Medium Chain Triglycerides, also called MCT's, are trending upward in the health sector for several good reasons. There are huge benefits to supplementing with MCT's, especially for those following a ketogenic diet. Most people know that coconut oil is a good source of MCT's. There's also MCT oil supplements out there for purchase. But there's a lot of confusion about MCT oil supplements and coconut oil products because of misleading labels.
In this article on MCT's, we're going to answer the most common questions on MCT's and show you what to look for when purchasing coconut oil and MCT supplements. The topics cover:
- What is an MCT?
- Why are MCT's good for the ketogenic diet?
- What are good sources of MCT's?
- Do I need MCT oil for the keto diet to be a success?
- How to purchase MCT oil
What is an MCT?
Some Medium Chain Triglycerides have some super nice benefits when it comes to ketosis. MCT's are essentially saturated fats with greater than 6 and less than 12 carbons in their carbon chain. [i] At 12 and above carbons are considered long chain triglycerides, and 6 and below are considered short chain triglycerides. Some scientific references will cite fatty acids with 6 and 12 carbons as an MCT... which is okay as long as they are up front with that! There's some key differences when it comes to the health benefits of each type of "MCT".
MCT's with 8 and 10 carbons are named caprylic and capric acid, respectively...these are the super important MCT's when it comes to ketone production. The long chain fatty acid with 12 carbons is named lauric acid. The short chain fatty acid with 6 carbons is named caproic acid. In this article, when speaking of MCT's we are ONLY speaking of C8 and C10 fatty acids. If we reference C12 lauric acid, we speak of it by name.
Be aware that a lot of coconut oil and MCT oil products will classify lauric acid as an MCT. It should not be classified as an Medium Chain Triglyceride in reference to the ketogenic diet because it does not have the ketogenic diet benefits that we want out of MCT's. However, having lauric acid in your diet is not a bad thing - it does have several other benefits to be discussed in another article.
Why are MCT's good for the ketogenic diet?
Medium Chain Triglycerides are digested quickly to produce ketones in the bloodstream; therefore, they supply a rapid supply of energy for people on the ketogenic diet. They even supply people that aren't on the ketogenic diet with a rapid supply of ketones; therefore inducing a temporary therapeutic state of ketosis.
Fats other than C8 and C10 are not rapidly digested to ketones and are more apt to be stored in the body as fat. [ii] This includes the C12 lauric acid, often mislabeled as an MCT - only about 25-30% of lauric acid consumed is digested rapidly as opposed to C8 and C10, of which 95% of the MCT's are digested rapidly to ketones.
This rapid digestion and production of ketones means MCT's C8 and C10 are especially great for people on the ketogenic diet that are using the diet for brain therapy or neuroprotective benefits.
In addition, in terms of weight loss MCT's have been shown to promote weight loss by increasing thermogenesis and decreasing the amount of fat stored as adipose tissue. [iii]
Ingestion of MCT's have been shown to decrease blood glucose levels and improve cholesterol markers in humans. [iv]
Some people note that they are less hungry after ingesting MCT's, however that is not based on research studies and is subjective and up to the individual. With that being said, increased energy is definitely a benefit of MCT's because of the direct production of ketones.
Nutritional ketosis can be achieved safely by providing 20-70 g/day of a supplement containing fatty acids C8 and C10.[v]
What are good sources of MCT's?
Coconut oil is the predominant source of MCT's in the American diet. However, coconut oil is not as high in MCT's as it is sometimes claimed to be. Coconut oil is primarily composed of C8: 7.6%, C10 5.5%, and C12: 47%. [vi] This adds up to only 12.1% of the good C8 and C10 MCT's. The rest of coconut oil is longer chain saturated fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids. Just a note: when a company claims that it's unprocessed coconut oil is super high in MCT's, it is usually claiming that C12 lauric acid is an MCT.
Extra virgin, unrefined coconut oil is the least processed coconut oil. Other coconut oils may have been processed and may reduced amounts of MCT's. Unrefined coconut oils will contain approximately 62% MCT's if lauric acid is included as an MCT. Most likely, the manufacturer will list lauric acid as an Medium Chain Triglyceride because it is to their benefit to state higher amounts of MCT's.
If the label states cold or expeller pressed coconut oil than this is much better than the alternative. The other ways of getting the oil is at high heats which can damage the fatty acids. We have found that in stores, a good coconut oil is super expensive. We stick with the same well priced coconut oil from Amazon - it's extra virgin, unrefined coconut oil that is cold pressed.
Other Vegetable Oils
Other vegetables fats and oils, including oils like olive oil and grapeseed oil, contain minimal amounts of MCT's. Butter contains more than the other vegetable oils, but still a small amount of MCT's, usually about 5.5% C8 and C10, and 3.5% lauric acid.
Concentrated MCT Oil Supplements
So how do you get a good source of MCT's? There's tons of highly concentrated MCT oils out there!
These supplements have extracted the "good" Medium Chain Triglycerides, aka C8 and C10, from the coconut oil (or palm oil) to give you a nicely concentrated product. The really good products will contain ONLY these MCT's. You'll have to do you research though, because a lot of companies don't label specifically what MCT's are in their product. Even some companies that have a really good oil, like NOW Foods, don't state that their product is all C8 and C10, no lauric acid - you have to do additional research to find that out!
What MCT products should I look for?
When purchasing an MCT oil supplement, you should find one that contains the benefits you are looking for at a good price.
Both of these MCT Oils from Amazon (check out our affiliate link disclaimer) are super awesome prices at around $20 for 32 fl oz. You can't get it better priced!
If you want rapid energy in the morning for your bulletproof coffee, then you want an MCT oil that contains a high amount of C8 and C10. This kind will be good for those who need a boost, or those who feel their wavering on the border of ketosis. This is the one we recommend:
If you are highly sensitive to diarrheal effects of MCT's, then you want one that contains slightly more lauric acid because it is digested more slowly. This is better for those with a sensitive stomach, or who only need moderate energy boosts. This is the one we recommend:
You can find MCT oils at Whole Foods, GNC's or other nutrition stores. Or you can purchase online of course!
If you already eat a lot of coconut oil and don't have problems staying in ketosis, then stick with your coconut oil! We're not judging. 🙂
How to take MCT Oil
MCT oil can be added to shakes, coffee or herbal teas. You can also just take a spoonful right down! Use the packages and serving sizes as recommended on the product that you purchase. One research article mentioned above said you can safely take 20-70 grams per day of MCT oil to help induce ketosis.
You should be eating way more grams of fat per day if you are on the keto diet, so just account for it when you track your macros. (If you need help calculating your macros for keto, go here).
Do NOT use MCT oil for cooking at high temperatures. Medium Chain Triglycerides have low smoke points, so the fats break down at medium and high temperatures.
Do I need MCT Oil for Keto?
MCT Oil is in no way is necessary for a successful ketogenic diet. However, it can definitely have some benefits. Like we mentioned above, it provides rapid energy for brain function in the morning. It can also be taken before exercise as an exercise enhancer. If the goal of your keto diet is weight loss, it can enhance weight loss because of the thermogenic effects and how less of it will be stored as fat.
If you've had an accidental cheat meal and need to get back to ketosis fast, MCT oil can lower glucose levels and increase ketones enough to get your body to ketosis. (Check out our other tips on how to get into ketosis fast!)
If you're already good at balancing the ketogenic diet, you may not find MCT oil to be worth the cost. Concentrated MCT oil is expensive! It's definitely cheaper than exogenous ketones, and has been shown to be just as effective in ketone production. If you're going to check it out, this is the MCT oil we recommend: basically, the best forms of MCT's in the most concentrated way at the least cost!
[i] "Medium Chain Triglyceride Oil Consumption as Part of a Weight Loss Diet Does Not Lead to an Adverse Metabolic Profile When Compared to Olive Oil." Marie-Pierre St-Onge, PhD, Aubrey Bosarge, BA, Laura Lee T. Goree, RD, MSc, and Betty Darnell, RD
[ii] "Medium-chain triglycerides are advantageous in promoting weight loss although not beneficial to exercise performance." Clegg, ME
[iii] "Medium-chain triglycerides are advantageous in promoting weight loss although not beneficial to exercise performance." Clegg, ME
[iv] "Medium-chain triglycerides are advantageous in promoting weight loss although not beneficial to exercise performance." Clegg, ME
[v] "Can ketones compensate for deteriorating brain glucose uptake during aging? Implications for the risk and treatment of Alzheimer's disease." Cunnane SC, Courchesne-Loyer A, St-Pierre V, Vandenberghe C, Pierotti T, Fortier M, Croteau E, Castellano CA.
[vi] "Fatty Acids Composition of Vegetable Oils and Its Contribution to Dietary Energy Intake and Dependence of Cardiovascular Mortality on Dietary Intake of Fatty Acids." Jana Orsavova, Ladislava Misurcova, Jarmila Vavra Ambrozova, Robert Vicha, and Jiri Mlcek