After years of ups and downs with ketogenic living, one indisputable rule has stood out regarding food supplements. That is: high quality MCT Oils cannot be marginalized.
While coaching new Keto Warriors, this is a fact that often takes time to sink in. After all, how can eating a fat help you get skinner? At first glance it makes absolutely no sense.
But the reality is: taking medium chain triglycerides can encourage weight loss on any diet, and bring with it a wide range of benefits .
In the following article, we’re going to cover what MCT oils are, how they function in the body, the benefits these functions produce, and how you can best use MCT oils. For every statement we make, you will find a [number] source linking to research for further knowledge digging.
What is MCT Oil?
Medium chain triglycerides (MCT) are a type of fat that contain fatty-acid lengths of 6 to 12 carbons . This length in particular means MCTs are large enough to pack worthwhile energy, while also being small enough to quickly breakdown.
The common MCT’s that you should know about are:
- C6 Caproic Acid
- C8 Caprylic Acid
- C10 Capric Acid
- C12 Lauric Acid (digests as an LCT)
While universally named medium chain triglycerides, each of these fats have unique characteristics. For starters, C6 digests faster than C8 but C8 produces more energy. Here are the strengths and weaknesses of each MCT.
Also referred to as Hexanoic Acid, Caproic Acid is the shortest MCT logging a fatty acid tail length of 6 carbons . You’re not going to find stand-alone caproic acid supplements, due to this form’s acid-like taste and unpleasant odor.
Many MCT oils will contain caproic acid in their formulas, though, it should be a small amount to maintain ease and pleasure of use. We prefer MCT oils that avoid caproic acid altogether unless its naturally occurring like in coconut oil or milk fat.
Caprylic acid also goes by the name octanoic acid and is the star-child of MCT oils. While it digests slightly slower than C6, it produces more energy than C6 while still being quite quick.
On a larger scale, caprylic acid appears to be the most ketogenic of all MCTs . That means it produces the most energy-rich ketones, providing the body with a versatile energy source.
In terms of ease-of-use, when obtained from preferred sources and completely pure – C8 caprylic acid is tasteless, neutral and very easy to supplement with in oil, powder, or capsule form.
Known scientifically as decanoic acid, capric acid is an MCT containing a 10 carbon-length tail. Capric acid is energy rich and produces a ketogenic effect like C6 and C8. Though, capric acid isn’t as effective as C8.
In comparison to all MCTs, capric acid ranks #2 for digestibility and energy creation. Second only to C8 caprylic aid.
Lauric acid (technically not an MCT)
Lauric acid (also known as Dodecanoic acid) was named an MCT, however was later discovered to act as an LCT in the body . That means that while C12 Lauric acid produces energy and ketones, it takes much longer to do so and requires extra steps in comparison to true MCTs like C6, C8 and C10.
Despite this, lauric acid usage is still very high. This is because lauric acid is the most plentiful fat in coconut oil, making it extremely inexpensive. This is also the reason why coconut oil proves to be a superior cooking oil compared to MCT oil.
MCT versus short and long chain triglycerides
Medium chain fatty acids digest in a unique way, containing characteristics of both short and long chain fatty acids.
MCTs vs short chain triglycerides
Short chain triglycerides have more specific duties in the body due to their shorter fatty acid tails. For instance, here are the 3 most common short-chain fatty acids:
- C2 Acetic acid: Leads to acetyl-CoA production to aid fatty acid synthesis .
- C3 Propionic acid: Leads to glucose formation.
- C4 Butyric acid: The most valuable of short chain fatty acids, butyric acid leads to ketone production .
While the short chain fatty acids of SCTs participate in metabolism, and C4 butyric acid in particular leads to ketone production; they are not easily supplemented with nor are they an adequate food substitute. Likewise, many ‘SCT’ supplements contain very small amounts of actual short chain fatty acids, being composed mostly of long chain triglycerides found naturally in sources like butter.
MCTs vs long chain triglycerides
Long chain triglycerides refer to fats that have fatty acids extending beyond 12 carbons (biologically 12, and beyond).
Medium chain and long chain triglycerides vary greatly in digestion, with LCTs taking longer and requiring more steps.
The extra steps required by LCTs include:
- Pancreatic enzyme breakdown.
- Chylomicron formation and transport to liver .
- Subsequent mitochondrial breakdown requiring l-carnitine .
MCTs do not require the steps above .
Despite MCT having a weight loss and overall metabolic edge, you will be eating a great deal of LCTs if you practice a low carb or ketogenic diet – and that’s ok! After all, it is much easier to consume foods with large amounts of naturally occurring LCTs than MCTs.
But when we have a supplemental choice, the extra energy and weight loss benefits of MCTs are hard to resist.
The 5 Benefits of Medium Chain Triglycerides
It’s no surprise that eating healthier food tends to lead to ‘problems going away’. This is why its important to equally consider healthy foods as pro-health the same as you consider unhealthy food as anti-health. One gives, while the other takes.
Digging deeper, knowing what MCT oils actually do in the body can make its perceived benefits make a whole lot more sense. Here are the 5 most commonly perceived benefits of MCT oils and how MCTs work to make it happen.
Here are the 5 benefits we’ll cover:
- Weight loss
- Cognition and brain health
- Gut health and nutrient uptake
- Exercise performance
- Managing ketosis
You can skip ahead, but most categories blend in total effect.
#1 Weight loss
MCT Oils improve weight loss by:
- Increasing energy expenditure (how many calories you burn).
- Reducing fat accumulation (the likelihood of food becoming fat).
- Improving meal satiety (reducing total food intake).
Here are how and why these 3 weight loss effects happen:
A. Increased energy expenditure
Medium chain triglycerides and their contained fatty acids have an extremely high affinity to be digested for energy . So much so, that its actually quite hard for the body to do anything else with MCTs . The whole process is streamlined.
The increased energy expenditure (calorie burning) continues even after the MCTs are used up . This is a big deal, but why? Because it likely means medium chain triglycerides improve mitochondrial health which is a key indication of overall health [16, 17, 18].
B. Reducing fat accumulation
MCTs metabolize extremely well, but how can this be quantified towards fat mass and tendency to gain fat mass?
Several studies have sought out to compare just that, with MCTs vs LCTs and MCTs vs carbohydrates.
- One study found that simply replacing LCTs with MCTs produced a reduction in mid-section fat in less than 12 weeks in healthy men and women .
- Another study found that MCT rich diets prevent mid-section body fat distribution characterized by carbohydrate rich diets in insulin-resistant patients .
The reduction of fat accumulation likely occurs for multiple reasons. One that we found particularly interesting, is how MCT Oil can revitalize and improve mitochondrial function in highly inflamed fat cells . That means, MCTs are able to restore energy producing potential in highly stressed fat cell environments.
C. Improving meal satiety
The ketogenic diet which focuses on dietary fats like LCTs and MCTs is known for producing great satiety from meals and reduced overall hunger . This is why the ketogenic diet works well alongside daily fasting strategies.
But, does MCT have a beneficial effect on cravings, hunger, and meal satiety? Research suggests yes, but this is likely the lesser weight loss benefit of MCT supplementation .
Satiety from MCTs can be attributed to the fact that they are food. While reduction in hunger and cravings is linked to ketones produced by MCT oils, as ketones have been found to lower ghrelin and appetite .
Weight Loss Summary:
The usage of medium chain triglycerides for weight loss has been thoroughly studied in multiple environments. The ketogenic or low carbohydrate diet appears to be the most effective, however, the addition or substitution of MCT oils into one’s diet can increase calories burnt, decrease fat stores, and improve hunger/satiety.
#2 Cognition and Brain Health
We know that in the body, too many carbs for too long can ‘break’ metabolism. This may also hold true in the brain, where to a degree metabolism can be measured by cognition and focus capacity.
This is a recurring theme in Alzheimer’s and other memory related studies, where there appears to be a glucose intolerance occurring in the brain. Essentially, regions of the brain begin to experience a decrease in their ability to transport and metabolize its primary energy source, glucose, causing cellular starvation and dysfunction [25, 26].
Fortunately, glucose isn’t the only energy source usable by the brain. Ketones produced by fats like MCT oil can serve as an alternative (and support) to glucose metabolism in the brain, rescuing brain energy .
How can MCT oil specifically play a role?
- One study found that MCT oil contributed up to 8-9% of brain energy metabolism in adults who added 20-30 grams of MCT oil to their diet per day .
- In two Alzheimer’s studies, participants given MCT Oil performed significantly better in memory tests compared to those not receiving treatment [29, 30].
The trend here, is that MCT oil leads to ketone production which metabolizes independently of glucose intolerance, and may even improve brain infrastructure to support healthier glucose metabolism .
Going a bit deeper
While exercise can improve the health and performance of your body, similar ‘stressors’ appear to ‘strengthen’ the health, resiliency, and metabolic potential of your brain .
These stressors that promote metabolic flexibility and neuroplasticity include: fasting, dietary cycling, and exercise – which interesting to us coincide with ketone production .
Cognition and Brain Health Summary:
Medium chain triglycerides play a role in brain health because the ketones they produce serve as an alternative brain fuel. This is increasingly valuable in conditions where traditional glucose metabolism is hindered, and we look forward to more research illuminating the way. In the present, MCT oils can be credited to greater cognition and focus as a dietary strategy for increasing ketones similar to fasting and exercise.
#3 Gut health and Nutrient Uptake
Medium chain triglycerides play an interesting role in the gut, considering their easy-to-digest and anti-bacterial qualities. Research suggests that MCT oil may be able to improve the intestinal ecosystem, as well as overall intestinal permeability.
What does that mean?
Your intestinal ecosystem refers to the types of microbes that live in your gut. A healthy diet generally promotes a ‘good biome’ while a bad diet can create a ‘bad biome’.
The benefit of a good biome is: enhanced digestion, added immunity, and additional vitamins and fatty acids produced by your ‘good bacteria’.
The negatives to a bad biome include: gas, inflammation, diarrhea, infections, leaky gut, and incomplete digestion – caused by ‘bad bacteria’.
Since MCT oils have anti-microbial effects, researchers have found that adding MCTs may positively affect the gut through microbiome remodeling (balancing gut bacteria) . In addition to bacteria, MCTs also appear to suppress harmful fungi like several species of Malassezia responsible for sepsis in infants .
Intestinal permeability refers to how easily your gut lining allows nutrients in, while also keeping harmful toxins out. When severely inflamed, the intestinal tract can suffer from both of these problems at the same time.
It would appear that MCT oil can influence intestinal permeability in two ways:
- Provide critical calories held back by malabsorption in a damaged intestinal tract .
- Nourish the intestinal lining and reduce toxin induced damage [37, 38, 39].
This supports the supplemental use of MCT oil as a dietary addition or keystone component in wellness and longevity practices.
Gut and Nutrient Uptake Summary:
Medium chain triglyceride supplementation can improve intestinal health by influencing the quality of microbiome flora as well as nourishing and fortifying the intestinal lining itself. This effect paired with MCTs ability to provide nutrition despite intestinal malabsorption makes MCT oil a prime therapeutic aid for many digestive issues .
#4 Exercise Performance
We know that medium chain triglycerides increase energy expenditure. Can this extra energy be put to use in our workouts?
Well, its not quite going to ‘enhance’ strength capacity the same way as creatine or caffeine can. But they will likely allow you to exercise for longer.
MCTs may influence exercise by:
- Immediately increase available energy pool.
- Synergistically improve metabolic machinery over time.
Here’s how that works:
A. Increasing the body’s energy pool.
As you have already learned, MCTs digest independently of carbohydrates. This means that during exercise, your muscles have a second energy source to tap .
Clinically, usage of MCT oils before exercise have been found to:
This indicates that medium chain triglycerides are being strategically used by the body for fuel at times when the over-metabolism of glucose would lead to physiological imbalances. Very cool, but it gets better.
B. Improving metabolic efficiency and capacity.
You have also already learned in the weight loss section that medium chain triglycerides can improve the health of your mitochondria.
It would appear that MCTs can revitalize mitochondria even more-so during exercise as well as signal for new mitochondria to be made . The result of this of course, is more energy burning capacity. Though, it can only go so far.
The performance enhancing effects of MCT oils do have a metabolic limit. This was observed in cyclists already at the peak elite level, where MCT oil did not lead to greater performance . This is likely because through training their bodies already display greater metabolic flexibly and energy storage.
Exercise performance summary
Medium chain triglycerides can improve the duration of your workouts and make your workouts more metabolically stimulating. This is due to MCTs acting as a secondary fuel source to glucose, as well as increasing total metabolic capacity of mitochondria. As you progress, this edge may even out as endurance improvements plateau in elite athletes.
#5 Getting into and managing ketosis
The most dedicated MCT users typically take their MCTs to supplement the ketogenic diet. Like exogenous ketone supplements, MCTs are an effective way to boost blood ketone levels.
Many would argue that MCTs are better than exogenous ketones over the long haul, for improving metabolic flexibility and thus dieting ease.
MCT Oil promotes ketosis by:
- Being a natural source of ketones when digested.
- Not standing in the way of ketone production, like carbs would.
It really isn’t complicated. So, how do we best take MCT oils?
How to take MCT Oils
Unlike herbs and vitamins, MCTs count as a macronutrient in your diet. That means, MCT oil will take up part of your daily calorie intake.
For reference, one tablespoon of MCT oil can contain between 100-124 calories depending on the brand. One gram of MCT powder contains about 8 calories. Take note that serving size metrics we’re comparing are quite different here.
Best ways to take MCT Oil and MCT Powder:
If you can’t cook with MCT oil, then what do you do? Well, you drink it or add it to already cooked food. This may sound nasty, but high quality MCTs are quite neutral and flavored variations are pleasurably tasty.
One general rule that you’ll want to follow with MCT supplements is to take them with your meals. This can mean an MCT drink alongside your plate, or MCT oil added to your already cooked food.
- Drink alongside your meal.
- Mix with salad dressing.
- Pour on top of meats.
In shakes and smoothies
The most pleasurable way to take MCT oil is to add it to your shakes and smoothies. If you’re using an MCT powder, this will add another layer of creaminess to your nutrition or protein shake. If you are using MCT oil, there will still be some oil consistency but it will disperse well.
- Add to smoothies.
- Add to protein shakes.
- Take flavored MCT oil or powder as-is.
The bulletproof coffee movement brought adding fat your coffee into the mainstream due to how this combination increases the duration and quality of coffees effects.
If you are taking your coffee well before breakfast in the morning, then it may be wise to pass on adding MCTs to your coffee as you’re in prime fat burning mode already. However, if you need an extra kick in the afternoon after you’ve already broke your fast, then enjoy some chocolate MCT powder in your coffee!
- Add MCT oil or powder directly to coffee.
How NOT to use MCT oils:
MCT oils should not be used for cooking. Period. This is because the shorter the fatty acid chains, the lower the smoke point of an oil. This makes MCT oils highly vulnerable to modification while cooking, which you don’t want.
The alternative here would be to cook with coconut oil. The largest component of coconut oil is C12 lauric acid, which as you know acts more like a long chain fatty acid. This stabilizes coconut oil and makes it better suited for cooking.
Should you take MCT oil or MCT powder?
When picking medium chain triglyceride supplements, you can opt for liquid or powder forms. If opting for a full-spirited MCT blend that also contains lauric acid, oil is a superior vector. However, for C8 and C10 products powder is highly versatile and our preference.
This is why we make our own pure C8 MCT powder.
Our Recommendation: Team Keto PURE C8 MCT Powder
It is our belief that medium chain triglycerides are the most useful and functional food supplement that can be taken alongside the keto diet. For that reason, we’ve experimented with countless formulations, sources, and ratios of fat.
After multiple levels of gradual improvements, we were finally overwhelmingly satisfied with the more expensive but 100% pure C8 MCT powder. And if you check the product page, you’ll see why Keto Warriors around the world love it.
Summary of what we’ve learned:
MCT Frequently Asked Questions
Do MCTs work differently depending on body weight and fitness level?
Short answer – yes. As you read above in how MCTs effect exercise, elite athletes benefit less from MCTs as they are already at peak fitness, capacity, and metabolic flexibility. On the flipside, for weight loss extremely obese individuals lose weight slower than more average individuals . This is likely due to greater inflammation and metabolism suppression in the greatly obese, which will become mitigated over time.
Difference between triglycerides and fatty acids
A triglyceride is a complete fat, while fatty acids are single chains. A complete triglyceride contains 3 fatty acids attached to a glycerol backbone. While triglycerides and fatty acids are different, the terms are often used quite interchangeably. This is because triglycerides can be broken down into fatty acids by lipoprotein lipase in several different tissues.
Difference between MCT Oil and Exogenous Ketones
MCT oil is composed of fats while exogenous ketones are composed of only ketone bodies. The breakdown of MCT oils does create ketone bodies. However, exogenous ketone supplements create a state of nutritional ketosis much faster. Comparatively, MCT oil is a highly ketogenic food while exogenous ketones quickly (though strictly) raise blood ketone levels.
MCT Oil sources
Medium chain triglycerides can be found in a wide variety of foods. For supplemental use, MCTs are most commonly collected from coconut oil and palm oil. Milk is also a common source of MCTs alongside other fats.