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MCT Oil: the Ultimate "Performance Fat" for the Keto Diet
By Rachel Link, RD, MS
July 21, 2020
Let’s start with the basics: What is MCT oil? And why is MCT oil good for the keto diet?
The “MCT” in MCT oil stands for medium-chain triglycerides, a form of saturated fatty acid that is found in certain foods like coconut/coconut oil. MCT oil is a concentrated source of these fats since it provides more than would be found in whole foods like coconuts.
To do the ketogenic (keto) diet correctly — which can have benefits such as support for supporting energy levels and help with weight management — you need to consume high amounts of fat from your diet, while also restricting carbohydrates to very low levels.
When it comes to providing your body with an easily utilized source of energy in the form of dietary fat, not all fats are created equal.
Different types of foods and oils provide different types of fatty acids. Medium-chain triglycerides is the type the body uses efficiently to create ketone bodies, the source of “fuel” the body runs off of while in ketosis.
What’s the easiest way to increase your intake? In addition to the fats in the keto diet, you can supplement with a high quality, organic MCT oil.
Compared to short-chain and long-chain triglycerides (or LCTs), MCTs (also sometimes called “MCFAs” for medium-chain fatty acids) are thought to be more easily converted to ketones because the body has to do less work breaking apart their carbon bonds.
MCTs are broken down readily in the liver and can have a thermogenic effect, giving them the ability to help support a healthy metabolism.
Helps the body create ketones and get into ketosis — Ketones have many benefits, such as helping to support healthy energy levels and managing your appetite.
Can help with healthy weight management — MCTs may help to blunt hunger and assist in calorie control. These fats essentially signal to the brain that the body is receiving adequate energy; therefore, the desire to overeat may be reduced.
Increases energy and reduces fatigue
Can boost exercise endurance and performance
Supports cognitive function (enhanced focus, mental stamina and concentration) — Ketones can cross the blood-brain barrier and are used by the brain efficiently for fuel, which is why some people report feeling more productive and clear-headed when they supplement with MCT oil.
Easy to digest
Can make intermittent fasting easier — Because ketones keep your energy up and hunger in check, using MCT oil to boost ketone levels is a smart way to make intermittent fasting on keto more doable.
How do you take MCT oil on a keto diet? MCT oil has a neutral, mostly unnoticeable taste and smell. This means it can be added to all types of recipes without changing the flavor.
MCT oil is usually treated like a keto supplement, but not often used to cook with. For example, some people take MCT by the spoonful to help with production of ketones. Because quality MCT oil can be expensive, you probably wouldn’t want to waste much of it when cooking, especially since coconut oil makes a good cooking-alternative. However, MCT oil is capable of withstanding high heat, so if you’d like, you can use both coconut oil and MCT oil in baked goods, sautés, stir-fries and grilled foods without it going rancid or oxidizing.
Most people find that MCT oil works best in recipes when it’s blended. This helps to create a smooth texture. Try blending it into recipes, whether alone or in combination with other fats, including smoothies, oatmeal, marinades, homemade mayonnaise and salad dressings.
Blending is especially recommended if you’re using “un-emulsified” MCT oil. If you want to avoid blending, such as when adding MCT oil to coffee, try using emulsified MCT oil that mixes much more easily at any temperature.
When first introducing MCT oil to your diet, start with a smaller amount, such as one teaspoon or even less, and slowly increase how much you use depending on how you feel. If you seem to be reacting well to MCT oil, then work your way up to taking about one tablespoon daily.
It’s important to point out that consuming MCT oil is not a short-cut to getting into ketosis or for healthy weight management. You can think of MCT oil on the keto diet as one tool in your toolbox since it helps with ketone production, but ultimately you’ll still need to eat a clean, high-fat, low-carb diet to get into ketosis and stay there.
What kind of MCT oil is best for keto? There are four different kinds of MCTs: caprioc, caprylic, capric and lauric acids. When it comes to creating ketones, the shorter the chain (meaning the lower the number of carbons the acid has), the faster the body can turn the fatty acids into usable energy.
Caprioc and caprylic acids have fewer carbons than capric and lauric acids do; therefore, they are best at helping your body to create ketones.
MCT oils usually have two or even all four types of MCTs. Many MCT oils will contain either 100 percent caprylic acid (C8), 100 percent capric acid (C10) or a combination of these two.
For support getting into ketosis, the best type of MCT oil for keto is the type that’s highest in the MCTs caprylic acids (also called C8) and to a lesser extent capric acid (also called C10), as opposed to lauric acid/C12:0. When supplementing with MCT oil on keto, some suggest choosing brands that are labeled pure C8 MCT oil, or those that contain a mix of C8 and C10. Overall, C8 is considered the most ketogenic type of MCT.
Be sure to always buy a high-quality MCT oil that clearly states what the ingredients are and how it was produced. Superior oils are made through processes like triple steam distillation, rather than using chemical solvents. You want to avoid buying MCT oil that contains cheap fillers, so spending a bit more is worth the investment.
Ancient Nutrition’s Keto Fusion Organic MCT Oil offers several unique benefits in a formula you can trust:
100% organic, hexane-free, no filler oils or other additives
Provides 14 grams of fat per serving to naturally supports natural ketone and energy levels in the body.
Our Turmeric flavor combines organic turmeric oil with organic coconut-derived medium-chain triglycerides. It features curcumin, turmerones, caprylic acid and capric acid.
Our Black Seed formula combines black cumin seed extract and cinnamon bark essential oil for added metabolic support.
In addition to our concentrated MCT oils, you’ll find MCTs in Ancient Nutrition’s Keto Brain products, which feature an energizing combination of six nootropics, MCT fats and adaptogenic herbs.
Keto BRAIN is designed to support your cognitive health by promoting a positive outlook, boosting focus, energy, mental stamina and concentration, and reducing fatigue. Our powdered formula can be mixed right with water or your favorite beverage for a quick pick-me-up plus lasting support to fuel you through your day.
Will coconut oil provide the same benefits as MCT oil for ketosis?
Another way to consume MCTs is by incorporating coconut oil into your diet, which is a natural source of MCTs.
But keep in mind that MCT oil is a more concentrated source of medium-chain fats compared to coconut oil, and MCT oil also contains different proportions of MCTs than coconut oil.
Lauric acid, the type found in high quantities in coconut oil, behaves almost like a long-chain triglyceride in many ways and less like a MCT. Because it has more carbons, it takes more work to break down, so it’s less efficient at being used for ketone production compared to other types of MCTs.
The good thing about coconut oil, however, is that it’s very versatile; you can cook with it, or add it to things like coffee, smoothies, etc. Coconut oil also doesn’t need to be blended, is suitable for high-heat cooking, and has a pleasant taste.
Smaller amounts of MCTs can also be found in other foods that contain saturated fats, including grass-fed butter, cheeses, palm oil (I strongly ecommend RSPO-certified palm oil), whole milk and full-fat yogurt.
As always, you should consult your healthcare professional prior to any dietary or lifestyle change, including using MCT oil. You should also always follow label directions.
Medium-chain triglycerides, which are concentrated in MCT oil, help produce ketones when someone follows the ketogenic diet.
The best MCT oil for keto is oil that is high in the MCTs called caprylic acids (also called C8) and capric acid (also called C10:0), as opposed to lauric acid/C12:0.
MCTs, especially C8, metabolize quickly in the liver and help support production of ketones. Benefits of MCT for the keto diet can include help managing your appetite, support for a healthy metabolism and healthy weight management, support for healthy energy levels, and help with physical performance.