MCT oil is a common regimen among people on a ketogenic diet.
Often referred to simply as keto, a ketogenic diet is an eating plan that aims at lowering the intake of carbs while upping the consumption of fats to get the body to resort to burning fat as its primary energy source.
Normally, the body burns glucose (from carbohydrates in the diet) as its primary source of energy.
On a normal high-carb diet, there’s always some glucose that remains in the blood, which is converted into fats for storage. People who are trying to lose weight or build lean muscle often tear down their diet, conditioning the body to keep from storing fat and instead burn it for energy production. This is where keto comes in.
Keto induces the body into ketosis, a state in which the body starts making ketones which it then breaks down for energy. Ketones are organic compounds produced from the breakdown of fats in the liver.
Digestion of fats can be a slow process since much of the dietary fat is actually comprised of long-chain triglycerides (fatty acids with 13 – 21 carbons atoms bonded together). Trying to rely on such a slow digestion process could mean staying deprived of energy for extended lengths of time.
Medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) come in handy as a quick source of the much-needed energy. But how to choose the best mct oil? This guide is an attempt to answer that particular question.
Table of Contents
What is MCT oil?
This is a dietary supplement that contains medium-chain triglycerides, MCTs.
MCTs are a group of triglycerides (fats) made up of fairly short carbon chains in their structure compared to regular dietary fat, or long chain triglycerides (LCTs). In total, there are four types of medium-chain triglycerides, namely:
- Caproic acid (C6),
- Caprylic acid (C8),
- Capric acid (C10), and;
- Lauric acid (C12).
All four MCTs exist in coconut oil, the main natural source of MCT oil, in different amounts. About 7% of the oil is Caprylic acid, 8% is Capric acid, and 48% Lauric acid, with only trace amounts of Caproic acid.
The other natural sources of MCTs are palm kernel oil and dairy foods, which contain about 50% and 12% of the medium chain fatty acids respectively. All of these natural sources of MCTs contain varying quantities of several different MCTs.
Supplement manufacturers use the process of fractionation to extract and isolate the MCTs from these sources. They then package them into the various MCT oil varieties in the market.
Benefits of MCT oil and its side effects
MCT oil has numerous evidence-based benefits that come from the specific constituent MCTs. Ideally, the most efficient MCT oil for ketone production is Caprylic (C8) fatty acid. This is essentially because the MCT has shorter carbon chains (8 carbons) compared to capric and lauric acids which have 10 and 12 carbons in their chains respectively.
Support weight loss
As already hinted, MCTs encourage ketosis, a state characterized by optimum burning of fat for energy. Research suggests that medium-chain fatty acids help boost weight loss without causing muscle wasting or increasing cholesterol levels in the body.
Because they have fewer carbons in their chains, C8 and C10 MCTs are quickly and easily digested and used to produce energy.
The greater bioavailability means that the MCTs can support weight loss both by providing the quick energy needed for workout and for burning body fat. Based on the results of a small study, medium chain fatty acids are especially effective in fat oxidation because they are thermogenic in nature.
Thermogenesis is the production of body heat during the metabolism of foods such as MCTs for fuel.
The medium chain triglycerides also support weight loss by making you feel fuller for longer, so you won’t be craving for more food from time to time.
Taking MCT oil means that you’ll be swapping carbs for the fatty acids, which the body uses more efficiently than the fattening sugars. Even better, they normally result in ketones which is the other efficient source of energy.
Enhance brain health and function
Some supplement fans refer to MCT oil as a “rocket fuel” for the brain because of its tendency to instantly boost the brain’s power. The shorter chain triglycerides C8 and C10 are known to bypass the gall bladder, straight into the liver hence provide energy for the brain much quickly.
From the MCTs, the liver produces ketones, an alternative source of energy that has the potential to improve brain function.
Some research indicates that intake of MCT oils tend to alleviate the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, the most common cause of dementia globally. Researchers have speculated that ketones can provide an alternative energy source for these malfunctioning brain cells and reduce symptoms of Alzheimer’s.
Normally, some parts of the brain of Alzheimer’s patients tends to have reduced ability to use glucose for energy. Swapping glucose with ketones as the source of brain energy appears to be an effective workaround, exhibiting improved cognitive function among some patients with Alzheimer’s disease.
Improving gut health
Studies of various MCTs show them to have antimicrobial properties, meaning that they fight bad bacteria, viruses and yeast that could cause disease. More importantly, these fatty acids help boost the levels of probiotic bacteria in your gut, which is very essential in minimizing the side effects of some ketogenic diets.
You need a healthy gut to be able to absorb all fats and micronutrients in your ketogenic regimen. Taking MCTs help balance out the gut flora lining the walls of your digestive tract, ensuring that you get the most out of this diet.
This can be very helpful for those who would want to join the keto bandwagon but have problems digesting fat.
Side effects of MCT oil
While MCTs safe for most people to ingest right from the jar or whatever container they are in, MCT oil can cause diarrhea, irritability, vomiting, nausea, intestinal gas and sometimes stomach discomfort, if taken in large doses especially at the onset of a ketogenic diet.
For most people though, these side effects often dissipate and eventually disappear within a week or two, as the body gets accustomed to the new fat-heavy eating plan. Also, taking your MCTs with other foods such as coffee or fish might help reduce these side effects.
Types of MCT oil
MCT oil, which is taking the world of keto by storm due to its numerous science-backed benefits, is available in its pure liquid form, as well as in softgels and powdered form.
While liquid is the original, pure MCT oil form, manufacturers prefer to also make the other variants – capsules and powders – available in the market because of their relative benefits that suit different users.
These supplements are often pure caprylic acid (100% C8), pure capric acid (100% C10) or a mixture of the two. Some manufacturers also include Lauric acid (C12) in the mix, but most supplement manufacturers prefer to put the latter (C12) separately because of the debate surrounding it as having properties of LCTs.
Despite its otherwise good looking short carbon chain, Caproic acid (C6) is not often included in MCT oil because of its characteristic bad smell and taste.
Regardless of the form, MCT oil supplements are swiftly broken down and absorbed into the body for energy. They generally don’t require the action of bile and enzymes for digestion. Instead, they get absorbed directly in the first section of the small intestine called the duodenum.
However, the various forms of MCT oil have some comparing advantages and disadvantages that are important to consider when picking your best MCT oil supplement.
Liquid MCT Oil
Much of the liquid MCT Oil in the market is obtained from organic coconuts and can be pure C8 or a mixture of C8 and C10. As the purest form of MCT oil, this liquid is a clean source of pure MCTs (C8, C10, and sometimes C12). It is also proven to provide the brain with instant energy and is known to boost ketone production. Liquid MCT Oil is virtually flavorless and clear, so you can add it in just about every keto meal.
Being a liquid, carrying the oil around and storing it may be a bit challenging. It is also rather pricey particularly when it contains pure C8 MCTs alone. Additionally, the MCT oil can cause stomach upset because of its high concentration of potent MCTs.
To achieve the powdered form of MCT oil, the supplement manufacturers have to mix the MCT oil with a carrier substance which is usually a form of carbohydrate (starch), before spraying the mixture dry into a powder.
At the end, you often have a blend of C8 and corn fiber, C19 MCTs, and sometimes milk protein as well. This combination makes the MCT powder quite convenient and easy to use and to carry around. It’s also much easy to add to your solid and liquid dishes alike. Unlike the liquid MCT oil, the powder is typically easier on your digestive system.
The inclusion of starch, which is a form of carb in the MCT oil means that it can affect your blood glucose levels which is not good for keto. This way, the powdered MCT oil is generally less potent than pure MCT oil.
Those who have trouble tolerating pure MCT Oil can go for the capsules as they are fairly kinder to the gut.
If you are travelling, the MCT softgels can be a great alternative to the pure MCT oil. You can use them on the go, by swallowing them just as you do any other capsule or add them to your coffee. They’re the most convenient among the MCT supplements available.
MCT capsules contain no carbs, meaning that they won’t spike your blood sugar levels. Since they’re protected by gelatin-based softgels, the MCTs won’t go rancid, so you can enjoy using them for long.
Few manufacturers provide MCTs in form of capsules. The softgels enclosing the MCTs mean that the supplement will take longer to digest. You also cannot incorporate this form of MCTs into most of your keto dishes.
With regards to the supplements’ ketone production properties, pure MCT oil is the best hands down. The liquid is however less convenient to carry around when travelling, in which case you may want to think about MCT capsules instead.
All three forms of MCT oil are however almost equally easy to use and should be good options for any user – so you’ll want to go for what really suits your specific needs best.
MCT oil vs coconut oil
There is a bit of crossover between MCT oil and coconut oil as they are the two major sources of MCTs for keto diehards. It’s important however to realize that the two aren’t exactly the same.
First off, straight up MCT oil doesn’t exist naturally. It is a supplement that is manufactured by extracting and isolating the respective MCTs mainly from coconut oil. Coconut oil on the other hand is obtained naturally from coconuts.
Also, while coconut oil contains all four types of MCTs in different concentrations, MCT oil often contains 100% of one or more of the MCTs – usually C8 and/or C10.
MCT oil is a faster source of energy
The pure MCTs in MCT oil often bypass the gall-bladder and instead go straight to the liver. This makes pure MCT oil an ideal source of instant energy, especially for the brain.
Even though coconut oil is quite rich in MCTs, it contains small amounts of LCTs which generally take longer to digest. As such, it is comparatively a less efficient source of quick energy.
This characteristic is further compounded by the fact that coconut oil is about 50 percent lauric acid (C12), which is a pseudo MCT. The fatty acid responds as a long chain triglyceride in the body, even though is it considered an MCT.
The large amounts of lauric acid and LCTs mean that you may have to wait for longer for the ketones to kick in if you use coconut oil.
This large amount of lauric acid makes coconut oil quite good for your immunity though. Once it hits your body, it is immediately converted to monolaurin, a special agent that supports the body’s immune system in numerous ways (10). Using coconut oil to cook your keto foods can therefore be a good way to achieve overall good health.
Pure MCT oil has no odor or color
With its trace amounts of Caproic acid (C6) and a number of other long chain triglycerides, coconut oil has a characteristic smell and is normally white in color. MCT oil on the other hand is colorless and virtually odorless, of course unless it is in powdered or capsules form. This is why it is normally convenient to add to coffee and other keto dishes without a problem.
MCT oil is heat intolerant
The other important difference is that coconut oil is quite stable and is often used for cooking. MCT oil, however, is heat intolerant and cannot be used for cooking. The high temperatures might denature the MCTs before you can get them.
Just like MCT oil, coconut oil has some huge benefits that you may want to leverage, particularly the antimicrobial properties of its lauric acid. Nonetheless, if you are seeing to maximize your lean mass or weight loss benefits of the MCTs then it is a good idea to take them in large doses, which means going for MCT oil instead of coconut oil.
What to keep in mind when buying MCT Oil?
For starters, C8 MCT has fewer carbons (8 carbon atoms) in its molecular chains compared to capric acid (C10) and lauric acid (C12) which have 10 and 12 carbon atoms in their molecular carbon chains.
While this may seem trivial since all three are medium chain triglycerides, they don’t exactly behave the same as far as ketone producing speeds are concerned. Increasing the length of the carbon chain by just 2 carbons can actually slow down the diffusion rate by up to 100 times according to research.
C8 and C10 are more easily digested than C12
Still, the bottom line is that Caprylic and Capric acids are generally more easily digested, absorbed, and utilized by the human body compared to lauric acid which has longer carbon chains and resemble LCTs in its properties.
So, if you are looking to get the most ketones from your MCTs fast, the most efficient MCT oil for you to buy would ideally be that with 100% C8 MCT (caprylic acid).
However, due to cost and availability considerations, you may still opt for MCT oils containing a combination of C8 and C10 MCTs and still draw the quick ketone producing properties from the supplement.
Pure MCT oil or capsules are the better form for keto
Powdered MCT oil may be appealing, but the powder is often loaded with carbs that could spike your blood sugar levels, not good for keto. As such, it’s a good idea to go for either pure, liquid MCT oil or softgels.
How to use your MCT oil?
Because MCT oils are generally colorless and odorless, especially the capsules and pure liquid forms, you can easily add the supplement to your morning coffee to kickstart your days in a high note. Many users find the MCT oil infused coffee to have such a great taste.
Add it to other keto meals, before workout
Just like your morning coffee, MCT oil can hugely improve the flavor of your other keto meals such as chicken. The colorless and odorless property makes the best MCT oils perfect for use with muffins, smoothies, soups, and even salad dressings.
Just remember to keep your intake modest, within the recommended daily amounts so you don’t risk experiencing side effects such as stomach upset and diarrhea. Also, taking the MCT oil before workout is recommended as this has been found to help preserve muscle glycogen (14)
The recommended MCT oil dosage
There’s little clarity with regards to the exact dosage for MCT oil for one to maximize the health benefits from the supplement. Many manufacturers however suggest 1–3 tablespoons a day on their product labels.
To avoid any adverse side effects from the get go, you may want to start your MCT diet with small doses, such as one teaspoon a day, then increase your intake with time.
Choosing the best MCT oil starts with knowing what to look for, even before you know where to look. You also stand a better chance of avoiding low-quality products loaded with fillers and other unimportant ingredients that are abounding in the supplement market if you buy from a reputable manufacturer. So, before you put your hard-earned cash into purchasing any MCT oil supplement, ensure that everything checks out as far as your specific needs and health goals are concerned. This write-up should be your guide all the way.