Replacing most of your fat with MCT oil will help create a small caloric deficit that can assist in weight loss, but is it worth it? Tune in for my answer.
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Can MCT oil help you lose weight?
Hi. I’m Dr. Chris Masterjohn of chrismasterjohnphd.com, and this is Chris Masterjohn Lite, where the name of the game is “Details? Shmeetails. Just tell me what works!”
And today we’re going to talk about whether MCT oil works for weight loss.
Let’s take a look at some of the data.
The study that’s shown on the screen, “17 healthy obese women were randomized to receive the same diets but in two different orders. One was based on beef tallow and the other was based on MCT oil. Both diets were 40% fat by calories and designed to maintain weight. They were consumed for 27 days, separated by 4 or 8 weeks.”
In both graphs on the screen, what you see is the rate of fat oxidation, meaning how much fat were they burning for fuel. And remember, they’re eating the same amount of fat, so if there’s a difference in fat oxidation, it’s because the MCT oil versus the beef tallow is leading to a different amount of fat burned per amount of fat consumed. And what you see is the MCT oil, which is in the filled-in symbols, is higher in fat oxidation and that these asterisks mean that it’s statistically significant at 1, 2, and 3 hours after consuming a meal.
On the right, you see the same data on day 27, and it’s only statistically significant at the 3-hour point, but again, the filled-in circles representing the MCT oil are generally higher than the beef tallow. Now, the fat oxidation alone would not necessarily mean that they were burning more energy because they could have burned less carbohydrate for fuel or less protein. But the data on the screen here show the total energy expenditure on day two on the left and day 27 on the right. And you can see that the filled-in symbols representing the MCT oil group are higher at every time point, although not statistically significant at day two. By day 27, when they’re more adapted to the diets, it becomes statistically significant at the 2- and 3-hour point after the meal.And so you can see total energy expenditure is higher, and the amount of calories per day is about 45 calories per day extra energy expenditure because of the MCT oil.
Shown on the screen is a different study of the effect on appetite. And what they did here was they took 12 healthy male college students of normal body weight that ate four different breakfasts, separated by one week in random order. Each breakfast had 300 grams of pasta, 100 grams of tomato sauce, and one of the following: either a low-calorie fat substitute, or 40 grams of olive oil, 42 grams of lard, or 43 grams of MCT oil.
These were designed to be equal in calories except for the low-calorie fat substitute, which was much lower in calories. The data on the left show what they ate at lunch after having ate the breakfasts that I just described. And what you can see is that the MCT oil group ate the least amount of calories at lunch, and that was statistically significant, suggesting that MCT oil at breakfast suppresses the number of calories consumed at lunch by lowering appetite.
Although not shown in the data on the screen, they also measured when the people asked for lunch, and the MCT oil, when they ate the MCT oil at breakfast, they were more likely to wait longer to ask for lunch. Altogether, if you compare the MCT oil in this study to the olive oil, they consumed 43 fewer calories at lunch as a result of having consumed MCT oil at breakfast.
If you add up the 45 calories of increased total energy expenditure with the 43 calories of decreased appetite, you get to almost 90 calories a day. Keep in mind that a caloric deficit of 90 calories a day, it’s going to take you over a month to lose a pound of fat. But if it’s a small part of everything else you’re doing, it might assist with weight loss. Lo and behold, there’s a study suggesting that it does. In the data shown on the screen, 49 overweight men and women were randomized to consume 18 to 24 grams per day of either olive oil or MCT oil as part of a weight-loss program for 16 weeks. If you look at the change in body weight, you see that over time throughout the entire study, the body weight went down further in the MCT oil group, and it became statistically significant at 16 weeks.
The data that are on the screen now show the lean mass and fat mass from the same study. You can see that looking at fat mass, the MCT oil statistically significantly decreased fat mass, while the olive oil didn’t, and the same thing is true of lean mass. Overall, I would say that this is a result of the greater weight loss with the MCT oil. You have a slightly greater caloric deficit over time that’s going to lead to greater weight loss. Most of that weight loss, most of the extra weight loss was fat mass, a little bit of it was lean mass, which is something that you would expect from weight loss in general, and preserving lean mass probably has nothing to do with MCT oil versus olive oil. It probably has everything to do with how much protein you’re eating and whether you’re getting enough anabolic stimulus from your workout program.
I would always recommend eating a significant amount of protein and having a hypertrophy-oriented workout program if you’re trying to preserve your lean muscle mass while losing weight. So can MCT oil help with weight loss? Yes, it can make a small assistance. I think if you’re—if we were to look at this study with more people carried over more time in more contexts, what we would see is that the weight loss results are matching the mechanistic data fairly closely, which suggests that an overall net caloric deficit of 90 calories is a very small part of a weight-loss program, but it all adds up,
so it does offer some assistance over time.
Now, whether it’s worth it I think is a question of, do you enjoy MCT oil in your food and is it affecting your nutrient values. Because if those calories were going to be other fats like butter, you’d get more fat-soluble vitamins from them. That would be especially true if your fat allotment went to cheese and egg yolks, so certainly your nutritional value would be better spending your fat allotment on those foods. If you’re comparing it to olive oil, or coconut oil, or lard, or something else, beef tallow, or something else like that, the nutrition is probably not making that big of a deal, although I do suspect that the traditional fats like butter and animal fats, and olive oil are probably better at supporting the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins than MCT oil is.
So overall I think nutrition is probably if anything going to suffer with MCT oil, but it might not be that big of a deal. Then again, it’s probably not that big of a deal to your weight loss either. So my verdict is, yes, it can help a little, but the effect is so small and the potential downsides are significant enough that I wouldn’t put it in a major place in a weight-loss program that I would design.