cheaper but ineffective lauric acid.

If you’ve been drinking Bulletproof Coffee made with XCT Oil or Brain Octane Oil, you’ve already felt the powerful effects these brain-boosting fats have on your energy and cognitive function.

Brain Octane Oil in your coffee and on your food can raise fat-burning, brain-fueling molecules in your body called ketones much more than coconut oil or MCTs alone. But why? What is Brain Octane Oil? How is it different from MCT oil or coconut oil? Read on to find out.

What Is MCT Oil?

MCT stands for medium chain triglycerides or medium chain fatty acids. They’re types of fat most often derived from coconut oil but sometimes made from palm oil.

MCT oil is colorless, odorless, and stays liquid at room temperature, making it the perfect fat to add to food, smoothies, and coffee for extra energy and brain-boosting benefits.

But before we jump into the benefits of MCTs, let’s talk about how MCTs work in your body.

How do MCTs work?

There are several types of fatty acids in coconut oil, but only four strains of MCTs:

  • Caproic acid (C6)
  • Caprylic Acid (C8)
  • Capric Acid (C10)
  • Lauric Acid (C12)

MCTs are known for providing you with quick energy and a sharper brain. They’re absorbed more quickly than other fats and easily converted into energy. Or at least three of them are.

All four are are categorized as MCTs, but only C6, C8, and C10 bypass your digestive tract and go straight to your liver where they’re broken down into energy-packed ketones, then sent out to the rest of your body via your bloodstream. That quick conversion of fat to ketones for energy is what most people look for when they buy MCTs.

C12, on the other hand, behaves much more like a typical fatty acid, going through your stomach, breaking down in your small intestine, then absorbing in your blood to get turned into energy. And, unfortunately, C12 is the main “MCT” in most MCT oils and in coconut oil. We’ll get to that later.

Benefits of MCT oil

First, the benefits of MCTs. Their unique structure and the way they’re metabolized in your body give them a host of benefits you won’t find in other fatty acids.

  • Antibacterial and antiviral properties may help balance gut flora and support immune health
  • They’re easier to digest than most other fats
  • They can help you lose unwanted fat
  • They can suppress hunger
  • They provide quick, clean energy, especially brain energy
  • They may improve insulin sensitivity, especially when paired with a Bulletproof Diet

What are the different types of MCT fats?

Caproic Acid (C6)

There’s not enough of it to matter in coconut oil, it tastes bad, and it often results in stomach/gastric upset, but it converts quickly to ketones! If your generic MCT oil makes your throat burn or has a weird flavor, one reason may be that the distillation process didn’t remove enough of the C6. There are other reasons this can happen, too. We’ll cover that below.

Caprylic Acid (C8): ~6% of coconut oil

C8 has potent anti-microbial properties (way more potent than lauric acid) to help you maintain a healthy gut, and it is the fastest to metabolize in the brain. (This is Brain Octane Oil.) Your liver does not need to process this rare type of MCT, and it only takes 3 steps for your body to turn it into ATP, the cellular fuel you use.[1] Sugar takes 26 steps. This is why Brain Octane is so good at suppressing cravings and is the most powerful oil to put in Bulletproof Coffee. You would need 18 tablespoons of coconut oil to get just one tablespoon of Brain Octane.

Capric Acid (C10): ~9% of coconut oil

This is the second shortest form of MCT, also rare. It is slower to turn into energy but more affordable than C8. XCT Oil is triple-distilled in a non-oxygen atmosphere with no solvents ever used, and it contains C10 and C8, because these are the only two MCT oils that turn into ATP quickly without the liver. You would need 6 tablespoons of coconut oil to get one tablespoon of XCT oil.

Lauric Acid (C12): ~50+% of coconut oil

It requires a pit stop in the liver rather than getting immediately converted into energy like the other MCTs above. This is why it is more accurately described as an LCT, not an MCT like marketers claim. It raises cholesterol more than any other fatty acid (not necessarily a bad thing.) It is also commonly cited as having antimicrobial benefits, which it does…except the shorter chain MCTs are more effective against aggressive candida yeast and even gonorrhea and chlamydia (as a monoglyceride).[2][3]

Is lauric acid the same as monolaurin?

It’s confusing because coconut oil marketers imply that lauric acid is the same as monolaurin, an extremely potent antimicrobial that is derived from lauric acid. (They are not the same…I used monolaurin when I had candida years ago, and depending on your gut bacteria, you may create monolaurin in your gut when you eat affordable coconut oil.) Given how common and cheap this stuff is, it’s no wonder that companies are tempted to sell it as a true MCT. Two years ago, I looked into making a more affordable MCT oil containing lauric acid. I’d have made a killing selling what is basically coconut oil as something special, but it simply doesn’t work, and it’s not truthful marketing. #notgonnahappen

C-14 and above

These are the widely recognized LCTs, or long chain fatty acids in coconut oil, mostly saturated, including stearic acid (C18:0), oleic acid (C18:1), and linoleic acid (18:2). The exact percentage of each depends on the region the coconut is grown, time of harvest, and other growing variables. They are good as a fuel source, but they are also widely available in other oils, and you won’t benefit from eating a lot more of them compared to eating true medium chain fatty acids.

MCT oil vs. Coconut Oil

Coconut oil is blowing up in the health and wellness scene, but there’s a catch to all the so-called benefits. Coconut oil contains different strains of fats and not all of these strains are equally effective for energy and fat loss. That’s why I specify the exact types of oils that work best in The Bulletproof Diet, and why Bulletproof makes Brain Octane Oil and XCT Oil, neither of which is the plain MCT oil found in coconut oil.

The coconut oil industry loves to market the idea that coconut oil is a great source of MCTs because it’s “62% MCT oil” – but is that really true? 

Don’t get it wrong – just about all the cheap and abundant oils in coconut oil are good for you, which is why coconut oil is high on the list of Bulletproof foods! The problem is that studies show you can’t get enough of the really useful MCTs from just eating coconut oil or a so-called “MCT oil” that is diluted with lauric acid, a useful, but cheap, and hugely abundant part of coconut oil that is marketed as an MCT oil.[4]

Don’t take my word for it – you can hear a lot more about this in Bulletproof Radio episode #151 with Melinda Culver, PhD, where we go into the science behind MCTs.

Want lauric acid? Just eat coconut oil

Lauric acid has a few antimicrobial benefits, but it’s simply not the most effective way to fuel your brain and body. It does not create energy in the brain the way that biological true MCTs, such as XCT or Brain Octane, do.[5][6]

So if you want lauric acid – and you do because it definitely has some benefits – then don’t waste your time and money separating it out of coconut oil: just eat some coconut oil. And enjoy that coconut oil, because it’s both delicious and abundant in this nice fat.

You can get abundant lauric acid by just eating a tablespoon or two of coconut oil; there is no benefit to refining it and buying it separately when it’s so common in plain coconut oil. If you use cheap lauric acid to cut the potency of true biological MCT oil, you’re making it so weak that you’re not going to feel the energy effects that come from the much more powerful C8 or C10 MCTs found in XCT or Brain Octane.

MCT oil that’s cut with the cheaper lauric acid will only be about 1.5-2x as strong as coconut oil, but it will be far cheaper to produce. XCT oil is 6x stronger, and Brain Octane is up to 18x stronger.

MCT oil purity matters, too

The reason I decided to create XCT and Brain Octane oils is that when I started learning about these types of lipids years ago in my anti-aging work at SVHI, it was common for our members – and for me – to get severe diarrhea and throat irritation from commercially available MCT oils.

We thought it was just an individual tolerance issue, but I soon discovered that it was an oil purity issue.

The reason purity matters is that C17 is a byproduct of other MCT oil production processes, and it, along with C6, is a major cause of disaster pants and irritation. There’s a reason that some MCTs cause problems when the same amount of Bulletproof XCT or Brain Octane won’t.

That’s why the unique process we use at Bulletproof is completely chemical and solvent-free. Most MCT’s on the market are manufactured via chemical/solvent refining, which can require using chemicals like hexane and different enzymes and combustion chemicals, such as sodium methoxide. The oils used to make MCTs – palm and coconut – are often solvent extracted too, but not Bulletproof.

We never allow solvents anywhere near our process. We use triple steam distillation in a non-oxygen atmosphere to avoid lipid oxidation and create a purer process. And we do it 100% in the United States. To my knowledge, no other company uses such extensive distillation to ensure purity, simply because solvents and catalysts are cheaper.

So that’s it – to have the most energy and the fewest cravings, you want the shortest chain possible, C8, with the highest levels of purity.

Brain Octane Oil vs. XCT oil

The fact is, you’d get sick if you had 18 tablespoons of coconut oil, but you’ll feel great on 1 tablespoon of Brain Octane, the most potent and brain-fueling extract of coconut oil.

If you really want to take advantage of the most powerful medium chain fatty acids and the rarest parts of coconut oil, you’ll benefit the most from the cognitive aspects of an ultra-distilled, upgraded MCT like Brain Octane Oil (pure C8) or XCT Oil (C8 and C10).

So which to pick?

Brain Octane (Pure C8) provides the fastest rise in energy and focus and it’s what I start my day with. XCT is more affordable than Brain Octane Oil but doesn’t pack as much of an energetic or cognitive punch. Both help your metabolism to burn fat.

The capric acid in XCT Oil doesn’t break down into ketones as quickly as pure caprylic, but capric acid is more affordable (but still works) so you can save money by going with the XCT.  XCT Oil still goes to brain energy, just not as quickly as Brain Octane. Both can be used for energy without processing by the liver, unlike many other fats and oils.

  • Use Brain Octane Oil if you want the maximum cognitive benefit and quickest digestion. Now it comes in these travel-friendly, leak-proof 3-oz bottles. Try it out and see how you feel.
  • Use XCT Oil if you are looking to economize while getting a metabolic boost and a slower smaller cognitive effect. (Or if you are using it externally for your hair or skin!)

Some people mix different ratios of each.

When to use coconut oil, then?  If you love the taste or want ample lauric acid, eat it and enjoy it! Just know it is not the single strongest source of MCTs for fueling your brain and body.

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