You’ve most likely heard of MCT oil – whether you’re new to Keto or you’ve been following the diet for some time. But is it everything it’s cracked up to be?
There are so many Keto pills, powders and supplements out there. It’s important to get informed about what is just a fad vs what can actually benefit your body.
That’s why this article dives into the science around MCT Oil and explains exactly what MCT Oil is, where it comes from, and how MCT Oil affects your body.
MCT Oil does have powerful health-boosting benefits, and it could make your Keto diet easier. But don’t just take my word for it! Read on to see the evidence for yourself…
What is MCT Oil?
MCT oil is a little different from coconut oil, olive oil or the other Keto cooking oils you may have heard of.
Unlike those oils, which contain a mix of substances, high-quality MCT oil is made up purely of Medium Chain Triglycerides (aka MCTs).
MCTs are a special type of fatty acid molecule
Medium Chain Triglycerides are molecules made up of medium-chain fatty acids. (Three fatty acid chains attached to glycerol = one triglyceride molecule).
Fatty acids come in different sizes:
- Short chain fatty acids have 5 or fewer carbon atoms
- Medium chain fatty acids have 6 to 12 carbon atoms
- Long chain fatty acids have 13 to 21 carbon atoms
Short chain fatty acids are made naturally by your gut bacteria:
They’re produced from the fermentation of undigested fiber, protein and carbohydrates in your colon. And they’re important for keeping your digestive system healthy. (1)
Most oils contain a mix of medium and long chain fatty acids…
Long chain fatty acids are the most common kind of fat in the American diet:
When you ingest long chain fatty acids, they are broken down with digestive enzymes from your pancreas and bile from your gallbladder. The fatty acids then go through the lymphatic and circulatory systems, which can ultimately result in either fat storage or energy production. (2)
Medium chain fatty acids are much easier for your body to digest and use:
MCTs are quickly shuttled to the liver where they are immediately metabolized (burned) as fuel. (3) And that’s what makes MCTs such a great source of energy.
There are 4 different types of MCTs
There aren’t just different types of fatty acids… there are also different types of MCTs!
1. Caproic Acid (aka Hexanoic Acid)
This MCT has six carbons, and so it’s also called C6.
Because the carbon length is so small your body is able to quickly turn it into fuel which your cells can use.
But the downside is, it doesn’t taste fantastic. Some folks also find it causes a slight tingly feeling in their throat. And it can cause digestive upset if you’re not careful.
2. Caprylic Acid (aka Octanoic Acid)
This MCT is eight carbons long, and it’s also called C8.
Like C6, your body can turn it into fuel quickly.
And as an added bonus, there’s evidence that caprylic acid can kill harmful bacteria. (4) Which means it may be able to help you keep your gut healthy.
3. Capric Acid (aka Decanoic Acid)
Capric acid is also known as C10, and it’s ten carbons long.
Just like C6 and C8, your body can easily and quickly use C10 as an energy source.
4. Lauric Acid (aka Dodecanoic Acid)
This is the longest of all the MCTs, with a length of 12 carbons. It’s also known as C12.
Lauric acid is predominant in coconut oil – it makes up about 50% of all the fatty acids in the oil, and it has potent antibacterial properties. (5,6)
Studies show that although lauric acid is classified as an MCT, it behaves more like a long-chain fatty acid in the body. It can’t be turned into fuel as quickly and efficiently as the other MCTs in this list. (7)
For this reason, some folks argue it shouldn’t be counted as an MCT at all!
MCT Oil Benefits: Why Should You Use It?
There are plenty of benefits to using MCT Oil – here’s a roundup of the top ten:
1) It increases your ketone production
Ketones are made by your body when it starts to burn fat as its primary source of fuel. That’s a metabolic state called ketosis, which has all sorts of health benefits.
What’s interesting about MCTs is that they produce ketones in the liver all on their own – even without a Keto diet! The boost in ketones can last for about 3 hours (8).
You can see how a ketogenic diet paired with MCTs can give you even more of the amazing health benefits you love.
2) It increases your energy levels
Many folks, like this author, report a boost in energy and mental clarity after taking MCT Oil.
That’s because MCTs are easily absorbed for quick energy production. Your cells have a ready supply of ketones to use as fuel, giving you an energy boost.
Registered Dietitian, Mary Jane Brown, PhD, RD says this is a big advantage of using MCT oil. “Unlike regular fatty acids, ketones can cross from the blood to the brain. This provides an alternative energy source for the brain, which ordinarily uses glucose for fuel.” This may explain the increase in mental clarity.
3) It makes appetite control easier
MCTs suppress your appetite, which can make controlling your cravings and ending overeating a lot easier. (9)
Dr. Mark Hyman, M.D. calls MCT oil “the secret fat that makes you thin.”
He adds, “For many patients, MCT becomes that little nudge to help you drop those last 10 to 15 stubborn pounds that just won’t go away.”
One research study assigned participants either a low MCT diet, a medium MCT diet or a high MCT diet. The total calorie intake of the participants wasn’t limited or restricted in any way.
The study found that the folks on a high MCT diet consumed fewer calories, resulting in weight loss. (10)
4) It’s easier to burn off and harder to store as fat
These two factors are what makes MCT oil such a good source of fuel for your body!
MCTs are readily absorbed and used for immediate energy production. And when you consume MCTs instead of other fats, you actually burn more calories. (11)
This combination of efficient energy production and increased calorie burning means that MCTs are much less likely to be stored as fat.
And not only that – numerous studies have found that consuming MCTs can actually help you lose existing fat, too. (12)
5) It improves nutrient absorption
Taking MCT Oil can help your body absorb nutrients more readily.
A study which looked at premature infants who were given formulas containing varying amounts of MCTs, from 0% to 80%.
They found that for those in the 80% MCT group calcium and magnesium absorption improved significantly. (13)
So, for an adult, supplementing with MCTs could be a smart move to help your body absorb the nutrients from your food.
6) It improves seizure control
For folks with epilepsy or other seizure disorders, MCTs can be an important part of treatment.
Increased ketone levels appear to have anti-convulsive effects. In fact, ketogenic diets were originally designed to treat children with epilepsy. And it’s still effectively used for this purpose today. (14)
Taking MCTs is a simple way to increase ketone levels. An “MCT diet” has even been developed as an alternative treatment option for people with seizure disorders. (15)
7) It lowers your blood sugar levels
MCTs can naturally lower your blood sugar levels.
And they act fast! One study recorded a noticeable drop in blood sugar levels just one hour after a single dose of MCTs was taken. (16)
Further research is needed to determine if MCT supplementation could be useful for treating folks with diabetes – the results so far are mixed. (17, 18)
8) It can help you lose weight
There’s good news for folks who are looking to drop extra pounds…
MCTs have been linked to weight loss:
- Overweight and obese folks on MCT oil diets have successfully lost weight. (19)
- Consuming a diet high in MCTs can significantly reduce body weight and fat, more so than a diet high in long chain triglycerides. (20, 21)
This is partly because MCTs help reduce your appetite, as mentioned previously. But it’s also because consuming MCTs actually raises your metabolism. (22)
9) It can help with your athletic performance
Whether you take them pre or post workout, MCTs can help improve your performance when you exercise. Want to enhance your keto plan with exercise?
One study found that non-professional athletes were able to reduce their rate of perceived exertion during moderate exercise by consuming MCTs. (In other words, exercising felt less tough and tiring). (23)
The study indicates that MCTs prevent high levels of lactate in the blood. Higher blood lactate is associated with perceived exertion during exercise. (24) This may explain why those same athletes were able to perform high-intensity exercise for longer.
And of course, MCTs provide the body with a ready source of energy – which it can use either during your workout (helping you exercise for longer) or to rebuild your muscles after training.
10) It may reduce your risk of heart disease
Research has found evidence that consuming MCTs could help reduce the risk factors associated with heart disease.
Regularly consuming MCTs can significantly decrease your blood triglyceride levels. And it can also increase your levels of “good” cholesterol, aka low density lipoproteins. (25,26)
Which type of MCT is the best?
The hands-down winner is C8 – Caprylic acid. Why? Caprylic acid has been shown to offer the highest ketone production. (27)
Plus, the others have their downsides:
- C6 can irritate your stomach.
- C10 is similar to C8 and also good, but C8 has the edge due to its shorter length.
- C12 won’t give you the quick energy boost which MCTs are known for.
That’s why the highest quality MCT Oils out there are made only with C8 MCT oil. One popular brand is called Brain Octane.
Where to find MCTs?
There are two ways you can get your MCTs – from the foods you eat and from supplements.
1) You can find natural sources of MCTs
MCTs can be found naturally in fat-rich foods like coconut oil, palm kernel oil and ghee.
One of the best natural sources of MCTs is coconut oil. That’s because over 55% of coconut oil is made up of MCTs. However, the MCTs in coconut oil are mostly C12, aka lauric acid.
Although lauric acid is still good for your body (especially your immune system), to get the greatest ketone-producing benefits of MCTs you would be a substance consisting purely of C8 and C10.
You would be able to get a concentrated dose of C8 and C10 with just one spoonful of high-quality MCT oil. Whereas with coconut oil, you’d have to eat several spoonfuls to get the same amount (and the same benefits).
And that’s why many folks use supplements…
2) You can also find MCTs available as a supplement
MCT supplements can take the form of an oil, powder or capsule.
The best types of MCT Oil are made purely of concentrated C8 and C10 (aka caprylic and capric acid).
They undergo a process called “fractionation” which separates the different types of MCT oils, filtering out any long chain triglycerides and most or all of the C12, lauric acid. The result is a flavorless, odorless, and colorless MCT oil.
MCTs are a little different than exogenous ketones.
How to make sure your MCT supplement is high quality:
In a bottle of “MCT oil”, you don’t always know what you’re getting. So you’ll have to check the ingredients list carefully…
Make sure there are no unwanted ingredients like hydrogenated oils. And try to pick a brand which has been tested for purity and heavy metals.
You can tell if an MCT Oil is high quality if it’s tasteless and liquid at room temperature. And you should also feel a noticeable increase in your energy levels after taking it.
We recommend using liquid oils or capsules rather than powders, which can contain unwanted fillers.
How to use MCT oil?
Because of the quick energy boost they give you, it’s best to use MCTs in the morning or the early afternoon. You don’t want to end up awake all night!
You can add MCT Oil to your morning coffee:
It will give your coffee a creamier texture and add a touch of froth.
Try adding MCT Oil to your smoothies:
Simply add 1 tsp of MCT Oil to your favorite smoothie recipe.
Use pure MCT Oil in your salad dressings:
Because it’s liquid at room temperature and has no flavor, pure MCT oil is easy to incorporate into salad dressings. Just add some herbs, spices or vinegar! It’s a great way to add a dose of healthy fats to your bowl of leafy greens.
Use MCT Oil to create Keto-friendly mayo:
If you’ve been missing mayo on your Keto diet, there’s good news! Homemade mayo is a great substitute – and it’s also a great way to get more MCT oil into your meals.
The best oils for cooking:
Because MCT oil has a relatively low “smoke point” of about 320 degrees, it’s best not to use it for high-heat cooking. Better oils to withstand heat are avocado oil and olive oil. (28)
How much MCT Oil to use?
If you’ve never used MCT oil before, you’ll need to start slowly…
Take just one teaspoon of MCT oil per day when you first try using it.
It’s very important to give your body an adjustment period. That way, it can comfortably get used to metabolizing MCTs. And you won’t cause yourself any gastrointestinal distress!
Raise your intake once your body is happily handling 1 tsp of MCT Oil per day.
But again, go slowly! If you increase your MCT intake too fast, it can cause issues like diarrhea and nausea. By raising your intake gradually, you’ll avoid these problems.
Ketogenic Lifestyl Coach Lori Ballen says, “Those of you that are fat adapted and working your macros at a high level may want to add it before workouts.”
You Should Seriously Consider Adding MCT Oil to Your Keto Diet
This is especially true if you’re looking for a quick boost of energy in the morning. Or a simple way to raise your ketone levels to help you get into ketosis.
Supplementing with MCT oil can give you what you need to make your Keto diet easier. And although you don’t have to use MCTs to be successful on Keto, it can certainly help!
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