If you’re cutting back on carbs, you’ve probably heard of MCT oil. This keto-friendly fat is known for boosting energy, deepening ketosis, and promoting fat loss.
Is what they say true? Is MCT oil a zero-carb miracle food?
Miracle food might be a stretch, but MCT oil does have many research-backed benefits. In a moment, you’ll learn these benefits, MCT oil side effects, and how to use MCT oil on the keto diet. First, though, let’s cover some basics.
What Is MCT Oil?
MCT oil is short for medium-chain triglyceride oil. The oil is usually derived from coconuts, a rich source of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs).
A triglyceride, by the way, is a trio of fatty acids roped together by a glycerol molecule. It’s the storage form of fat for plants and animals.
So when you eat fat, it’s in triglyceride form. During digestion, these triglycerides are split apart and the fatty acids are released to be oxidized (burned) for energy.
A bit more background info now. Triglycerides are made of short-chain fatty acids, medium-chain fatty acids, or long-chain fatty acids. The length of the fatty acid (short, medium, or long) depends on the number of carbon atoms in the molecule.
Medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) are made of medium-chain fatty acids that are 6 to 12 carbon atoms long.[*] Here are the 4 main types of MCTs:
- C6: caproic acid
- C8: caprylic acid
- C10: capric acid
- C12: lauric acid
Different MCTs have different profiles. C6 is fairly unpalatable, while C12 doesn’t have significant ketogenic properties.[*] That leaves C8 and C10 as the ideal MCTs for keto benefits.
Keto benefits? That’s right. When ingested, C8 and C10 head straight to the liver to produce the beneficial molecule—the ketone—for which the keto diet is named.[*]
MCT Oil Benefits
Why take MCT oil? Consider the following science-backed benefits.
#1: Brain benefits
Most of the time, your brain runs entirely on a simple sugar called glucose. But when ketones are present, your brain burns ketones too.
Relevant here: MCTs elevate ketones, and elevated ketones have brain benefits. Let’s review a few examples.
In one trial, older folks who consumed MCTs performed better on a series of cognitive tests.[*] They weren’t limiting carbs, but they got the benefits anyway.
MCTs are also promising for neurological diseases. One study showed that MCTs improved memory in those with Alzheimer’s disease[*], and other research suggests that adding MCTs to a ketogenic diet alleviated seizures in children with epilepsy.[*]
#2: Weight loss
Does MCT oil help with weight loss? Several studies suggest it can.[*][*][*]
For instance, one paper in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that MCT oil helped folks lose more weight than olive oil on a calorie-restricted program.[*] There are likely a couple of things driving this benefit.
For one, MCTs may increase overall calorie burn. How? By influencing the gut microbiome.[*]
Also, MCTs boost satiety hormones like leptin and peptide YY.[*] Staying satiated reduces compulsive snacking that can derail weight loss efforts.
Lastly, MCT oil stimulates fat burning in the liver. More fat burning, better energy, easier weight loss.
#3: Easier keto transition
Heard of keto flu? It’s a constellation of symptoms (headaches, fatigue, low energy) that often plague newbie keto dieters.
These symptoms may be driven, in part, by the brain’s reluctance to utilize ketones for energy. By boosting ketones, MCT oil may give the brain a beneficial nudge.[*]
Unlike other fats, MCT oil doesn’t need bile to be digested. It just catches the express train (aka, the portal vein) to your liver to provide a rapid energy boost.
There’s scant evidence that MCTs enhance human performance, but MCTs have been shown to enhance swimming performance in mice.[*]
#5: Antimicrobial properties
Capric acid, caprylic acid, and lauric acid each have inhibitory effects against various pathogens.[*] For example, coconut-based MCTs have been shown to inhibit the growth of Candida albicans, a common cause of fungal infection.[*]
Understand, however, that most of this research was conducted in test tubes. Can MCT oil actually treat infections in humans? That’s not clear.
MCT Oil Side Effects
Depending on the dose and the person, MCT oil may cause digestive symptoms such as gas, bloating, diarrhea, and stomach pain. That’s the main reported side effect.
Megadoses of MCT oil have also been shown to increase liver fat in rodents[*], but these doses are 5 to 10 times higher than the advised upper limit for humans.[*]
How To Use MCT Oil
To avoid GI disturbance, the trick is to start slow with MCT oil. Begin with one teaspoon and ante up from there.
The safe upper limit is 4 to 7 tablespoons per day, but most people take 1 to 3 tablespoons.[*] Play around until you find your sweet spot.
If you’ve never tried it, MCT oil has a neutral flavor with a hint of coconut. Spoon it down directly, mix it into a smoothie, put it in your coffee, or make a keto iced mocha. You can’t go wrong with any of these options.
You can also take MCT oil while intermittent fasting. Although MCTs contain calories, they shouldn’t meaningfully interfere with the benefits of fasting. They might even enhance the fast by deepening ketosis.
You can also try MCT oil powder. It has the same effects as MCT oil, though it tends to be pricier.
Also, MCT powders require a carrier that the MCT oil is sprayed onto. In most cases, this carrier is maltodextrin—not recommended on a real food or keto lifestyle. These carriers also aren’t always declared on the ingredients label, so for the cleanest form of MCT opt for a 100% liquid coconut MCT oil. .
Again, shop for MCT oils—like Hunter & Gather MCT oil—made with C8 (caprylic acid) and C10 (capric acid). Those are the MCTs with the keto benefits.
MCT Oil on Keto and Beyond
MCT oil is the most ketogenic of keto fats, but you don’t have to be keto to get the benefits. As you’ll recall, MCTs improved cognition in non-keto elderly folks.[*]
Whatever your diet looks like, consider adding MCT oil to your routine. Not only does it contain zero carbs, but it boosts ketone levels, provides rapid energy, and stimulates fat burning. Not a bad set of benefits, right?
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