As we’ve seen, the process of entering ketosis can be a little slow, especially at first. Because of this, people take ketone supplements to move more quickly into ketosis and to reduce symptoms of keto flu and provide an immediate hit of energy. In this article we are going to review another very popular keto supplement: Medium Chain Triglycerides, or MCTs and look at the best MCT powder, oil & capsules available.
Put on Your Lab Coats, It’s Time For Some Biochemistry
Just like the ketone supplements, in order to really understand the use and benefits of MCTs you need a little bit more biochemistry, this time focusing on your brain. In the last article we looked at the structure of fat: 3 fatty acids and a glycerine backbone. In this article we are going to focus on those fatty acids, in particular their length.
Fatty acids come in different lengths, according to the number of carbons that they are made of. Short chain fatty acids have less than 6 carbons. These short fatty acids are produced by bacteria in your gut fermenting fiber in your diet. The fermentation breaks fiber into short chain fatty acids which nourish the bacteria.
The short chain fatty acids also nourish cells in your intestine. The fatty acids are anti-inflammatory, soothe the gut, prevent colon diseases and reduce cancer risk. Well-nourished bacteria produce fatty acids which increase fat metabolism and reduce fat storage. This is why it is so important to get enough fiber in your diet.
Long chain fatty acids have more than 13 carbons. There is a wide variety of these fatty acids in both plant and animal fats. But, their physical size makes them too big to get directly into the brain. They are also more difficult for the liver to process into ketones.
Some of these fatty acids are classed as “essential” this means the body can’t make them itself. This is why we need a variety of fats in the diet to ensure we get the essential ones. Some are more healthy than others and there is a lot of controversy around saturated fats.
The cheap refined vegetable oils typically contain more unhealthy fats which increase inflammation. The healthiest long chain fats come from plants, like olives and avocados, and oily fish. Fats become carcinogenic when they are repeatedly heated up, making deep fried food less healthy.
So, that leaves medium chain fatty acids for anything between 6 and 12 carbons long. These have received significant positive attention due to their immense health benefits. They occur naturally in high doses in coconut oil and in lower doses in animal products like ghee. Their shorter length means they are physically smaller and they can pass directly into the brain. They are also more easily broken down into ketones by the liver.
Medium chain fatty acids also have a ‘thermogenic’ effect, meaning they need energy to break down. This ‘thermogenesis’ speeds up metabolism promoting fat loss. It also reduces the caloric value of the fats. (MCTs are typically 7 calories per gram compared to 9 calories for longer chain fats).
Fatty Acid Recap
Short chains are produced in your gut by bacteria, long chains make up the majority of fats in the diet and medium chains are in some animal fats in low doses but mainly come from plants, specifically coconut.
The humble coconut has recently gained a lot of positive publicity due to its wide variety of uses for the home, body and as a food and its numerous health benefits. The majority of these health benefits, come from the medium chain fatty acids contained inside this tasty nut.
Palm oil also contains MCTs. However, the industrial production of palm oil is responsible for deforestation of the Amazon rainforest.
If we cut down all the trees in the Amazon there won’t be any oxygen left, in which case MCTs are pretty useless. Palm oils is made even worse by the high-heat processing and use of chemical and deodorizing agents, so we recommend avoiding it.
The rapid utilization and metabolism boosting properties means MCTs are able to reduce appetite and enhance weight loss by stimulating satiety hormones, refuel the brain and improve mental functions, alertness and even mood, and increase overall feelings of energy and athletic performance.
They also have natural anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties which improves overall health and reduces the damage from toxins in the diet and environment. Their antiviral properties protect and cleanse the gut of dangerous pathogens. They are also a ‘clean’ source of energy, producing much less metabolic waste products.
Due to the way MCTs are able to fuel and nourish the brain they are also used in the dietary treatment of epilepsy and are considered ‘neuroprotective’ reducing both the risk and impact of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
Coconuts naturally contain a mixture of more than 7 different fatty acids:
7% Caprylic acid (with 8 carbons)
8% Decanoic (with 10 carbons)
48% Lauric acid (with 12 carbons)
16% Myristic acid (with 14 carbons)
10% Palmitic acid (with 16 carbons)
7% Oleic acid (with 18 carbons)
Leaving 4% for other mystery fatty acids!
Chemists Vs. Biologists
Now, on the surface this looks like coconuts contain about 60% beneficial Medium Chain Fatty Acids. Unfortunately there is a difference between the chemical classification of fatty acids and their biological use. Chemists and Biologists have a slight difference of opinion on the definition of medium! Chemically, a medium chain fatty acid has 12 carbons or less but these are still quite long. In the body these are too big to get into the brain or be rapidly processed in the liver.
However, fatty acids with less than 11 carbons are small enough to deliver the immense health benefits. This means that coconuts actually contain just 15% beneficial MCTs. You still get a lot of health benefits from coconuts as a source of MCTs, but you can do better! MCT supplements (available as powder, capsules or oils) are able to deliver 100% MCTs.
They are also even more rapidly processed by the body. The MCTs are already broken down into separate fatty acids. This means they do not need to be digested or broken down by gallbladder and pancreatic enzymes. MCTs are rapidly absorbed in the intestine and directly transported to the liver for conversion into ketones.
This means that the energizing impact and appetite suppression are much more immediate. So, MCTs supplements are a more concentrated and rapid way of getting beneficial fats into your body and brain. Coconuts are still really good for you, very tasty and a highly adaptable keto food. However, if you want a more convenient and effective way to consume MCTs consider supplementation.
MCTs don’t directly raise your ketone level (which is great if you are testing it to see how well your body is doing) but they do remove several steps from the process of using fat for fuels. They are slightly slower to act that the exogenous ketones but they are much easier to tolerate, mainly as the taste is neutral in comparison. MCTs oil can even be whipped up into a homemade mayonnaise to dip into!
Convenience and confidence are the major reasons people choose to take MCT supplements. You know exactly how much fuel you are consuming in each dose. You know it will rapidly boost energy, performance and mood and that the MCT will be used for energy production, and not be turned into fat for storage. You can conveniently pack a few caps in your bag for emergencies, snacks or post-workout fuel
If you do decide MCT supplementation might work for you, start slowly. Our gut simply isn’t used to this high strength fuel and can react if you start with a massive dose. To avoid stomach problems, start a few milliliters of the oil (or less), or a single capsule. You can gradually increase this dose as your body begins to enjoy it and you experience the benefits.
Choosing the Best MCT Oil, Powders & Capsules
Make sure you choose a supplement with MCTs whose carbon length is LESS than 11. Some MCTs supplements are a single fatty acid, while others are a mixture e.g. 8 and 10.
It is also really important to choose a quality supplement. Since the popularity of keto has rapidly taken off there are a few unscrupulous suppliers producing sub-standard, cheaper, products cashing in on the profit. Ensure you choose a product made from organic coconuts: otherwise you will get a concentrated dose of destructive pesticides with your MCTs.
Also chose a brand whose reputation you can trust with recognized quality or safety certification. Since the MCTs require separation from their coconut source, cheaper products often have residues from chemical extraction agents and solvents which can be toxic and definitely won’t help you reach your health goals. Choose wisely, and enjoy the fast track to ketosis.
Taking MCTs, in the form of oil, powders or capsules, speeds up the process of getting into ketosis
MCTs have numerous health benefits including being anti-inflammatory
Make sure to choose high quality and organic MCT supplements