A wide range of vegetable oils is suitable for cooking. Examples include olive oil, soybean oil, canola oil, and sunflower oil. Animal fats like lard and butter are also often used as cooking oils. But what about cooking with MCT oil, the ketone raising oil that many are now using for weight loss?
If you're on a ketogenic diet and use MCT oil, you've probably wonder whether you can also use it to fry, cook, sauté, and bake your favorite meals. And the answer you will likely hear is that MCT oil is not suitable for cooking.
However, that’s not the whole case. First, there are several different types of MCT oils, some more heat stable than others. And secondly, MCT oil can withstand a certain level of heat, so it definitely is suitable for some types of cooking.
To put MCT oil to good use, it's important that you know what this oil is and how you can use it on your keto or other diet. In this article, we go over some MCT oil facts, including if cooking with MCT oil is possible and how it compares to other oils.
The short answer is yes, you can cook with MCT oil for keto. The long answer is that some types of MCT oil are better suitable for cooking and that MCT oil should never be used in several types of cooking methods.
The suitability of an oil for cooking depends on its smoke point. The smoke point is the temperature at which oil begins to burn and produce smoke. When oil starts to smoke, it means that it’s degrading and that harmful free radicals are forming. This makes it bad for your health but it will also leave a burnt flavor.
The smoke point of an oil depends on the stability of its fatty acids, its free fatty acid content, and its purity. Refined vegetable oils have a higher smoke point due to their purity and low level of free fatty acids. MCT oil does not have a high level of free fatty acids, but its fats (medium-chain triglycerides) are not stable at high temperatures .
To put this into context: sautéing heats up oil to 240 F (120 C), deep frying to 320 °F - 356 °F (160-180 C), and oven baking is usually in the 356 F (180 C) range. That means that your typical bottle of pure MCT oil won't be suitable for most cooking methods, and you should save it for your salad dressings, smoothies, and keto coffee.
Still, a review published in 2016 found that MCT oils rich in lauric acid (C12), containing around 30% of this fatty acid, are suitable for cooking . Lauric acid is a less powerful MCT that makes up around 50% of MCTs in coconut oil.
As it turns out, MCT oils rich in C12 have a smoke point similar to that of coconut oil. And while this smoke point is still low at around 350F, it's still high enough to make it suitable for many cooking methods such as sautéing and baking.
MCT oil contains the same fats found in coconut oil but in different proportions. However, MCT is generally much more expensive than coconut oil because it goes through a lengthy manufacturing process and because most MCTs contain fats that are found only in small amounts in nature. That's why many keto dieters wonder if they can substitute MCT oil with coconut oil to save money, or they may favor coconut oil as a more organic source of MCTs.
The truth is that both oils are equally good. Which one you should go for depends on what you are trying to achieve and how you want to use them. To help you make the right pick, below are some of their major differences explained:
Coconut oil comes in many forms. You have virgin coconut oil, which is extracted mainly through mechanical methods. You also have refined and hydrogenated coconut oils, which are made using some forms of chemical treatment. All types have similar fatty acid composition:
Coconut oil contains many other saturated fatty acids in addition to oleic acid. However, virgin coconut oil is higher in certain vitamins and antioxidants .
MCT oil, on the other hand, is almost always made from either coconut oil or palm kernel oil using extraction, purification, and esterification. This process yields a colorless and flavorless liquid oil that contains just C8, C10, or a combination of these two MCTs. It does not contain any other fats, vitamins, or impurities.
However, some manufacturers have started introducing MCT oil containing lauric acid in varying amounts (usually around 30%). The levels of capric and caprylic acids in these MCT oils can be 30-40%. There are also MCT oils made using novel methods that don't involve harmful solvents like hexane.
You can use coconut oil as food and as medicine or a cosmetic ingredient. Coconut oil is a staple ingredient in Thai and Indonesian cuisine. It's suitable for pan frying, baking, and other cooking. It's also popular as a hair conditioning ingredient and as a mild antifungal and antibacterial agent.
MCT oil, on the other hand, is best used as a supplement. As already explained, most brands of MCT oil on the market contain C8 and C10, which tend to degrade under relatively low heat. They may also irritate the skin in some people , especially when in such high concentrations as in MCT oil. And besides, MCT oil manufacturers provide directions of use on their products, which often limit its use as a supplement.
Still, if a recipe calls for MCT oil and does not involve heating up the food beyond 320 F, then feel free to use MCT oil. If you're using a brand containing lauric acid, then you may use this oil as you would virgin coconut oil.
MCT oil has become popular over the years for a reason – it's very potent. MCTs found in this oil do not require digestive enzymes and bile to be digested. Instead, they are absorbed in the small intestines and head straight to the liver to be converted into ketones. They're not likely to be stored as body fat, and studies even show they may actually promote weight loss .
Their easy digestibility and quick conversion into ketones make MCTs a quick source of energy. And since ketones are a more efficient fuel than glucose, you'll definitely feel a change in your energy levels. Many ketoers can attest to this, saying that they experienced greater physical and mental energy when taking MCT oil.
Coconut oil, while also containing MCTs, does not contain enough C8 and C10 MCTs to make a noticable difference. Lauric acid, its predominant MCT, has the longest chain length of all MCTs. This characteristic makes it slower to digest and convert to ketones, and studies show coconut oil is not as potent as isolated MCTs . It's still effective in this aspect though. You just may not feel the effects immediately but through long-term use of coconut oil.
Coconut oil and MCT oil also differ in their effects on appetite. A study published in 2017 found that coconut oil does not affect appetite, while MCT oil was able to curb hunger for at least three hours after breakfast .
Still, it's important to mention that the high potency of MCT oil means you need to use it carefully. The recommended daily dose is usually around 2 tablespoons daily. Going above that will lead to digestive upset and even diarrhea. And there's even one animal study that found that taking too much MCT oil over a long period of time could lead to fatty liver disease .
Taking MCT oil with cold or warm meals is the best way to use this oil not only to ensure you're not ruining the oil but also to stay within the recommended daily limits. Still, if you'd like to include MCT oil in your cooking, here's how to do it:
So, this doesn't involve heating the oil directly over fire. Instead, you add the MCT oil after the meal is cooked. For example, drizzle a tablespoon of your favorite MCT oil over cream soup, steak, or fried vegetables. This way, you're incorporating MCTs into a warm meal without having to heat the oil. Similarly, incorporate MCT oil into smoothies, milkshakes, puddings, yogurt, salad dressings, and other cold dishes.
Some keto-friendly desserts and breads don't require high temperatures or a lot of baking time. This is why you'll often see keto desserts include MCT oil as an ingredient. Baking usually does not increase the core temperature of the desert beyond 160 F, even if you set your oven to 350 F. Examples of baked goods that can safely include MCT oil include keto cheesecake, cookies, muffins, and custard pies.
Sautéing is a type of cooking method where food is cooked shortly, usually in a pan, in little bit of oil and over medium-high heat. There's always the danger that oil could reach high temperatures during sautéing, so do be careful and look for smoke. If your oil starts to smoke, throw it away and cook your food in clarified butter or even olive oil. You may sauté onions for soup and sauces recipes.
If you plan to use MCT oil for different types of cooking, then definitely go for MCT oil with lauric acid. It will have a slightly higher smoke point, but the presence of C8 and C10 in this oil still means it isn't the best cooking oil out there. On the plus side, MCT oil is less likely to cause excess weight gain, and cooking with the right type of this oil can help you maintain a healthy weight.
Avoid deep frying, stir-frying, braising, and caramelizing food with any type of MCT oil since these cooking methods involve very high temperatures. Oven baking meat with MCT oil is also not a good idea.
There are many drawbacks to cooking with MCT oil. This is why you will not see that many manufacturers recommend this oil for cooking.
As already discussed, the smoke point of MCT oil is close to that of many non-cooking oils like sesame oil, flaxseed oil, and even butter. This makes it not suitable for most cooking, although it is possible to cook with it if you're careful not to overheat the oil. Overheating the oil will change its fatty acid composition, and you won't experience the promised benefits.
MCT oil is hard on the digestive tract. While it does not require bile and enzymes to be digested, it can still cause diarrhea and stomach pain if taken in excess. The recommended daily limit for MCT oil is 2 tablespoons per day for most people. This means that even if you wanted to cook with this oil, you'd need to be careful about amounts used. However, a maximum tolerable dose of 4-7 tablespoons can be achieved after building tolerance .
Let's face it, you're probably already making most of your meals at home if you're on a keto diet. That means you'll need a lot of cooking oils or fat. MCT oil is simply too expensive for this purpose, and chance are you'll be wasting some of that expensive oil during the cooking process (some of the oil may disperse or stick to the pan). That's why drizzling the oil over meals or taking as is with a spoon is the best way to get the bang for your hard earned buck.
Other drawbacks of using MCT oil for cooking also include not being able to share your meals with others (because they may not tolerate the oil well) and its lack of flavor and no impact on texture. Remember, oils and fats also add flavor and texture to meals. Just consider butter, ghee, olive oil, and lard. All these fats add different flavors and also impact the crunch and moisture content depending on the recipe.
Just because you shouldn't use MCT oil to fry food in it doesn't mean you can't incorporate it into meals. There are hundreds of keto-friendly recipes that call for MCT oil as a major ingredient and that will help you get the benefits of MCT oil while enjoying delicious meals.
Make this keto-friendly vinaigrette dressing to go over salads made with romaine lettuce, spinach, and other leafy greens.
Avocados are popular smoothie ingredients on keto because they give wonderfully thickness without the carbs and because they’re rich in healthy fats. Make this healthy and refreshing avocado smoothie to meet your daily macros.
Coleslaws are often high in carbs, but not this one. This keto coleslaw has only a couple of ingredients, all of which are low in carbs at the below amounts.
This creamy broccoli soup is incredibly easy to make. You can thicken it with xanthan gum if you find the soup too runny for your taste. Otherwise, the heavy cream will give it enough body to make it creamy.
MCT oil is good for many things. It's good for boosting ketone production, curbing hunger, boosting weight loss, increasing energy levels, and improving mental and physical performance. But it's not good for cooking.
Its low smoke point combined with low daily limit make it impractical for cooking, if not dangerous. When oil is heated beyond its smoke point, it starts to degrade and even form free radicals. Overheating MCT oil defies its purpose – supporting your health.
However, it is possible to cook with this oil. Dessert baking, light sautéing, and boiling in water shouldn't pose any harm. These cooking methods also don't require too much oil, which is a good thing considering the hefty price tag of most MCT oils. Besides that, you can go for novel brands of lauric acid-containing oils which are much more heat stable.
Alternatively, simply continue blending MCT oil into warm or cold meals and keep your intake to 2 tablespoons per day to avoid stomach upset and even possible liver problems.