Are there benefits to putting MCT oil in your coffee?


You may have heard of a trend that involves putting MCT oil, butter, or coconut oil in your morning coffee. Dubbed “bulletproof coffee,” this beverage is particularly popular in the “biohacker” community. Proponents claim that bulletproof coffee can:

  •       Improve cognitive performance
  •       Increase energy
  •       Control appetite
  •       Improve metabolism

Is there any truth to these claims? Are there any risks associated with bulletproof coffee? And is MCT oil better than other sources of saturated fat?

Let’s find out if you should be putting MCT oil in your coffee.

What is the “bulletproof coffee” trend?

A typical recipe for bulletproof coffee is anywhere from 1 teaspoon to 2 tablespoons of saturated fat in a cup of coffee. The fat source is typically butter, coconut oil, or MCT oil.

This advice might seem at odds with one of the best-established tenants of nutritional science. Most dietary guidelines advise replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats. Keeping saturated fats below 10% is one of the best things you can do to lower your risk of cardiovascular disease, which is the leading cause of death in the United States.

Chemically, saturated fats are “saturated” with hydrogens, which means they’ve maxed out the number of hydrogens they have on their long carbon chains. Unsaturated fats have double bonds, or alkenes, which means they have some sites with fewer hydrogens. These double bonds create kinks in the chain, which changes the way they behave – in the container, and in your body.

One of the confounders here is the type of saturated fat being used in bulletproof coffee. Is MCT oil healthier than butter or coconut oil? Could this account for the supposed health benefits of bulletproof coffee?

What is MCT oil?

MCT stands for “medium-chain triglycerides,” or triglycerides composed of medium chain fatty acids. It is usually derived from coconut or palm oil.

Medium-chain constitutes anywhere from 6 to 12 carbons. In particular, fatty acids with fewer than 10 carbons are metabolized more rapidly compared to longer-chain saturated fats. The result is that they may affect blood lipids differently than other saturated fats.

MCT oil is often conflated with coconut oil, but this is a mistake. Coconut oil contains relatively smaller amounts of medium-chain fatty acids, with a more significant portion of lauric acid, myristic acid, and palmitic acid.

Are there benefits to putting MCT oil in your coffee?

In short, no. There are no proven benefits to putting MCT oil in your coffee.

A recent review article (from December 2023) analyzed peer-reviewed studies on bulletproof coffee published between 2010 and 2023. The authors concluded that consumption of bulletproof coffee produced no significant benefits for cognition, alertness, or energy, when compared to coffee alone.

The impact on hunger, satiety, and metabolism were no different than consuming a lump of saturated fat on its own. In other words, the effects were canceled out by the additional calories consumed.

There were also some risks associated with the consumption of bulletproof coffee. As we mentioned above, saturated fats are known to elevate key biomarkers associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease. In fact, bulletproof coffee is associated with increased serum cholesterol and/or triglycerides. Bulletproof also appears to increase the occurrence of gastrointestinal upset, or nausea.

Is MCT oil better than coconut oil?

Granted, those conclusions are based on bulletproof coffee in general – including bulletproof coffee prepared with butter and coconut oil. Do medium-chain triglycerides make all the difference, or is MCT oil just as unhealthy as other unsaturated fats?

The answer is somewhere in the middle. When it comes to overall effect on cholesterol, MCT oil is better than butter or coconut oil. However, MCT oil is still worse for serum cholesterol compared to unsaturated fats. MCT also resulted in an increase in serum triglyceride levels, which are known to be a causative factor in coronary heart disease.

The data suggests that there is a hierarchy of saturated fats, but unsaturated fats are always better.

The take-away

To sum it up, here’s what we know so far about MCT oil in bulletproof coffee:

  •  There is no scientific basis for the claims about bulletproof coffee.
  •  Adding an additional source of saturated fat to your diet can negatively impact biomarkers associated with heart disease.
  •  MCT oil is healthier than saturated fats, but still worse than unsaturated fats.

Should you be putting MCT oil in your coffee? Probably not. But the evidence for a hierarchy of saturated fats can still be practically useful. It isn’t always possible to replace unsaturated fats with saturated fats. Saturated fats have distinctly different organoleptic properties, stability, and melting points. They are sometimes preferred, especially in baking and large-scale food production. In such cases, it can be helpful to remember that MCT oil is a better option than coconut oil, and coconut oil is a better option than butter.

Lab Alley is pleased to provide you with high-quality MCT oil for your industry needs. If you have any additional questions about MCT oil, or any of our products, please feel free to contact us.

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