Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
27 Jun

Dear Mark: MCT Oil, Camelina Oil, and Fancy Canola Oil

oilToday’s Dear Mark roundup is a trio of oil-related questions. Learn about my adventures with MCT oil and whether it fits into a good eating plan. Hear about camelina, the “better flax.” And finally, we’ll go over whether fancy, cold-pressed canola oil is worth including or whether it’s still just canola oil.

I’m thinking I’ll stick with this format for awhile. The response has been mostly positive, so why mess with what works? If ever a question arrives that merits a devoted full-length post, I’ll do that, but for now this seems like a hit.

What do you think of MCT oil?

Pam

MCTs, or medium chain triglycerides, are fatty acids that the body treats differently than longer chain fats. They are easily digested, head straight to the liver for oxidation or ketone generation without dealing with the lymphatic system, and can be utilized by cells for energy without the enzymatic processes needed to utilize longer chain fats. MCT oil is pure medium chain triglyceride. For this reason, it remains liquid at all temperatures despite being a highly saturated fat.

I’m not a huge fan of MCT oil, but not for any health reasons. I’ve just had weird experiences with it. I once used it to make mayo, since it’s flavorless, saturated, and stays liquid. It worked and the mayo tasted great, but it was just too big a bolus of MCTs at once. I used a couple tablespoons of MCT mayo with some hard boiled eggs and yellow mustard for egg salad, and a couple minutes after eating, I was infused with a weird, nervous energy. It felt similar to taking a quadruple shot of the strongest espresso on the planet sprinkled with a bit of Walter White’s special recipe, followed by a forced toilet trip. The fatty acids were being converted to pure energy – way more than my body needed at the time – and it wasn’t very pleasant. I tried it again as the base for a salad dressing, having run out of olive oil, and the effect was the same. It’s definitely not for me. I’ll stick to coconut oil for my MCT fix, since it never gives me any issues. While natural sources of MCTs, like coconut, contain the full range of MCTs (lauric acid, caproic acid, caprylic acid, and capric acid), most MCT oils are caprylic acid and capric acid. I suspect the isolation of the fatty acids is responsible for my problems with MCT oil.

That’s me, though. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with MCT oil, especially if you’re on a strict ketogenic diet or simply looking to get into ketosis (MCTs are the most ketogenic fatty acids), but I also think you could just eat coconut oil. I’ve heard of people who can’t handle coconut oil but for whom MCT oil works perfectly. Go figure. I’d suggest buying the smallest bottle of MCT oil you can find if you’re thinking of trying it. Here’s one not so small bottle.

Hi Mark,

Curious about Camelina oil – it is very high in Omega-3′s, has a high smoke point, tastes good on salads and in cooking.  I just want to know if it’s going to cause the same problems as other vegetable oils (which it is considered to be).

Thanks,

Mat

Camelina has been grown in Europe for at least 3,000 years as a food crop for livestock and for people, so at least it’s not some genetically modified, formerly toxic plant. It’s a seed, similar in some respects to flax, but with some important differences. Well, let’s explore a couple of the main problems with vegetable oils and see how camelina stacks up:

1. High in omega-6 – Vegetable oils have introduced a massive, evolutionarily-novel dose of linoleic acid into our diets, throwing off our dietary and tissue omega-3:omega-6 ratios and resulting in lopsided levels of eicosanoids derived from omega-6. More omega-6 eicosanoids mean our inflammation and response to stress are exaggerated. This is bad.

Camelina oil is similar to flax in that it’s high in alpha-linolenic-acid, the omega-3 fatty acid present in plants, and lower in omega-6 linoleic acid. Flax has an omega-3:omega-6 ratio of about 4:1, while camelina has a ratio ranging from 2:1 to 3:1. Put another way, camelina oil is between 35% and 45% ALA and between 15% and 20% linoleic acid. So, it has more omega-6 than butter, olive oil, macadamias, or beef fat, but similar levels as poultry and pork fat. It’s not a huge amount, but it can add up pretty quickly – especially if you’re aiming to keep omega-6 below five or six grams per day. And remember that it’s not just the ratio that matters, but the absolute amount of omega-6 in your diet.

2. Heat unstable, prone to oxidation inside and outside of the bodyPolyunsaturated fats are prone to oxidative damage when exposed to heat, air, and/or light. The PUFAs we eat are often incorporated into serum lipids, and LDL more easily oxidizes when it contains higher amounts of polyunsaturated fats (even omega-3s). This is bad.

By all accounts, camelina oil is considerably more heat-stable than flax oil. It contains high levels of antioxidants, including vitamin E (up to 110mg/100g, according to Wikipedia), which can protect against heat/light/air damage. However, antioxidants are only there because the fatty acids are so inherently unstable, so it’s not going to remain pure and untouched forever. Camelina oil must still be stored well (low temperature, secure lid, dark bottle) to prevent rancidity (PDF). And once it’s in your body, its ALA will be incorporated into your serum lipids in a disproportionate amount. While this study describes it as a positive thing, recall that LDL high in PUFAs has been shown to oxidize more easily. Perhaps camelina’s vitamin E will protect the LDL from oxidation, but I wouldn’t depend on it.

Overall, camelina oil seems a decent choice, at least compared to most vegetable oils. I wouldn’t cook with it, and I definitely wouldn’t use more than a couple teaspoons, but I think it’s one of the “better” seed oils – though that’s not saying much!

Hi Mark,

As I’ve mentioned in the past I work for a cookery school. They have recently started selling cold pressed rapeseed oil. I headed over to your blog where I remembered reading [about it], but that talked about the heat extracted stuff. I was wondering what your opinion on this would be? To me it does still seem kinda high in omega 6′s.

Cheers

Steve

Your instincts are right. It’s still pretty high in omega-6. I mean, sure, it’s better than regular canola oil or sunflower oil, but so what? There’s butter, good olive oil, macadamia oil, pastured lard, extra virgin coconut oil, red palm oil… I could go on, but my point stands: why eat the substandard stuff just because it isn’t overtly toxic when you could use better tasting, more affordable fats like the aforementioned?

If it’s a choice between the Black and Gold canola and refined soybean oil, sure, choose the canola. But in my experience, such an ultimatum rarely pops up in everyday life.

As always, keep those questions flowing. I’m ready for (just about) anything you can throw at me. Grok on!

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. “I’m thinking I’ll stick with this format for awhile”

    I love to hear that Mark!

    I agree with your points on canola oil… why consume it when you have so many other choices? Its just not necessary. When I eat out I don’t worry about what my food is cooked with. I am doing some things to convince restaurants to cook with coconut oil or animal fat but that is a lont ways away.

    When I make food myself I stick with butter and coconut oil to cook. I drizzle macadamia oil and olive oil on my food! I also LOVE sesame oil but use in very small amounts (1/4 tsp at a time) because of the high omega 6 content. It’s all you need though since its so damn rich and tasty!!

    Primal Toad wrote on June 27th, 2011
  2. I just finished off my old bottle of canola oil and have been wavering on whether to replace it. Since I totally quit the flour, I quit baking; since I quit baking, I rarely have a need for a product like canola oil, so it’s not been much of an issue.

    Thanks for the discussion here. I won’t be replacing my canola oil after reading this!

    Anne wrote on June 27th, 2011
    • This is the same with me. My baking has come to a screeching halt since going primal.

      I am sure there will a be time down the road when I will learn how to bake with nut flours. At this point though, I am too interested in making sure that my whole family is fed and full off of meat, veggies, and fruit.

      Crunchy Pickle wrote on June 27th, 2011
  3. I had not really heard of MCT oil. It sounds interesting, but your reaction to it was pretty weird. Have you heard of anyone else being affected by it in a similar manner?

    Might be good to have a little either right before or right after a particularly hard workout (for instance if you do crossfit style workouts). Thanks for the heads up and introduction to it!

    Hal wrote on June 27th, 2011
    • Actually– as much as I LOVE (and use) Coconut oil, I had a similar reaction to it one time upon just eating a straight spoonful of it. It wasn’t an ‘awesome’ or ‘useable’ energy, it was more of a caffeine/sugar-high feeling jitter. I’ll bet thats why…

      I’m thinking I’d have the same reaction to MCT oil? What is it made from?

      El wrote on June 28th, 2011
  4. I agree mark, this format is great. I have never heard of any these oils, and after reading this post, I probably won’t use them either. Coconut and Olive are my go to oils.

    Jaybird wrote on June 27th, 2011
  5. Coconut oil has a CRAZY effect on me. If have any more than a tablespoon a day, it has what I can only describe as a “Roid Rage” effect. It was like I was constantly on the the edge of exploding and it didn’t take much to push me over. I am not a violent person, but that was the one and only time I snapped and slapped my husband across the face. It was like an outer body experience. Horrible. It took three day to taper off and not feel the effects of it. Now I stay away! Now I’ve never taken steroids, but it would be what I would imagine them to feel like….(I know what your’re thinking, too, it was NOT pms-lol)

    KathyboBathy wrote on June 27th, 2011
    • That’s fascinating to me, I eat coconut oil from the spoon and have been known to eat half a jar (250-300ml worth) in a sitting on its own just because it’s tasty and I have had no effects at all.

      Steve wrote on June 27th, 2011
    • For those of us following the gaps diet for gut issues, this is a common experience (die-off). In this case, we stop taking the food in question for a few days and reintroduce minute amounts of it at a later time, so that it ca be tolerated by the body. Then, slowly but surely, the amount can be upped. Some people start with amounts as tiny as the tip of a toothpick. Coconut oil is extremely healing and can cause a lot of reactions in people with the wrong gut flora! But that means we need it very much for this very reason.

      mar wrote on June 27th, 2011
      • Hmmm. Thats an interesting point (die off scenario). Maybe I should try very small amounts to begin with. At that time I had jumped right in at about 2-3 tablespoons/day without building up.

        KathyboBathy wrote on June 28th, 2011
  6. I still bake quite a bit—usually banana bread or coconut muffins—but use nut flours instead of wheat. It’s fun to work through the process and learn what works and what doesn’t. I have been using olive oil and walnut oil in all my baked goods for years. Don’t know if I’m ruining the olive oil by heating it, but I have never actually bought veg oil because that huge bottle of cheap oil always looked so gross to me.

    Blue Buddha wrote on June 27th, 2011
  7. It was converted to “pure energy?” Did it reach the speed of light or something?

    Marnee wrote on June 27th, 2011
    • Maybe on its way out. Large amounts of MCTs can cause “gastrointestinal distress”

      Tim wrote on June 27th, 2011
  8. i’m hanging with good ‘ol butter when it comes to cooking and olive & flax seed oils for my salads, period! thanks for the insight daddy Grok.

    Dasbutch wrote on June 27th, 2011
  9. Just remember that ANY oils derived from plants (not coconut and palm) can oxidize under the skin and produce ‘age spots’.

    Don’t eat too much of it. If you’re the kind of person that’s out in the sun a lot stick to lard, butter and coconut/palm oil.

    Primal Palate wrote on June 27th, 2011
    • Could you give more information about that? And if that’s the case, will stopping the oils make the spots go away…?

      Laura wrote on June 27th, 2011
      • Weston A Price has an article about it on their WAPF website.

        Primal Palate wrote on June 27th, 2011
        • Where? I can’t find it.

          Ashley wrote on June 27th, 2011
        • Can you please link to it?

          Primal Toad wrote on June 27th, 2011
        • I just had this long article copy pasted and links to go with it…and other info posted and it went nowhere…WTH.

          Primal Palate wrote on June 28th, 2011
      • Liver, or age spots are a subcutaneous accumulation of oxidized cholesterols that are predominantly damaged by trans fats intake. Ingestion of trans fats cause a free radical cascade and among other negative actions they also damage the body’s cholesterol structure & impair the skins ability to synthesize vitamin D.

        “Lipofucsin, the “fatty brown stuff” that makes up liver or age spots is largely comprised of oxidized fats, and by the time lipofucsin shows up on the skin there’s sure to already be more of it in the brain, liver, and other organs, doing massive damage to our health. It is clear that oxidized fats damage our health on a very fundamental cellular level.” http://goo.gl/KazhY

        Your body can only use the oils & fats in your diet for cholesterol production & cellular membrane structure, repair & rebuilding, so regular consumption of good high quality saturated fats is imperative.

        cancerclasses wrote on June 27th, 2011
    • Wow that IS interesting. I had never heard of that. I used to have age spots which “miraculously” went away recently. I never knew there was a connection to vegetable oils.

      Even since being paleo I have eaten a lot of olive oil and I had some age spots just last summer. I quit olive oil a year ago and the age spots are all gone. I always wondered why they came and where they went.

      Thanks for the info.

      Peggy The Primal Parent wrote on June 27th, 2011
      • I did my research on this about a year ago and found all kinds of ‘proof’…so they say.
        Regardless if there is enough scientific proof for it at this point, the WAPF seem to agree on this, and it is odd like you said that some so called age spots all of a sudden disappear. I always thought it was an old people’s thing…but had age spots in my teens…which I thought was kinda weird. All of those are gone now, too. With 1 remaining that I ‘grew’ the summer before going primal and was on a heavy sunflower / canola and olive oil diet.

        Since consuming only animal fats and even making my salad dressing with raw milk, unpasteurized vinegar and egg yolks I’m outside more than ever, even slightly burn my skin, I’m dark like a spanier and have not gotten ANY age spots or sun spots. All I grew was summer freckles on my nose that disappear when the tan fades.

        Primal Palate wrote on June 27th, 2011
        • That’s good to know. Unfortunately I’m still getting some vitiligo as I tan, which I thought would not be a problem still going paleo/primal. I don’t know if anything else in the diet would be related, or it’s an issue that has to be treated otherwise. Have you come across any info on vitiligo and diet?

          Joe Brancaleone wrote on June 27th, 2011
        • Fantastic information on age spots! Thanks for posting.
          Can applying coconut oil topically get rid of age spots, or is it just eating it?

          Lila wrote on June 27th, 2011
        • I use coconut oil as my lotion and I’ve heard about people using it for sunscreen very effectively. I would give it a try and see what happens.

          Primal Toad wrote on June 27th, 2011
        • On Primal Toad’s point about sunscreen, I’ve had great success with coconut oil, and I am a PASTY girl! Just make sure you let it absorb completely before going out in the sun, or you may fry.

          Jules wrote on June 28th, 2011
        • On using coconut oil as a natural sunscreen… you may want to make sure you have a bit of a base tan built up. Got crispy fried last summer using coconut oil on my pasty whiteness.

          Although I don’t know that I let it absorb adequately before basking in the rays so maybe that was part of the issue…along with spending 2-3 hours outdoors. Several bad decisions that day. :)

          musajen wrote on June 29th, 2011
        • @Joe B. -

          Vitiligo can be a symptom of gluten intolerance. Might want to follow this up. Also – you might be Paleo, but wheat/gluten can be in anything – including supplements, perscription meds, even that handful of nuts you ate yesterday.

          Leaf Eating Carnivore wrote on August 12th, 2012
  10. I first learned about MCT Oil from http://www.nutritionreview.org/library/mcts.php; see dosage in “Conclusion”. I tried NOW Foods MCT Oil… I suspect it became rancid in a protein shake I made (maybe 1 tbsp didn’t mix well with one of my other ingredients). I stirred 1/2 tbsp into another shake, worked fine. Now I take the NOW organic non-GE virgin cold-pressed coconut oil, lovin it!

    Vito wrote on June 27th, 2011
  11. Informative as always Mark, and I’m definitely a fan of the new format. So true for more readily available fats, why go for canola when the fats that are better for you taste so good?

    Peter wrote on June 27th, 2011
  12. Joe, as far as I know, Vitiligo is an autoimmune problem, related to inflammation issues.
    I have it too, and I would also appreciate any info people can offer about it.

    Hopeless Dreamer wrote on June 27th, 2011
  13. It’s my understanding that oil through the lymphatic system is what causes defibrillation. The high negatively charged oil is delivered into the blood then first delivered to the heart. In the heart it comes in close proximity to high positive charged blood delivered from the lung. This difference in potential discharges causing…tahdah, a heart beat.
    Fat good!

    Dasbutch wrote on June 27th, 2011
  14. i’ll avoid fat that bypasses the lymphatic system.

    Dasbutch wrote on June 27th, 2011
  15. Question on the daily requirement on fat…

    What is considered a serving size for a healty fat?

    How many servings of healthy fat should a person consume a day?

    Sherry wrote on June 27th, 2011
    • ’bout 70% of your caloric intake

      Dasbutch wrote on June 28th, 2011
  16. Can anyone suggest an oil for stir-frying? I LOVE Thai and Vietnamese food and have tried a few ‘better’ oils with a high smoke point, but haven’t found one that blended nicely taste-wise when stir-frying. I only cook this way once per week after becoming a more primal eater, but I aint giving it up totally!

    Lee wrote on June 27th, 2011
    • I use coconut oil for stir frying, its great for thai! and ghee for indian curries!

      Isis wrote on June 27th, 2011
    • butter

      Dasbutch wrote on June 28th, 2011
    • Palm oil is tasteless and very stable.

      Primal Palate wrote on June 28th, 2011
  17. What oil is recommended for roasting meat & veges in the oven? Its winter here so need to have warm food :) I usually use extra virgin olive oil for roasting..

    Isis wrote on June 27th, 2011
    • I have been using coconut oil to roast pumpkin in the oven. Yum!.. My kitchen does get a little smokey though

      Leah wrote on June 27th, 2011
  18. Interesting read, ta.

    I was wondering, are all coconut oils the same? When I first read about them (here) I searched supermarkets etc. but couldn’t find any. Eventually, I tried a fancy health food shop and found some – it was £12 for a little tub! Is this normal?

    A few weeks later, I was in an Indian food store and found some tubs for £2 each (same size, different brand).

    So is there a difference? The ingredients on each brand says (only) “100% Coconut Oil” yet the expensive one tastes very ‘coconutty’ whereas the other one only has a very mild taste.

    I’m not too fussed about the flavour, but nutritionally, am I ok to continue using the cheapy one? (It’s not a hair product is it? lol)

    Stevemidd wrote on June 28th, 2011
    • There are refined and virgin versions. Mark discusses them here: http://www.marksdailyapple.com/coconut-oil-health-benefits/

      Refined is generally cheaper than virgin.

      Tropical Traditions does actually sell a virgin coconut oil directly marketed as a hair product (which my wife uses).

      Chas wrote on June 28th, 2011
      • “The choice is clear – steer clear of the refined stuff and stick with organic virgin coconut oil.”

        Thanks Chas.

        Stevemidd wrote on June 29th, 2011
  19. butter, again

    Dasbutch wrote on June 28th, 2011
  20. Is there a verdict on the use of avocado oil or apricot kernel oil? Both are high in Omega-3s, both have a high-heat use, and both are veg sources. I’m looking up the Omega-6 levels next.

    I tried apricot kernel oil in the past, and it gave me one hell of a bellyache.

    I’m going to launch a “kitchen investigation” into whether or not dehydrated avocado powder can be used in baking (as opposed to just being instant guacamole), and what the results are. It’s gluten-free, so I imagine it’ll take a ton of eggs and leaveners to get it to do anything.

    If it works, it may be just the thing to turn the almond flour world upside-down.

    I’m awaiting my avo-flour order. You can make your own if you have avocados, a dehydrator, and time/money to run it, plus a way to grind it into powder. I suppose you could just cut them up and leave them in the sun.

    Why not just use avocados instead? The whole ones make batter green, so I’m eager to see if I get a yellow batter instead with the powder, since the powder’s yellow.

    Wenchypoo wrote on June 28th, 2011
  21. I only use canola oil to clean my cast iron skillet with salt. Only a trace amount remains just to give the skillet a nice jet-back coat. I don’t cook with it though so I think I’m okay.

    Kevin wrote on June 28th, 2011
  22. I’m giving the shangri-la diet a try- if MCT oil is indeed flavorless it would be worth a shot in place of light olive oil.

    Lauren wrote on June 28th, 2011
    • I just looked that up… it sounds frighteningly unhealthy. Be careful…

      El wrote on June 29th, 2011
  23. The other issue with canola is that unless it’s labeled organic, you’re almost certainly eating a GMO oil. I try to avoid GMOs on principle. Just because the canola was cold-pressed does not mean the source was organic.

    Jim wrote on June 28th, 2011
  24. On the subject of oils, does anyone know the difference between palm oil and palm olein?

    findchris wrote on June 28th, 2011
  25. Interesting aside on canola oil, it’s apparently very good a killing bugs: http://www.naturalnews.com/032853_canola_oil_pesticides.html

    Ryan wrote on June 29th, 2011
  26. For frying (stir, deep, pan, sautee) and as a non-stick agent when I don’t want any coconut flavor, I use organic palm oil shortening. It’s mostly saturated and has many of the same benefits as coconut oil, but a totally neutral flavor and the texture is very close to beef tallow. Not a big fan

    Lark wrote on July 7th, 2011
  27. …Not a big fan of butter for high heat frying because of the low smoke point.

    Lark wrote on July 7th, 2011
  28. A spoonful of oil helps the medicine, go down.

    Animanarchy wrote on July 10th, 2011
  29. Can straight MCT oil be cooked with? LIke for baking sweet potato fries?

    Chuck wrote on February 20th, 2012
  30. Age spots on my face and hands are without a doubt fading and some really dark ones on my face have completely disappeared! All the medically prescribed bleaching compounds I tried could not even come close.

    My nails used to be paper thin, painfully splitting. I developed an extreme sensitivity to all nail products (fake and polish). Now my nails for the first time are growing and fairly thick, no splitting or other issues.

    My eyelashes used to be sparse, now they are as thick and long as I could hope for. I’m delighted!

    This became quite evident after giving up ALL dairy. I also avoid all vegetable oils except coconut, and that which occurs naturally in nuts and seeds (of which I eat sparingly)

    Zernike wrote on April 12th, 2012
  31. I’ve been treating myself for candida and am going to start using MCT oil. I wonder if Mark’s reaction to the MCT oil wasn’t die off???

    alex gatsis wrote on June 11th, 2013
  32. Those experiencing jitters after consuming MCT or Coconut Oil may be confronting Candida die-off. Caprylic Acid is a a powerful antifungal. The reaction comes from the dead protein coat of the Caprylic Acid-killed Candida/fungus. Adding a little proteolytic enzyme, protease from meat tenderizer or papaya, will eat through that protein coat of the dead Candida. The denatured protein becomes non-reactive and will not trigger that allergic response. You’re also getting a Magnesium rush as the Magnesium-snitching Candida/fungus is releasing their stolen booty. To detox the highly toxic Candida by-product, Acetaldehyde, take the “digested” form of B-5, Pantethine. It also lowers trash cholesterol and your first stool after taking may be a little greasy. Blessings!

    nordskoven wrote on January 1st, 2014
  33. Mark, could you please put in the disclaimer for people using MCT Oil to NOT be using TBSP’s of MCT Oil when they’re starting out? Instead for people to be using 1 tsp / day, gradually adding more, as per the instructions on most of the MCT Oil bottles?

    Would you also please be able to edit your experience write-up, and say that you did take TOO MUCH when you started out, and that your symptoms are normal for someone who puts way too much MCT Oil into their body at once (and, again, that people should start with less?)

    Thank you very much.

    Garrett wrote on March 12th, 2014

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