Many cuisines around the world, particularly from countries in the Southeast Asia and other tropical regions, feature traditional dishes made of coconut products. Coconut cream and milk and virgin coconut oil are used in various sweets, drinks, and snacks, and even main dishes. However, the use of coconut products in cooking doesn’t stop there. Even today, people are still lauding the culinary qualities and health benefits of coconut products, particularly coconut oil. In fact, coconut products are used as an alternative to dairy, which make them a boon to people who are lactose intolerant and those who have completely cut animal products from their diet.
Coconut products are high in fat, particularly saturated fat, but that’s not exactly a bad thing. While it may alarm many health enthusiasts at first glance, most of the saturated fat found in coconut products are classified under MCT or medium chain triglycerides, and that makes a whole lot of difference as to how it is processed by the body.
What is MCT and How is It Different from Other Fats?
Triglycerides, simply said, is a term for fat. Medium chain in MCT refers to the number of carbons found in it, which ranges from 6 to 12. For comparison, long chain triglycerides or LCTs have 13 to 21 carbons. MCTs are processed differently by the body compared to LCTs, which make up most of the fat in the human diet. Because of their shorter length, MCTs are easily broken down and turned into a source of energy or transformed into ketones, a substance the liver produces as a result of breaking down a large amount of fat. This process affects the body in several positive ways.
- MCTs help in weight management. Due to the way they are processed, MCTs are less likely to be stored as fat. Instead, they are immediately used as a source of energy. There are studies that point to how MCT oil significantly reduces weight circumference. In addition, consuming MCTs helps in the release of hormones that promote the feeling of fullness. A study conducted on a small number of test subjects showed that people who took MCT oil for breakfast consumed less calories per day compared to their counterparts who didn’t.
- MCTs help fuel the brain. As mentioned before, MCTs are broken down more easily than LCTs. Aside from that, they can also enter the cells without breaking down and pass through the blood-brain barrier. These properties make them a convenient source of energy for the brain.
- MCTs help protect the brain from certain conditions. MCT oil is an important component in the ketogenic diet, a regimen that is used to manage certain neurological conditions such as Alzheimer’s, epilepsy, and autism. Studies show that a certain type of MCT called capric acid has a better effect on improving seizure control compared to an anti-epileptic drug that’s widely used by the public. MCTS like capric and caprylic acids are also shown to have positive effects on the symptoms of patients with Alzheimer’s disease. Finally, a study that implemented a ketogenic diet for 6 months showed promising results when managing the symptoms of autism in children.
- MCTs help prevent yeast and bacterial growth. Coconut oil has been shown to reduce the growth of yeast and bacteria, an effect that is suspected to be caused by its high lauric, capric, and caprylic acid content. MCTs have also been shown to suppress the growth of an infectious fungus in a hospital setting by up to 50%. Still, more human studies should be conducted to support these findings.
There are currently many brands that sell MCT oil out in the market. However, if you want to enjoy these health benefits while also satisfying your palate, your best bet is incorporating coconut products like virgin coconut oil and coconut milk into your dishes.