What are MCTs?

Medium chain triglycerides appear to boost metabolism, suppress appetite, and reduce fat stores. Can MCTs help you lose weight?

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS
4-minute read
Episode #201

Can MCTs Help You Lose Weight?


OK, enough with all the research. After all, life is not lived in the lab. So, how might all of this translate into the real world? Can adding MCTs to your diet have a beneficial effect on your body weight or composition? Research in humans has been pretty disappointing so far. Some studies have found that dieters who substituted MCTs for other fats in a calorie-controlled environment had slightly better results. Others found no significant difference with MCTs.

How to Increase Your Intake of MCTs

Let’s also consider the practicalities. The most promising studies involved diets that were very high in fat, with the majority of the fat coming from MCTs. The richest natural food source of MCTs is coconut oil, which is about 2/3 MCTs. It’s also virtually 100% saturated fat. To emulate these experimental diets in the real world, you’d have to use coconut oil—and plenty of it—as your only source of fat. That seems a little extreme to me. (And all that saturated fat would give the folks over at American Heart Association…well…a heart attack.) 

You can also buy pure MCT oil at the health food store, which is produced by artificially separating the MCTs out of coconut or palm kernel oil. Not only is it expensive but, in my experience, extracting certain nutrients or compounds out of whole foods never seems to work out as well as we hope. Maybe there’s a reason that whole foods almost always contain fatty acids in a variety of chain lengths.

The Bottom Line on MCTs

Dramatically increasing the proportion of MCTs in your diet might help you burn a few extra calories and might (or might not) be a hedge against weight gain—especially if you’re a guy. It could also have some downsides. High intake of MCTs has been linked to elevated cholesterol in some individuals. They can also cause stomach upset and digestive distress, especially if you increase them suddenly.

If you include dairy, coconut, or palm kernel oil in your diet, then your diet already contains some medium chain triglycerides. Woo-hoo! Meanwhile, you get other benefits from other sources of fat, such as olive oil, fish, avocadoes, and nuts—benefits you’d be missing out on if you replaced those fats with more MCTs. I think this is another case where a varied, balanced diet is probably the best of all worlds.

Coconut Oil image courtesy of Shutterstock


About the Author

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS

Monica Reinagel is a board-certified licensed nutritionist, author, and the creator of one of iTunes' most highly ranked health and fitness podcasts. Her advice is regularly featured on the TODAY show, Dr. Oz, NPR, and in the nation's leading newspapers, magazines, and websites. Do you have a nutrition question? Call the Nutrition Diva listener line at 443-961-6206. Your question could be featured on the show.