What is MCT Oil and How Does It Help on A Keto Diet?


What is MCT oil?

MCT stands for medium-chain triglycerides, which are medium-sized fat. Just like Goldilocks searching for her perfect fit, the molecule size is not too short nor too long but just right when it comes to its amazing benefits.

In our diets, we are accustomed to eating foods containing longer chain fats or long-chain triglycerides. Foods such as meat, fish, dairy, olive oil, avocados, nuts, and seeds are some examples of these LCFs. These longer, larger fats need some assistance getting through the small intestine into the body. First of all, they require bile for emulsification. The bile is made in the liver and then secreted by the gallbladder. Then, they are packaged into a transport molecule (called a chylomicron) where they are taken to the liver before being distributed to the rest of the body.

The unique medium size of MCTs provides some incredible health properties. Perhaps most importantly, MCTs can skip much of this digestive process that the long-chain fats need. MCTs don’t require bile for emulsification and absorption making digestion much simpler. Once in the body, they are available to be used as energy and can be converted into ketones, supporting all of the metabolic and anti-inflammatory properties of ketosis.

Another incredible benefit is that MCTs aren’t stored as fat in the body like longer fats or excess sugars are. MCTs are always used for energy. Interestingly, they are preferentially used as an energy source so when they are consumed, MCTs provide an almost immediate boost in energy. This is a pretty incredible and quite a unique feature – one that doesn’t come from many other sources, and exactly why MCTs can be very supportive of a keto diet.

Let’s understand a little bit more about the group of MCT fats and where they are found in the diet.

All fats are characterized by how long their carbon chain is. Here are the fatty acids that collectively make up the MCTs:

  • Caproic acid or C6 (six carbons): is the shortest of the MCTs and therefore the easiest for the body to turn into fuel. Because of this C6 is most well-known for its benefits to energy.
  • Caprylic acid or C8 (eight carbons): is the second shortest MCT and still quite easy for the body to turn into fuel. C8 has the added benefits of fighting infections and reducing inflammation.
  • Capric acid or C10 (ten carbons): is the third shortest MCT and also benefits energy production and supports immunity.
  • Lauric acid or C12 (twelve carbons): is the longest of the MCTs and has less of the metabolic and energy benefits that we’ve been discussing; however, it is incredibly antimicrobial. C12 converts to a compound called monolaurin which can kill pathogens including viruses and gut infections. It also promotes weight loss.

Personally, I recommend the whole food MCT oils that contain a natural combination of the MCTs.

MCTs are naturally found in the highest concentrations in coconut oil and MCTs account for nearly 65% of coconut oil. The next highest source of MCTs is palm oil. Smaller amounts of MCTs occur in grass-fed butter, ghee, and other high-fat dairy products.

Most of the MCT oil you will find commercially comes from coconut oil that has been concentrated into 100% MCT oil liquids or powders.

When choosing MCT oil high quality and organic are extremely important. 80% of conventional MCT oils contain traces of mold, toxins (including pesticides) and heavy metals. Instead of natural extraction methods, hexane extraction is often used. Also, because MCT oil is not regulated, many available products lack proper standards of safety testing protocols. Look for companies that are transparent about their sourcing of MCT oil, their extraction process and who test for quality and purity of their oil. This will ensure you are getting all of the benefits possible when including MCT oil in your keto diet.

How MCT Oil Helps on a Keto Diet

MCTs have many benefits independent of diet, but when combined with a ketogenic diet the results can be quite amazing!

Ketones are considered to be the fourth macronutrient – protein, carbs, fat, and ketones. All can be used by the body for energy production. What is unique about ketones is that they are produced by the body itself and are actually the most efficient source of fuel. More energy is available to the body when it is running on ketones instead of sugar (glucose). If you’ve ever been in ketosis you can certainly attest to the increased energy that you feel!

Whether you are a keto pro or new to this lifestyle, MCT oil is one of the most important tools in your keto toolkit.

In a sense, including MCTs in the diet “teach” the body how to make ketones by driving more consistent ketone production. This can really help the body become more efficient at both making ketones and using them for fuel, which provides incredibly powerful support during the transition from being a primarily sugar burner to a fat burner. Bottom line: MCTs can help the body to get into ketosis.

Studies even show that MCTs themselves help to increase ketone production in the body (1). Interestingly, the best MCT oil for keto is emulsified MCT, which can raise ketone levels even higher (2), making creamy MCTs the perfect MCT oil for keto.

This powerful combination of MCT oil and increased ketones means:

  • Improved weight by stabilizing appetite and blood sugar. When ketones are being used as fuel, metabolism increases from increased thermogenesis (heat).
  • Improved energy from a more consistent energy supply and efficient use of ketones.
  • Improved brain health from increased ketone utilization by the brain that translates to increased brain metabolism and performance.
  • Improved blood sugar balance. As ketones go up, blood sugar (blood glucose) goes down.

One other benefit worth mentioning is how MCT oil can be incredibly beneficial and supportive of digestion. When transitioning to a high-fat diet, especially for those who have a history of low-fat dieting, have digestive issues or who may have had their gallbladder removed, MCTs can be much easier to digest than other fats. As the body and the digestive system adapt to a high-fat eating model, MCT oil may provide the missing link.