If you’re familiar with the ketogenic diet, there’s a strong chance you’re aware of MCT oil and its potential benefits. The main goal of the keto diet is to enable the body to produce ketones, usually through a drastic reduction in carbohydrate consumption.
While MCTs aren’t actually ketones, they can be used as a source of energy, both in the form of fat (because they’re a fat) and ketones (because the body can quickly convert MCTs to ketones). MCTs can be used directly by mitochondria for energy production and can also be made into ketone bodies. It can also assist with weight loss in few different ways, including enhanced satiety and increased resting energy expenditure—but we’ll revisit this later.
Even if you’ve heard of MCT and are aware of its potential benefits, you might not know how to incorporate it into your diet. The thought of gagging down thick oil can be unappealing to say the least; good news is, MCT oil can be used in a number of different ways. If you aren’t a fan of MCT oil, there’s also MCT oil powder which can be a bit easier to stomach for some people.
Let’s take a look at some of the basics of MCTs and how you can use MCT oil to reach your health goals.
What are MCTs?
MCT stands for medium-chain triglyceride. Triglycerides are three fatty acid groups bound to a glycerol backbone. They are a type of fat found in the blood created from calories the body doesn’t immediately use, stored in the fat cells and released for energy use between meals.
Maybe you’ve heard of triglycerides based on the sometimes-negative perception surrounding them—many people associate triglycerides with bad cholesterol and heart disease.
While high levels of triglycerides can put you at a higher risk for cardiovascular disease, all triglycerides are not created equal.
Some of them, such as MCTs, are considered healthy fats with many potential health benefits.
Fatty acids are bound together with a certain number of carbon atoms. The length of these carbon chains determines which category a fatty acid will fit into, hence the “medium” in medium-chain triglycerides.
- Short-chain fatty acids (or triglycerides): composed of 5 or less carbon atoms
- Medium-chain fatty acids (or triglycerides): composed of 6 to 12 carbon atoms
- Long-chain fatty acids (or triglycerides): composed of 13 to 21 carbon atoms
Each of these fatty acids serve different purposes within the body.
Short-chain triglycerides form when bacteria in the gut ferments fiber in your colon.
Long-chain triglycerides are found in foods such as extra virgin olive oil, soybean oil, fish, nuts, avocado, and meats. Some LCTs, such as omega-3, have been shown to be beneficial for heart health, but do not provide the same rapid energy as MCTs.
MCTs are a little more unique; they’re not a one-size-fits-all type of fatty acid. Within the MCT category, there are several subcategories based on the number of carbon atoms. Let’s explore each type of MCT in a bit more detail.
Types of MCTs
Not all MCTs are considered equal. In fact, there are four different strains of MCTs, each having between 6 - 12 carbon atoms.
Caproic acid (C6) is the shortest MCT, containing six carbons. Anecdotal research has shown it can quickly be converted to ketones but can cause stomach distress.
Caprylic acid (C8) has eight carbon atoms and can be converted to ketones faster than other MCT sources.
Capric acid (C10) has ten carbon atoms and can improve the immune system and provide antibacterial benefits.
Lauric acid (C12) has twelve carbon atoms but behaves similarly to a long-chain triglyceride since it borders a medium-chain length and long-chain length.
Caprylic acid (C8) has the highest net ketogenic effect, so it’s the MCT we will mainly be focusing on throughout the duration of this article.
How Do MCTs Work?
MCTs are found naturally in food sources such as coconut and palm oil. What makes MCTs stand apart from other fats? How the body processes them.
Most fats travel slowly through the gut and into the bloodstream, but MCTs are different; they can be used for energy both in the form of fat and rapid ketone production.
In one study, nine participants between 22 - 46 years of age received two 20mL doses of varying concentrations of MCT oil, including coconut oil (3% C8, 5% C10), classic MCT oil (55% C8, 35% C10), C8 (>95% C8), C10 (>95% C10), or coconut oil mixed 50:50 with C8-C10 or C8.
Think of MCTs as an all-star team, with C8 being Michael Jordan. C8 is one of the world’s healthiest fats, so if you’re on keto, it’s the MCT you should be seeking when adding this supplement to your diet.
Why Should You Take MCTs?
When included as part of a keto diet, MCTs can provide several health benefits. Improved satiety, potential weight loss, increased energy expenditure, and enhanced cognition are just a few of the pluses you may experience when you include MCTs in your diet.
Effects on Weight Loss
Those trying to lose weight might benefit from incorporating MCTs into their diet. MCTs can further increase weight loss when used as part of a structured weight loss plan.
A study on overweight adults compared the effects of consuming ~20g of MCT daily vs ~20g of olive oil daily during a weight-loss regimen.
MCTs have also shown positive weight loss results in studies on animals. A study performed on mice showed diets rich in MCTs can reduce fat stores when compared to other diets with the same caloric intake.
Increased Energy Expenditure
MCTs can also affect weight loss through more indirect mechanisms, like through increased total daily energy expenditure (TDEE). But what exactly does this mean?
Energy expenditure refers to the amount of calories a person uses during a day. Think of it this way: if your TDEE is 2,000 calories, you’ll burn this amount of calories at rest and your weight will remain constant (all other factors being equal).
The number of calories you burn at rest will vary from person to person depending on a number of factors, including: gender, age, genetics, and more.
Although this number remains steady, you can increase your TDEE through exercise or dietary means.
MCTs have been shown to increase energy expenditure when taken with a meal. A study conducted on eight healthy college-aged men provided them with four combinations of MCTs and LCTs for a total of 30g per day at breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Another review compiled various results of MCT-based studies relating to energy expenditure.
So, by adding MCTs to your diet, you may be able to increase energy expenditure. This means that, in place of other fat sources, MCTs may help increase weight loss.
Another byproduct of MCT use is the potential for improved cognition.
A study gave 11 type 1 diabetics either MCT-based beverages or a placebo drink over the course of two separate sessions.
The results show MCTs may lead to better cognitive performance and improved mental clarity when consumed as part of a healthy diet.
The cognitive benefits of MCTs aren’t limited to people with diabetes. Individuals suffering from neurological disorders, Alzheimer’s disease, have also benefited from MCTs.
A study performed on patients with mild-to-moderate Alzheimer’s underwent neurocognitive tests two hours after either consuming 20g of MCTs or a placebo formula (over a period of 12 weeks).
May Reduce Risk of Heart Disease and Diabetes
It appears MCT use goes far beyond the realm of weight loss. In fact, consistent MCT use has been shown to potentially reduce the risk of heart disease and certain types of diabetes.
One study was performed on overweight men who consumed 40% of their daily fat intake in the form of MCT oil or flaxseed oil.
The results showcase not all fat sources are created equal—MCT oil appears to have a better lipid profile compared to other fat sources.
Maintaining healthy range cholesterol levels can help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, however, these diseases are often a result of a myriad of factors.
Another study on diabetics also showed promising results.
MCTs may effectively be able to help reduce the risk of heart disease and treat the effects of diabetes.
MCT Oil vs. MCT Oil Powder
While we’ve mostly been discussing MCT oil, chances are you’ve seen both MCT oil and MCT oil powder on the market—but you might not know the difference between the two.
MCT oil is made from extracting the pure MCT from natural oil sources, like coconut or palm kernel. MCT oil powder is produced through a process known as spray drying. Liquid MCT oil is spray dried and microencapsulated with a powder “carrier shell” to give it the appearance and convenience of a powder.
If you’re sticking to a keto diet, you should watch out for carb-based powder carriers such as maltodextrin, glucose syrup solids, sodium caseinate, and soluble corn fibers. Many powders only contain 50% to 80% MCT oil, while the rest is filled with these carb-based powder carriers.
Interested in the pros of using MCT oil powder as opposed to MCT oil? First off, it’s more convenient to pack on the go. If you’re flying around the world, a powder is easier to transport in your bag than liquid; this may even help you stick to your diet when traveling for work or pleasure. Anecdotal evidence has shown some people experience side effects such as gut distress from traditional MCT oil. The powder may be more tolerable for people with digestion issues, especially when combined with certain ingredients.
The main thing to look for in any MCT powder is a high concentration of C8 MCTs.
While there are more and more MCT oil powders on the market, be sure to check the ingredients and make sure it contains pure C8.
How to Incorporate MCTs into Your Diet
Now that you’re familiar with some of the benefits associated with MCT use, you might be wondering how to incorporate them into your daily routine. There is no secret to using MCTs; the trick is finding out which method of consumption works best for you.
MCT oil can be used for making smoothies, in salad dressings, or even to create tasty fat bombs. Let’s take a look at just a few of the ways MCTs can be used every day.
Over the last several years, the popularity of butter coffee has grown exponentially. Butter coffee is essentially coffee infused with MCT oil or MCT oil powder, and grass-fed butter.
Butter coffee combines a quick burst of caffeine with a slow release of energy from butter and healthy fats from MCT. Let’s take a look at an easy-to-make butter coffee recipe you can whip up in no time flat.
Cinnamon Roll Butter Coffee
- 1 cup of coffee
- 1 tbsp unsalted grass-fed butter
- 1 scoop of MCT oil powder
- Splash of heavy cream
- Cinnamon to taste
- Brew up a fresh cup of your favorite coffee using your preferred coffee beans
- Combine coffee, MCT Oil Powder and butter in a blender and blend until smooth
- Add in a splash of heavy cream
- Top with cinnamon to taste
While cinnamon rolls are not exactly keto-friendly, this cinnamon roll butter coffee recipe will satisfy your sweet tooth.
Getting the recommended daily amount of micronutrients should be a key focus in every person’s diet. If you prefer to get your daily fruits and vegetables from a smoothie, why not add some MCT oil or MCT oil powder to it?
Mango Splash Smoothie
- ½ frozen banana
- ½ cup mangos
- ¼ scoop of chocolate or vanilla MCT oil powder
- Place all ingredients into a blender and mix to your desired consistency
- Pour, sit back, and enjoy for breakfast or lunch
This smoothie reminds us of a vacation, so drink this with a tiny umbrella if you’d like.
MCT-based smoothies are a refreshing and satisfying way to get your fruits or vegetables, with a power-packed dose of MCT fat.
MCT Salad Dressing
Dressings can make a boring salad pop. Problem is, many of them are full of processed ingredients. Not only can you make a better salad dressing yourself, you can add MCTs into the mix to help get in your daily dose of healthy fat (along with all those beautiful veggies in the salad).
MCT Power Dressing
- 1 scoop unflavored MCT oil powder
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 3 tablespoons minced cilantro
- 1 teaspoon minced ginger
- 1 teaspoon mustard
- A dash of garlic powder
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Whisk all ingredients together in a large mixing bowl
- Drizzle on top of salad as desired
MCT Fat Bombs
One of the toughest parts of the keto diet is kicking sugary treats to the curb. Fat bombs are keto-friendly snacks designed as sugary treat replacements (and an onboard healthy fat).
They contain ingredients such as oil, butter, nuts, and seeds. If you are trying to stick to a keto diet, but still get a sweet tooth, try this fat bomb recipe.
Nutty Delight Fat Bombs
- 2 cups of macadamia nuts
- 2 tablespoons melted coconut oil
- 1 scoop chocolate MCT oil powder
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ⅓ up monk fruit sweetener
- ⅛ cup cocoa powder
- ⅛ cup powdered peanut butter
- Puree macadamia nuts into a food processor or blender. Add in the MCT Oil Powder, melted coconut oil, and vanilla extract. Continue pureeing until a nut butter consistency is created
- Add in cocoa powder, monk fruit sweetener, and powdered peanut butter until a smooth texture is formed
- Oil medium-sized glass dish with coconut oil
- Pour in batter and freeze for approximately 30 minutes or until desired thickness is reached
Your candy cravings will soon disappear as you soon as you taste one of these delicious fat bombs.
Get Creative with MCT Oil
If you’re following keto, adding MCTs to your diet shouldn’t be a difficult decision.
Reducing body fat, improving satiety, and increasing production of ketones are just a few of the benefits you can experience with MCTs. But as with any addition to a diet, finding the right components for you is essential to success. Try folding MCTs into the mix, slowly at first, then assessing the results.
Are you less hungry throughout the day? Do you feel more energized? Keep up the MCT use.
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