The ketogenic diet is all about finding the right ratio of dietary fats, carbohydrates, and proteins to reach optimal metabolic function. When you eat enough healthy fats in the absence of carbohydrates, your body begins to produce and then metabolise ketones for fuel, which — if done correctly — eventually leads to blood sugar regulation and body fat loss over time.
One of the most important elements of the keto diet is sourcing healthy fats, especially those that help maximise ketosis. And MCT oil (medium-chain triglycerides, specifically C8 MCT oil) is the number one oil that fits that bill.
Because of its lower smoke point (170 degrees Celsius), MCT oil isn't an oil that we recommend you cook with. Rather, it's an oil you can add to your salad dressings, bulletproof coffee, protein shakes or other cold foods. It's an excellent energy source for those on the keto diet because medium-chain fatty acids are easily converted into fuel and burned by your body as energy.
But not all MCT oils have the same beneficial effects on your metabolism. Let's take a deep dive into the various MCT fatty acids, why some are better than others and the benefits of MCT oil to your overall health and wellness.
Quick Chemistry Lesson
Fat molecules aren't all the same. There are short-chain, medium-chain, and long-chain fatty acids that range in length from 2 to 22 carbon atoms. Many dietary sources of fat contain a combination of these various types, but some are more concentrated in certain foods. The fat is classified by the length of the chain of carbon atoms:
- Short-chain triglycerides (SCTs) are a chain of less than 6 carbon atoms .
- Medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) are a chain of 6-12 carbon atoms .
- Long-chain triglycerides (LCTs) are a chain of greater than 12 carbon atoms .
Without getting too deep into the actual mechanics, certain types of dietary fat fall into these ranges, each having its own effect on your metabolism, energy levels, cardiovascular health, brain health and fat-burning abilities. Within these categories, there are both saturated and unsaturated fats. Today we'll focus on MCT oils, but many high-quality foods you enjoy on the keto diet contain a combination of these lipids.
The length of the chain corresponds with the number after the 'C', so C6 MCT oil has six carbon atoms, C8 MCT oil has eight, etc. The most common types of MCTs found in our food supply are C6 (caproic acid), C8 (caprylic acid), C10 (capric acid) and C12 (lauric acid), all of which naturally occur in coconut oil and palm kernel oil .
Each type of MCT behaves a little bit differently in your body:
- C6 (caproic acid triglycerides): C6 is liquid at room temperature (although still considered a saturated fat), slightly water-soluble and has a pungent and sour odour. Interestingly, it's used commercially as an artificial flavour enhancer, but is generally left out of MCT oil due to its undesirable flavour and smell .
- C8 (caprylic acid triglycerides): Totally odourless and liquid at room temp, C8 boosts ketone production and fat loss and increases energy . C8 MCT oil also offers antimicrobial properties. It's the most optimal MCT for ketone production .
- C10 (capric acid triglycerides): Behaves similarly to caprylic acid (C8), but the conversion from fatty acids into ketones takes a bit longer with this one. Many MCT products you'll find on the shelf will contain both C8 and C10 . Some find that a blend of C8 and C10 is more gentle on the stomach than a pure C8.
- C12 (lauric acid triglycerides): While C12 also possesses antimicrobial properties, the length of the carbon chain adds even more time for your body to convert this type of fat to ketone energy (acting more like a long-chain fatty acid). For this reason, it's not as ideal as pure C8 MCT oil for raising your ketone levels .
Of these four MCTs, the most beneficial for your low-carb diet are C8 and C10, due to their rapid digestibility and lack of odour. Lauric acid, while still moderately beneficial, is generally excluded from commercially sold MCT oil due to its slower digestion time (it acts more like a longer chain fat).
All four of these MCTs are found in dairy products like butter, milk and cheese, as well as in coconut oil and palm kernel oil. There are often ethical problems with sourcing palm kernel oil, so always be vigilant about sourcing before purchasing it or MCTs derived from it. Coconut oil is especially high in lauric acid, which is why the refining process to remove lauric from plain coconut oil is so beneficial. Coconut oil is a great addition to a low-carb diet, but pure MCTs are more beneficial for those following a keto lifestyle or if you are looking to support ketone levels.
Health Benefits of MCT Oils
MCT oil is touted as the perfect keto food-based supplement because of the many health benefits that it's been shown to offer. We know that one of the main benefits of going keto is the rapid fat-burning that results from a metabolic transformation from burning glucose for fuel to fat via ketosis. Because of this transformation, your body utilises both dietary and body fat for fuel which can aid in weight loss.
When you choose pure C8 MCT oil or a product that combines C8 and C10, you're providing the most optimal fat source for your body to burn. That's because, due to their carbon chain length, MCTs are rarely ever stored in your body as fat (unless you overconsume them). Rather, they're your body's first and most efficient choice for fuel and are generally used right away .
MCTs are not only lower in calories than long-chain triglycerides, but they may also keep you fuller for longer . This is useful if you're choosing which oil to use when making a cold item (like salad dressing or a smoothie), but you can't use pure C8 or C10 MCT oil to cook, but there are still benefits of consuming LCTs in your keto diet from extra virgin coconut oil via use as a cooking oil. Extra virgin coconut oil is an excellent oil to use for cooking, as the lauric acid stabilises the other lipids so that you can cook with it at higher temperatures than MCT oil.
There's also reason to believe that MCTs can boost your calorie- and fat-burning abilities when compared to LCTs, eventually leading to greater weight loss and fat loss. This has been shown in both human and animal studies, but at least one study showed that the fat-burning effects may wear off a few weeks in once your body is fat-adapted 
Long-Term Health Benefits
One study showed that capric, caprylic and caproic acids reduced cancer cell viability by 70-90% for human colorectal, skin and mammary gland cancer cells when compared to controls . While we aren't making any claims that MCTs can cure cancer, this line of research is worth pursuing and could be a compelling reason to add MCTs into your diet.
MCTs may also have a positive cardiovascular benefit. While there's conflicting research, some studies show that MCT oils can lower overall cholesterol as well as increase HDL blood cholesterol (good cholesterol) and decrease LDL (bad cholesterol). More research needs to be done in this area to be able to make more definitive claims, but these findings, as well as the research on the keto diet in general, could mean great things for heart health .
We know that the ketogenic diet was initially developed to help reduce the effects of neurological disorders, especially epilepsy in children. MCT oils may also be useful in supporting brain health due to its ability to cross the blood-brain barrier.
Small-scale studies have researched MCT oil's effect on Alzheimer's disease and dementia with promising findings . Again, there's a lot more to explore in this area before any treatments might be prescribed.
Add C8 MCT Oil to Your Paleo, Low-Carb or Keto Diet
MCTs are naturally occurring most potently in foods like dairy products and other animal fats, as well as coconut oil and palm kernel oil. The most optimal MCTs to support a healthy diet and maximum fat-burn are C8 and C10. You can find them on their own or in combination with each other. Our MCT oil is derived from organic coconut oil and is the perfect ingredient to add to your morning coffee, matcha green tea, salad dressing or green smoothie. Head over to our MCT oil recipe page to find a variety of creative ways to include more MCT oil into your diet.
All information provided on our website and within our articles is simply information, opinion, anecdotal thoughts and experiences to provide you with the tools to thrive.
It is not intended to treat or diagnose symptoms and is definitely not intended to be misconstrued for medical advice. We always advise you seek the advice of a trained professional when implementing any changes to your lifestyle and dietary habits.
We do however recommend seeking the services of a trained professional who questions the conventional wisdom to enable you to become the best version of yourself.