In short, the ketogenic diet entails restricting carbohydrates significantly so that your body switches to using fat for energy. As a result of fat metabolism, simple molecules called ketone bodies/ketones are made by the liver and you enter a state of “ketosis.”
Ketones are a form of “alternative fuel” for your brain and body. These molecules have a myriad of benefits, with research showing that can greatly reduce the risk of many debilitating health conditions, including type-2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease, dementia, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and possibly even cancer.1
So, where do medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) fit in with all of this? Read on as this article details what MCTS are, how they work, and the benefits of using an MCT supplement on keto.
What Are Medium-Chain Triglycerides (MCTs)?
MCTs are a special class of triglycerides (fats) that contain between 6-12 carbons in their fatty acid chain structure. Why does this matter, you ask? Most dietary fats are long-chain triglycerides, which are digested and absorbed through the lymphatic system.
MCTs, on the other hand, are rapidly absorbed through the portal system and readily hydrolyzed (broken down) in the lower intestine and efficiently converted to energy for organs and muscle tissue. In addition, MCTs act as precursors to ketones (meaning they help your body produce more ketones).
Think of MCTs like quick-acting and long-lasting energy that doesn’t produce the blood sugar swings and crashing that sugar does. Sounds pretty awesome, right? That’s just the tip of the iceberg…
On that note, let’s take a look at how MCTs work and why they should be a staple in your healthy lifestyle.
How do MCTs Work?
Using a quality MCT supplement like nourishes your body with an instant supply of C8 and C10 MCTs to utilize and amplify the fat-loss effects of a ketogenic diet. Essentially, consuming gives your body the most efficient ketone body precursors, thereby providing fuel for your brain, skeletal muscles, gut, and many other tissues and vital organs in the body.
While MCTs are generally best when used in conjunction with the ketogenic diet, even those on higher-carb diets can benefit by using these healthy fats.
In many ways, MCTs are the optimal energy source for your body since they go to work immediately and provide long-lasting benefits. (Contrast that with sugar and starchy carbs, which typically provide a short burst of energy followed by a crash that leaves you feeling lethargic and mentally foggy.)
In addition to the energy that MCTs provide, these unique saturated fats have a myriad of other health benefits.
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5 Benefits of MCTs on Keto
Now that you have a better idea of what MCTs are and how they work, let’s dive into five benefits of MCTs on keto. It’s important to note that many of these benefits stem from the fact that MCTs help your body produce more ketones as part of a ketogenic diet. In other words, MCTs are great for helping you get into ketosis.
MCTs Encourage Your Body to Burn Fat for Energy
When you’re on the keto diet, your body will stop depending on sugar (glucose) to produce energy. The neat thing about MCTs is that they go to work quickly, in a similar fashion to sugar, but the big difference is that MCTs last longer and won’t cause you to crash or experience mood swings like sugar often does.
As such, consuming MCTs prior to exercise or any time of the day you want quick and long-lasting energy is arguably the best way to fuel to your body (especially on keto).
MCTs Enhance Cognitive Function
Most fats don’t readily cross the blood-brain barrier, but ketones do. Research shows that ketones have powerful benefits in the human brain by providing fuel for neurons (nerve cells) and even increasing levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) – a molecule that stimulates neurons to grow and multiply.2 In this regard, MCTs are like food for your brain.
MCTs Help Lower Cholesterol and Blood Sugar
Contrary to long-chain fats (LCTs), MCTs have anti-coagulation properties and have been shown to reduce total cholesterol levels (particularly in the liver).3 In other words, MCTs help your arteries stay free from fatty deposits that can clog them and obstruct blood flow (which may lead to an increased risk of heart attacks and strokes).
Moreover, MCTs have metabolic and cardiovascular benefits by slightly reducing blood sugar levels, which is favorable for managing type-2 diabetes and those who are prediabetic.4
MCTs Help Promote Satiety
MCTs are some of the best nutrients for curbing your food cravings, which is a welcome benefit if your main goal is weight loss. In addition to MCTs having 9 calories per gram, the ketones they help your body produce also positively impact appetite by increasing the production of a hormone called cholecystokinin, or CCK for short.
Research shows that ketosis increases CCK levels, even on a low-calorie diet (making the weight loss process much more bearable).5
MCTs May Increase Metabolic Rate
Several studies demonstrate that ketogenic diets (which are inherently higher in dietary fats) increase mitochondrial uncoupling protein (UCP) activity.6,7 UCPs are a class of special cellular proteins in mitochondria that modulate proton gradients and oxidative phosphorylation.
UCPs primarily work by dissipating the proton gradients across the inner membrane of mitochondria, which causes energy to be lost (and heat is generated). Therefore, UCPs are a direct player in thermogenesis.
Don’t worry if that sounds like a mouthful, we will make this easy to understand. In non-science lingo, UCPs are like the vehicles that drive calorie burning. The more active your UCPs are, the more calories you burn (i.e. the greater your metabolic rate becomes).
The studies show that UCPs – especially UCP1 – are switched on by free fatty acids, like caprylic acid and caproic acid from .
There is also preliminary evidence that MCTs increase the number of mitochondria in cells (a process known as mitochondrial biogenesis).8 This is just another nerdy way of saying MCTs can enhance your metabolism.
Coconut Oil vs. MCT Oil
Coconut is nature’s best source of MCTs, especially lauric acid. In fact, the vast majority of MCT oil and MCT powders you find on the market are made by refining/purifying coconut oil. Coconut is known to have a multitude of benefits in humans, including support for healthy gastrointestinal integrity, reducing the risk of infection, promoting cardiovascular function, and more.9
However, consuming coconut oil is not the same as consuming MCT oil. High-quality MCT supplements like contain no lauric acid (C12) and a high concentration of caprylic acid (C8) and caproic acid (C10).
Both C8 and C10 are easier to digest and appear to have the most beneficial properties of all medium-chain triglycerides, especially for supporting energy levels and ketone body production.