Bottle of MCT Oil and 2 coconuts wrapped in tape measure

How to Use MCT Oil for Weight Loss—Besides Adding a Slug to Your Coffee

Can the supplement really help you torch fat?

Fat doesn’t have the bad rap it used to, especially since the low-fat craze of decades past backfired and made people gain even more weight (remember Snackwells?) (1). But here’s a twist: Can consuming fat help you lose weight? 

One fat in particular, MCT oil, has gotten attention in recent years. Keto coffee lovers and social media influencers swear by its health benefits, including its ability to blast fat. 

But, MCT oil won’t directly lead to weight loss, says nutritionist Sarah Herrington, C.N.C. In fact, it could cause you to gain weight if enjoyed in excess. 

Still, some research does support the idea that it can be a part of your weight loss journey—it just depends on how you take it.

What Is MCT Oil?

Let’s back up for a second: What exactly is MCT oil? MCT is short for medium-chain triglyceride (yep, it’s a mouthful). MCTs are found in several foods, such as coconut or palm kernel oil, coconut meat, cow or goat milk, and ghee (2). 

MCT oil is pure fat and composed of several different types of fatty acids, including caprylic acid (C8), capric acid (C10), and lauric acid (C12) (3). It doesn’t contain any protein or carbohydrates, says registered dietitian Michelle Routhenstein, R.D., which is why it’s a staple of the infamously low-carb keto diet

Nutritionist Sarah Herrington, C.N.C. points out that most of the fats in a healthy person’s diet are long-chain triglycerides (LCTs), which are found in nuts, seeds, avocados, and olive oil (4). 

“MCTs have a shorter chain and are therefore processed more efficiently in the body, than (LCTs),” she says. 

MCT oil ignites a fat-torching process called ketosis, enabling your body to transition from burning carbohydrates for energy to burning fat (5, 6). “MCTs are quickly absorbed and transported directly to the liver to be converted into energy, often in the form of ketones,” Routhenstein says. 

LCTs, on the other hand take a slower, more circuitous route to the liver through the lymphatic system, resulting in some of those fats being stored in the body instead of being used for fuel immediately (7).

This quick energy conversion from MCTs may increase calorie burning and fat oxidation (the breakdown of fats for energy). 

About the Experts 

Sarah Herrington, M.S.C.N., C.N.C., C.P.T., a nutritionist at Brio-Medical, in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Michelle Routhenstein, M.S., R.D., C.D.C.E.S., C.D.N., a registered dietitian specializing in heart disease prevention through nutrition best practices. This includes helping clients reduce abdominal weight and insulin resistance at Entirely Nourished in New York City.

Does MCT Oil Help with Weight Loss? 

While the research on how MCT oil may help melt pounds is far from definitive, some current findings are promising. 

Boosts satiety 

To shed pounds, you have to be in a calorie deficit, or consume fewer calories than you burn. The key to doing this without feeling hungry is to prioritize fat intake, especially MCT fats, research suggests.

“MCT oils can be particularly satiating, meaning they tend to make you feel fuller than the same amount of calories you’d get from a different fat source, such as regular coconut oil,” Herrington says. “This can help support lower overall caloric intake.”

One 2021 systematic review found an association between MCTs and lower calorie intake, compared to LCTS (8). Older research has identified this link as well (9). But this doesn’t mean MCTs are a natural appetite suppressant. The authors of the 2021 review pointed out that the evidence wasn’t conclusive. 

Reduces inflammation

Inflammation and weight gain go hand-in-hand. How so? It may contribute to developing insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes, according to research, including a recent study from one of the American Heart Association’s (AHA) journals, Circulation Research (10). Elevated blood sugar levels caused by insulin resistance can lead to weight gain.

“MCT oil may help to improve insulin resistance and reduce inflammation previously caused by dietary choices,” Herrington says. 

One animal study found that MCT may help lower the production of inflammatory cytokines (small proteins that can cause cellular damage) and improve insulin sensitivity (11). Still, clinical trials are needed to confirm whether MCT can produce a similar effect in humans. 

How to Use MCT Oil 

You don’t have to be on the keto diet to enter ketosis via MCT oil, suggests the authors of a 2021 study published in the journal Frontiers in Nutrition (5). Of course, taking MCT oil once won’t magically make pounds disappear. You’ll want to follow a daily dosing regimen.

Because MCT is a dietary supplement, it’s not regulated by the FDA, and there is no standard dose. That said, a common recommendation from MCT supplement manufacturers is 1 tablespoon, taken one to three times daily. However, health professionals suggest limiting intake to just one tablespoon a day due to its high saturated fat content. 

Best time to take MCT oil

You may have heard of people making “keto coffee” by adding MCT oil and butter to their morning cup. Seems smart: The same Frontiers in Nutrition study found MCTs were best consumed after an overnight fast, either alone or with a low-carb breakfast (5).

Plus, the study found that adding caffeine into the mix may slightly increase the ketogenic response. The researchers also determined emulsifying MCT in a blender can increase the ketogenic effect and alleviate MCT oil side effects, such as GI discomfort and diarrhea (5).

The Best MCT Oil for Weight Loss

The most common type of MCT oil is–you guessed it–in its liquid state. It’s easy to squirt into your morning coffee or smoothie and can also be swapped for other oils in savory meals and homemade salad dressings. 

MCT also comes in capsules or in powder form, which can also be added to drinks or mixed into batter for baked goods. Regardless of whether you choose liquid or powdered MCT, an important detail to look out for on the supplement label is the composition of fatty acids. 

The findings from that 2021 study in Frontiers in Nutrition suggest C8 may be more powerful than the rest for promoting weight loss. The study authors recommend starting conservatively with either 5 grams (g) of C8 or 5 g of C8 and C10 once daily. (For context, one tablespoon is equivalent to 14-15 grams of fat.) Eventually, you’ll work your way up to a daily dose of 15 g to 20 g of C8 for the best results (5). 

MCT Oil Side Effects

With MCT oil, a little goes a long way—and more isn’t always beneficial. 

For starters, taking too much can lead to some unpleasant GI side effects, such as abdominal pain and cramping, diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting (12). Start with small amounts first with food, and gradually add more over time until you reach the full dose. 

The more important consideration if you’re using MCT oil to help with weight loss: One tablespoon (which is usually the amount found in one serving) of MCT oil has about 130 calories. If you begin to replace MCT oil with other lower-in-fat options, those extra calories could lead to weight gain. 

MCT oil is also nearly 100 percent saturated fat, Routhenstein says. It contains 14-15 grams in a tablespoon, whereas the same amount of olive oil only has about 2 grams (13, 14). That matters for weight loss. Routhenstein notes saturated fats can contribute to abdominal visceral fat (the kind that wraps around your organs), which can bump up LDL (harmful) cholesterol levels (15).  

The AHA recommends that just 5 to 6 percent of your daily calories come from saturated fats. In a 2,000-calorie diet, that’s between 100 and 120 calories, or about 13 grams of saturated fat (16). 

That said, MCT likely won’t negatively affect your heart or waistline if you limit your intake to just one tablespoon daily and reduce your intake of saturated fats from foods.