MCT oil is a dietary supplement growing in popularity, especially among keto dieters. It is a concentrated source of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), which are special types of fats found in milk products and some plant oils. These fats have unique properties not seen in any other fats. For example, they boost weight loss and enhance exercise performance - not something you would associate with fats.
Adding MCT oil to your keto diet can boost ketone production and make you feel great along the way. But before you consider making a purchase, it's a good idea to learn more about these supplements.
In this article, we explain what MCTs are, how MCT oil is made, and go over their science-backed health benefits. You'll also learn how MCT oil directly contributes to your keto diet and how exactly you can use them for health purposes.
Medium-chain triglycerides are fats named after their unique chemical structure: a glycerol backbone and three fatty acid molecules of a medium chain length. MCT oil is the supplement and concentrated form of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs). This oil is touted as a powerful weight-loss tool as well as an energy booster, both facts making it a popular ingredient in keto diets.
All MCT oils you see on the supplements market are extracted from the richest possible sources of MCTs: palm kernel and coconut oils. These two sources of MCTS have different composition of fatty acids, most of which include:
6 – Caproic Acid
C8– Caprylic Acid
C10 – Capric Acid
C12 – Lauric Acid
However, MCT oil, specifically, is largely made up of caprylic acids (50-80%) or capric acids (20-50%) and rarely lauric acid. The reason for this has largely to do with manufacturing practices. Lauric acid is actually the most abundant fatty acid in these oils but is not an ingredient of MCT oil because most of it is used in pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries.
All fats are made up of chains of carbon atoms of different lengths. Most fats are triglycerides, however. More specifically, they're triglycerides of long-chain length. These contain between 13 and 21 carbon atoms. In contrast, short-chain fats contain up to 6 carbon atoms, while medium-chain fats contain 6-12 carbon atoms.
The molecular chain length of fats matters because it determines how your body uses them. Studies show that your body processes MCTs easier and better than long-chain fats . That's mainly because MCTs get passively absorbed in the small intestines from where they go directly to the liver. In comparison, your body needs digestive enzymes and bile salts to process long-chain fats.
Once MCTs have reached your liver, they go to other cells to be used for energy production or the liver turns them into ketones. In other words, your body uses the calories of MCTs straightaway. This makes it less likely for them to be stored as fat. This is the main reason why people consider MCTs as a weight-loss tool and a source of instant energy.
Besides fast absorption, another reason the chain length of fatty acids matters is that they can cross the blood-brain barrier unlike long-chain fats . This means that your brain is able to use MCTS for energy without affecting blood glucose which is definitely not the case with your brain's usual fuel – carbs.
As already explained, the benefits of MCT oil come mainly from its medium-chain fatty acids that countless research shows are good for you. But why use a supplement source of these fatty acids when they already exist in nature in the form of coconut and palm kernel oil?
One argument is that your body absorbs and uses caprylic acid (C8) and capric acid (C10) more rapidly than it does lauric acid (C12). Lauric acid is the major fatty acid of coconut and palm kernel oil, making up 50% of these oils. Long-chain fatty acids are C13 and above. Lauric acid (C12) is quite close to being a long-chain fatty acid giving it some characteristics of these fatty acids.
With all this in mind, lauric acid is slightly less efficient in boosting energy and ketone production. But that doesn't mean that lauric acid is without its health benefits. Studies show that this fatty acid has strong anti-microbial properties . Lauric acid also has a higher smoking point than C8 and C10 , so you can use it for cooking and frying. Regarding the impact C8 and C10 from MCT oil have on your health, studies show they come with the following benefits:
1. Better Ketone Production
Studies have long ago found that MCT oils increase blood ketone levels 18-fold just one hour after eating . That's why medical experts are considering using caprylic acid to boost ketone production, but mostly to treat brain diseases like Alzheimer's and epilepsy [6, 7]. Now, studies are also looking into these products for weight loss, diabetes control, and exercise performance.
Using MCT oil in combination with a ketogenic diet also helps you stick to keto. One study compared a keto diet with MCT oil to one without in treating epilepsy . The study's results shows that using MCT oil makes the diet more palatable and easier to stick to simply because you are allowed to eat more carbs and protein adding MCT oil to your diet.
2. Greater Weight Loss
Weight loss is a major goal of most keto diet plans. The keto diet alone can help you lose weight by suppressing your appetite and boosting fat oxidation. However, adding MCT oil to the equation also helps a great deal.
For example, a study on overweight men and women compared MCT oil to olive oil in boosting weight loss as part of a weight-loss program . After 16 weeks on the program, those who used MCT oil lost more weight, especially fat mass around the abdomen.
Compared to long-chain triglycerides, MCT oil increases calorie spending and stimulate weight loss according to studies . MCT oil is also superior to coconut oil when it comes to appetite suppression . As you probably already know, appetite control is essential for effective weight loss.
3. More Workout Energy
Fats and proteins are your main sources of energy on a ketogenic diet. The quality of these macros can make a big difference in your energy levels, especially if you're highly active. That's why many keto dieters use MCT oil to boost their energy.
As already explained, MCT oil contains the easily-absorbable triglycerides that get almost instantly transported to your liver for energy production. These triglycerides are also able to reach your brain where they provide immediate and long-lasting energy for both physical and mental endurance.
Studies show that using MCT oil before workouts spares muscle and liver glycogen . This, in turn, enhances your capacity for workouts. MCTs get absorbed as quickly as glucose, so you can use them in the same way you use carbs before and after workouts. The only difference is in energy yield as fats contain more than double the energy of carbs, so keep that in mind as well.
4. Mental Clarity
Many keto dieters use MCT oil specifically for boosting their cognitive performance. And they're right for doing so. MCTs work primarily by protecting the brain from oxidative stress that causes age-related cognitive decline. Your brain is also more equipped at using ketones for energy than it is carbs. With that in mind, the increase in ketone production with the help of MCT oil can contribute to brain health as well.
Furthermore, if you're someone suffering from diabetes, you're already familiar with the negative effects hypoglycemia can have on the brain. Lucky for you, studies show that MCTs preserve mental functioning during hypoglycemic episodes . When taken in the long-run, MCT oil improves the structure of your brain by increasing network connections in the brain .
5. Deadly Disease Prevention
Obesity, cardiovascular disease, and cancer are the leading causes of death worldwide. Fortunately, these deadly diseases are easy to prevent with simple lifestyle and dietary changes. MCT oils can also help you keep these problems at bay through these mechanisms of action:
- Lowering inflammation – Researchers are now convinced that chronic, low-grade inflammation is the leading cause of most diseases plaguing the West . Studies show that Caprylic and capric acid lowers inflammation by inhibiting pro-inflammatory molecules .
- Balancing blood glucose – MCT oil on keto helps balance out blood sugar levels. This, in turn, lowers inflammation and oxidative stress in the body. High blood sugar is linked to all major diseases because it leads to inflammation.
- Increasing autophagy– Autophagy is a normal metabolic process of cell recycling. Poor diets and bad lifestyle habits inhibit autophagy, leading to premature aging and disease onset. Studies show that capric acid boosts autophagy . However, low-carb diets, in general, also boost this beneficial cell-recycling system.
- Free radical prevention – Free radicals are molecules with an unpaired electron that damage DNA. Normally, our body gets rid of free radicals with the help of antioxidants. MCTs also act as antioxidants, and in this way protect against free radicals.
MCT oil also helps balance out blood lipids and boosts weight loss, both of which is important for disease prevention. Adding them to your keto diet is a good way to take charge of your overall health and well-being.
MCTs are naturally found in dairy products like cheese, cream, and butter. However, the best known natural sources of MCTs are coconut and palm-kernel oils. These oils are at least two-thirds MCTs, the rest being mainly monounsaturated fatty acids. Another notable source of MCTs is, of course, MCT oil. Let's take a look the advantages of both:
1. Coconut & palm-kernel oil
Coconut and palm-kernel oils are two-thirds MCTs. MCTs are saturated fats, and as is always the case with saturated fats, medical experts advise against them. This comes from the belief that saturated fats cause cardiovascular disease.
However, this belief is now brought into question as studies show that excluding them from your diet does more harm than good . MCTs are an important source of calories on a keto diet and they're also highly satiating.
Another thing that most medical experts fail to mention is that the medium-chain saturated fats are not the same thing as long-chain saturated fats. They have a completely different metabolic fate and their effect on health is proven time and time again to be positive.
Coconut and palm-kernel oil can help boost your intake of beneficial MCTs. You can use these oils in frying, baking, and cooking. They both have their characteristic smell and taste you need to consider when preparing meals.
2. MCT oil
MCT oil provides two of the best types of MCTs with an ideal chain length, namely C8 and C10. These two get easily absorbed and your body will use them in under an hour. This is great if you're looking for instant energy to upgrade workouts or if you're looking to enhance your brain power.
Unlike coconut and palm-kernel oils, MCT oil has a low smoke point. This makes it unsuitable for cooking. You can, however, add it to your keto coffee, batter, salads, and smoothies. The oil is virtually flavorless, so you won't even know it's there.
How to Use MCT Oil for Keto
You can use MCT oil to boost your mental and physical energy, or you can even use it for ketosis. Keto dieters often use MCT oil to fight the keto flu or get into ketosis faster. To do just that, you can:
Take one teaspoon of MCT oil in the morning and afternoon. This will keep you in ketosis throughout the day when used alongside a ketogenic diet. MCT oil used this way will also reduce keto flu symptoms because it speeds up ketosis.
- Use MCT oil before intermittent fasting. This will give your body high-quality fats to make ketones and curb your hunger while you fast.
- MCT oil also works as an ingredient in keto meals. It's fairly convenient for a wide range of dishes like soups, smoothies, tea, coffee, salads, and more. Simply drizzle the oil over any dish to add more fat to your meals. If weight loss is your goal, make sure to include the calories in MCT oil to your daily calorie count.
Keep in mind that MCT Oil can cause nausea in some people. It's a concentrated source of powerful MCTs after all. To avoid becoming nauseated, try including MCT oil gradually to your keto diet. Start with half a teaspoon over several days and increase your intake to up to 3 tablespoons a day.
Keto and MCT oil go hand in hand. This oil is great for boosting ketone production and works as a convenient source of quick energy for your brain and body. Keto dieters love it because it's the best source of fats that your body can easily convert to ketones.
While you can simply use coconut oil to get your MCTs, keep in mind that most of the fat in this oil is lauric acid. MCT oil, on the other hand, contains more high-quality MCTs than coconut oil. Studies comparing the two also show that MCT oil is more powerful as an appetite suppressant and weight-loss aid.
To add MCT oil to your keto diet, simply sprinkle it over your favorite meals or add it to your morning coffee on days you plan to fast. Just make sure you're not taking more than 3 tablespoons a day as more can lead to stomach upset. Remember, MCT is a dietary supplement, not a meal replacement, so moderation is key.