What is MCT Oil? Its Benefits and Role in the Keto Diet
You may have heard MCT oil and the keto diet mentioned in the same conversation. What is MCT oil and what does it have to do with ketogenic eating? Here, we’ll look at the role of MCT oil and its numerous benefits and why it’s something you should consider incorporating into your keto program.
What is MCT oil?
So, what is MCT oil? MCT (medium chain triglyceride) is a healthy oil that is often used as a supplement in keto smoothies, coffee and salad dressings. Not all fats are the same. There are healthy fats and unhealthy fats and MCT falls firmly in the healthy category. It is easily digested and it’s an easy way to ensure that you are consuming sufficient fat through the day. (One of the biggest mistakes beginners make on the keto diet is not consuming enough fat).
MCT is not the same as coconut oil – although MCT oil makes up about 50% of coconut.
So, why should you take MCT when you’re on the keto diet. Aside from the reason mentioned – ensuring you consume enough fat each day – MCT has several science-backed health benefits making it an important addition to your diet.
MCT Oil Health Benefit #1: Promotes weight loss
- Firstly, MCT oil contains approximately 10% fewer calories than LCTs (long-chain triglycerides) which are found in nuts, avocados and olive oil.
- MCT increases the release of hormones that promote feelings of fullness. It has been shown to be more effective than coconut oil for maintaining feelings of satiety.
- MCT can be readily converted into ketones – the fat-derived alternative fuel that your body uses instead of carbs (glucose) – helping you stay in ketosis for longer. (Ketosis is the fat-burning state that your body switches over to when it has used up it’s carb reserves. Entering and maintaining ketosis is a goal of the keto diet.) This makes MCT a very clean fuel – it doesn’t get stored as fat.
- Promotes gut health. Studies have shown that gut health can impact obesity. MCT can create a more healthy environment for good bacteria in your gut lining which can help weight loss.
These effects – fewer calories, feelings of fullness, ketone conversion and improved gut health – combine to help reduce body weight and help prevent obesity.
MCT Health Benefit #2: Instant fuel for your brain
Your body can very quickly absorb MCT to use as clean fuel. Its shorter molecular chain means that MCT can be quickly used by the liver – broken down to be used as fuel or to be stored as body fat. If you’re in ketosis, the fat won’t be stored for long and will be converted into ketones for fuel.
It was long thought – incorrectly – that glucose was the only fuel your brain could burn. This is wrong. The brain can also burn ketones – the alternative energy source that comes from fat. MCT oil can be easily transported throughout the body and easily converted to ketones which pass easily through the blood-brain barrier, making it an efficient source of energy for your brain.
MCT Health Benefit #3: Could help alleviate epilepsy, Alzheimers and autism
Whilst we have to be careful to claim keto or MCT oil is a cure – or even a treatment – for these conditions, studies have shown that ketogenic eating and MCT oil may help manage may help manage conditions such as epilepsy, Alzheimer’s disease, and autism.
The origin of the ketogenic diet (although it was very different to the keto diet we know and recommend today) was as a treatment for managing epilepsy. Scientists discovered that fasting boosted ketone production (as the body naturally exhausted its carb supply) and increased ketone levels may help reduce the frequency of epileptic seizures. Since MTCs can be easily converted into ketones, it may be beneficial in alleviating epilepsy.
One test-tube study showed that the MCT capric acid improved seizure control better than a widespread anti-epileptic drug. Another study in rats found that the same MCT blocked receptors in the brain that cause seizures. However, more human studies are needed.
Alzheimer’s disease impairs your brain’s ability to use sugar as a fuel source. The keto diet offers an alternative brain fuel – ketones – allowing the brain to function better. It can also help block receptors in the brain connected with memory loss.
One study showed that 20–70 grams of supplemental MCTs (including caprylic or capric acid) can modestly improve the symptoms of mild-to-moderate Alzheimer’s. However, longer and larger human studies are required.
Autism is a spectrum condition and can affect individuals to varying degrees. Some report no benefit from using MCT oil whereas other studies showed that adding MCT to a keto and gluten-free diet improved the autism behaviours of 6 out of 15 children. More research is needed.
MCT Oil Health Benefit #4: Reduce heart disease risk factors (weight and cholesterol)
Isn’t it telling that decades of incorrect traditional nutrition advice (avoid fats, choose low-fat options, eat carbs, eat fruit) have only led to a rising heart disease problem across the world.
Heart disease is a growing problem and factors that increase your risk include high cholesterol, blood pressure, inflammation, being overweight and smoking. MCT helps by reducing weight, cholesterol and inflammation; the keto diet helps with these three and the remaining conditions. (We hope you don’t smoke). Adding MCT to your diet could help lower your risk of heart disease.
Between them, MCT oil and the keto diet make a powerful, healing team across the board. They’re a formula for healthier living, plain and simple.
MCT Health Benefit #5: Help manage diabetes and control blood sugar levels
MCT oil and the keto diet can bring huge benefits for diabetics.
Most people with Type 2 diabetes are overweight or obese, which makes much diabetes harder to manage. (If you have Type 1 diabetes, consult your GP before starting the keto diet). The good news is that MCTs have been shown to reduce fat storage and increase fat burning.
One Chinese study of 40 people with diabetes found that those who consumed MCT oil daily had significant reductions in body weight, waist circumference and insulin resistance, compared to those taking corn oil containing LCTs (long chain triglycerides which are harder for your body to break down and use). Another study found that when 10 people with diabetes were injected with insulin, they needed 30% less sugar to maintain normal blood sugar levels when they consumed MCTs, compared to LCTs.
So, MCT oil may help manage diabetes by reducing fat storage and increasing fat burning. It may also help you control your blood sugar level.
MCT Health Benefit #6: Anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties
MCTs has antibacterial and antifungal effects. Coconut oil – which contains a large amount of MCT – has been shown to reduce a common yeast responsible for thrush and various skin infections – by as much as 25%. Quite amazingly, MCT have also been shown to reduce the growth of infectious fungus in hospitals by as much as 50%. In addition, it has been shown to reduce the growth of certain bacteria.
MCT Health Benefit #7: Help athletic performance
MCT oil is gaining popularity amongst athletes. During exercise, rising lactate levels can negatively impact exercise performance. MCTs may help reduce lactate buildup, making it easier to continue training. Another study found that taking MCT oil before exercise may help increase fat-burning during exercise. Some tests on mice showed a slight improvement in swimming endurance but the same could not be said of humans. More research is needed in this area – but the increased fat burning and reduced need for carbs is founded.
Possible drawbacks of using MCT oil
MCT is considered safe but there are a couple of drawbacks to consider:
Release of ghrelin, the hunger hormone
MCT can trigger hunger pangs. Under non-keto diets, this could be a problem but with keto, it’s not. The keto diet does not restrict calorie intake. You can eat as much as you want (provided it’s the right food, of course). Eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re not. The only thing is to avoid constant snacking.
High does of MCT could lead to fat buildup in the liver
Again, under keto this really isn’t a problem. The purpose of keto is to dramatically reduce carb intake to trigger ketosis where your body begins to burn fat as fuel. Ketosis can only happen when carb/glucose reserves have been depleted. So, provided you are following the keto diet correctly and eliminating carbs, fat will be used as the alternative energy source – and won’t have the opportunity to build up in the liver.
Another thing to bear in mind is that the buildup of fat in the liver was observed in a test on mice who were fed large amounts of MCT (about 50% of all the fat in their diet). MCTs are high in calories and generally only comprise about 5–10% of your total calorie intake. So, again, this makes the potential for fat build up unlikely, if you are following keto properly. (MCT should be a supplement to your fat intake, not the primary source).