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MCT, LCT, SCT: What's the Difference?

Rida Wali, MS, RD
May 17, 2023
December 8, 2023

Medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), long-chain triglycerides (LCTs), and short-chain triglycerides (SCTs) are types of dietary fats that have been the focus of many studies in recent years. While they have similarities, these three types of dietary fats differ in their chemical composition, metabolism, and potential health benefits. In this article, we'll explore what MCTs, LCTs, and SCTs are, how these triglycerides differ from each other, and their potential health benefits.

Medium-Chain Triglycerides (MCTs)

MCTs are a type of saturated fat that is shorter in length than other types of fatty acids. MCT's are rapidly metabolized by the liver, providing a quick source of energy, and are less likely to be stored as body fat. They are frequently found in coconut oil, palm oil, and dairy products.

Long-Chain Triglycerides (LCTs)

LCTs are a type of saturated and unsaturated fat that is longer in length than MCTs. They are metabolized more slowly and are stored in the body's fat cells for later use as energy. LCTs are found in many common foods such as butter, beef, pork, and other animal products, as well as some plant-based oils like olive oil.

Short-Chain Triglycerides (SCTs)

SCTs are a type of saturated fat that is even shorter in length than MCTs. They are absorbed quickly and rapidly metabolized by the liver, much like MCTs, but they are not as commonly found in the diet.

Which One Is the Best In Terms of Digestion?

In terms of digestion, SCTs and MCTs are easier to digest and absorb than LCTs because they do not require bile or pancreatic lipase for digestion. LCTs must be broken down in the gut before they can be absorbed, while SCTs and MCTs can be absorbed directly into the bloodstream and used as a quick source of energy. Given that LCTs take longer to digest, they can slow down the absorption of glucose, leading to a more stabilized blood glucose level.

What One Has the Best Fat Quality?

Plant-based LCTs, such as those found in olive oil, avocado, and nuts, are typically unsaturated fats, and have many health benefits when consumed in moderation. They can help to lower cholesterol levels, reduce inflammation, and improve heart health! Some research suggests that plant-based LCTs are less likely to be stored as fat.

Animal-based LCTs, such as those found in butter, lard, and other animal fats, are typically saturated fats. Consuming large amounts of saturated fat has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease, high cholesterol levels, and other health problems.

Keep saturated fat below 10% of daily calories; limit foods like butter, ghee, lard, fatty meats, fried foods, and palm oil.

Not all fats are created equal. Some animal-based foods, such as dairy products, contain unsaturated fats and other beneficial nutrients.

Which is the best type of fat? For now, though there’s some research to suggest a benefit to using MCTs in the diet, the BEST fat still remains plant-based LCTs.

Takeaways

In conclusion, MCTs, LCTs, and SCTs are all different in their chemical structures and how they are metabolized in the body. To maintain a balanced diet, it's crucial to consume all types of fats in moderation, and to ensure that total fat intake does not exceed 20% to 35% of daily calorie intake.

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