What is MCT Oil?
There are several foods and supplements that I consider to be staples of a ketogenic diet. Foods that you should include if you want to maximize the benefits of the diet. MCT oil is one of those.
MCT stands for medium-chain triglyceride. We'll get into what that means in a second. MCT oil can come from a lot of different sources, but the preferred sources are coconut or palm. A lot of you probably know the benefits of coconut oil by now and many, but not all, of the benefits from coconut oil are due to these unique fats, MCTs.
What are MCTs?
MCTs are a type of saturated fat that has a shorter carbon chain length compared to other types of fat. This is important because fats are metabolized by having their carbon molecules removed. This means that the shorter carbon chain length of MCTs makes these fats absorbed, broken down, and utilized much more rapidly compared to other types of fat.
Since MCTs can be broken down so quickly, not only are they less likely to be stored, they can also contribute to ketone production when metabolized in the liver! This makes them a great fat to consume on a Keto diet, especially during the Keto-Adaptation period!
Some of the common proposed health benefits of MCTs include increased energy, improved brain function, increased energy expenditure and even anti-microbial properties!
The Different Types of MCTs
MCTs are fats that range from 6-12 carbons in length. There are 4 fats that technically fall into this category. They are classified by their carbon chain length:
Caproic acid (C6)
Caprylic acid (C8)
Capric acid (C10)
Lauric acid (C12)
C8 and C10 appear to be the most effective and practical MCT for increasing energy levels and ketone production. Research has shown when compared to C12, C8 and C10 increase ketone levels to a greater degree (1). This makes sense as your increasing the carbon length its ability to be metabolized quickly will likely be compromised. MCT oil only contains C8 and C10 oil and maybe traces of C12.
C12 or Lauric acid is technically classified as both an MCT and an LCT (long chain triglyceride) giving it its own list of unique health benefits. C12 has been shown to have anti-microbial, antibacterial, antiviral, and anti-fungal properties which may boost your immune system and improve gut health (2)! The removal of C12 is what makes up the main difference between MCT oil and coconut oil.
What Does the Research Say?
As mentioned, there is a long list of proposed MCT health benefits. Here are the most popular:
Aiding in Ketone Production
Improving Brain Function
Increasing Energy Expenditure
There is actually a lot of research showing benefits of taking MCTs. The weight loss side of MCTs is not as cut and dry as some of the others because it occurs indirectly. One 1996 study found that just 15-30g of MCTs daily increased energy or calorie expenditure by 5%! The potential fat burning effects of MCT’s are likely attributed to their activation of the sympathetic nervous system (3). Couple this with another 1996 study reporting that consuming a diet rich in MCTs increased satiety and decreased calorie intake (4). The combination of increased calorie burning and decreased hunger is what may allow MCTs to contribute to weight loss.
One of my favorite benefits of MCTs is their effect on neurodegenerative diseases. Impaired glucose utilization is a common issue in many brain related disorders. Ketones possess the unique ability and cross the blood brain barrier and act as a secondary fuel source and have been shown to improve symptoms of individuals with mild cognitive impairment, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
Since MCTs are broken down in the liver and increase ketone production, researchers theorized that MCTs could help fix the energy deficit in the brain for those with neurological disorders. This has been supported by several studies including a 2004 study in memory impaired adults which found that MCTs not only increased ketone levels but also led to improved cognitive measures as soon as 90 minutes after supplementation (5)!
How to Use MCTs
MCTs can be found in food sources such as coconuts, palm, and whole dairy sources or they can be found in pure MCT oils or MCT oil powder.
I often limit or avoid dairy consumption so the majority of my MCTs come from MCT and coconut oil. My favorite ways to add MCTs into my diet is by adding the oil or powder to my coffee, recipes, smoothies, and salad dressings. My favorite MCT sources are the C8 MCT Oil, Chocolate MCT Oil Powder, and the Keto Coffee from Perfect Keto.
It is important to note with MCTs that If you have never had them, you should tread lightly. Since MCTs can be so rapidly digesting, they can cause stomach pain if taken in access amounts which can even lead to diarrhea. To avoid this, start with a ¼ to a ½ serving at a time and work your way up as tolerated!