If you’re in the keto diet community, you’ve likely used—or at least heard about—MCT oil. It’s a staple for helping people with satiety and energy while on keto.
But, that buzz is starting to spread beyond just keto. MCT oil is starting to appear in more and more products on the shelves of grocery and health food stores around the country. So maybe you’ve seen MCT oil out there, but you’re not exactly sure of why you should be adding it to your diet, and what the potential benefits are. To understand why MCTs are so powerful, it’s important to look at the science behind them.
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Benefits of MCTs
You know the differences between different MCT chain lengths. Now, let’s look at the benefits of including MCT into your diet.
Improved Energy Through Ketone Production
Not only are MCTs a direct source of energy, they can also help create ketones for brain and body fuel.
MCTs are rapidly digested and absorbed—most fats travel slowly from the gut into the bloodstream, whereas MCTs are directly shuttered to the liver where they can be used for energy for the body or converted into ketones.
While fat can’t be used directly as brain fuel, that’s where the ketone production comes into play. Ketones pass through the blood-brain barrier making them a direct source of energy for the brain as well. This mechanism supports the anecdotal feelings of mental sharpness associated with MCT use and ketosis overall.
Helps Promote Weight Loss
One of the main benefits of MCTs is helping directly or indirectly aid in weight loss. MCT oil can help increase the production of certain hormones—like peptide YY and Leptin—which help you feel full.9 With an increase in fat consumption, you are more likely to feel satisfied for longer and thus, you’ll be less likely to overeat.
A research study showed that when people consumed a breakfast containing MCT oil they ate less food at lunch compared to those who had the same amount of coconut oil.10 This means that MCT, rather than coconut oil, is a better choice if you are looking to use fat to curb your appetite. That’s why many people choose to add MCT oil to their butter coffee in the morning.
MCT oil can also help to assist directly with weight loss through increased energy expenditure.
In one study, individuals taking MCT oil increased their energy expenditure, leading to weight loss.11 These people had a higher resting metabolic rate, so in essence, they were able to consume more calories without gaining weight.
Compared to long-chain fatty acids, MCT consumption resulted in greater fat loss (due to increased energy expenditure and fat oxidation).11 These studies lead researchers to believe MCTs could be used to prevent obesity or stimulate weight loss.
Studies performed on animals also showed MCT oils may result in decreased body fat through improved metabolism and enhanced thermogenesis.12
Enables Athletes to Burn Fat as Fuel
Consuming MCT oil may also boost your athletic endurance. One study showed that taking MCT prior to exercise enabled athletes to work at 80% of their VO2 max for longer when compared to athletes taking LCTs.13
The ingestion of foods containing MCTs may help suppress utilization of carbohydrates for energy production through increased utilization of fatty acids for generating energy. In other words, you replace the energy coming from carbs and glucose with energy coming from fat and ketones to fuel your workout. It takes a while to become fat-adapted, but once you’re able to tap into the seemingly endless fat stores in the body, endurance performance may get better.
MCT oils may also impact athletic performance through reduction in lactate buildup due to a shift in balance from carb to fat metabolism. In that study where athletes could exercise for longer, the researchers also found that they had lower lactate levels.13
If you take MCTs prior to exercise, your fat burning capabilities may increase due to a higher resting energy expenditure. Essentially, you burn more fat during your workouts than you may have otherwise, in part because you’re consuming more fat.
May Reduce Risk of Heart Disease
Maintaining a healthy weight is one of the most effective ways of lowering the risk of heart disease.
Since MCT oil can help with weight and fat loss, this can in turn lower the incidence of heart disease in some people.
A study was performed on twenty-four healthy overweight men who consumed controlled diets designed to maintain weight over the course of two months.14 These diets contained 40% energy from fat, of which 75% was added fat in the form of an MCT oil based compound (also containing phytosterols and flaxseed oil) or olive oil. Body composition and blood samples were analyzed after each month. The MCT oil-based compound resulted in a ~14% decrease in LDL levels of cholesterol (the bad cholesterol) compared to the control group. Maintaining healthy cholesterol levels is crucial to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Poor diet, lack of exercise, and genetic predisposition can cause heart disease, but MCT oil consumption may be a tool capable of supporting heart health.
May Help Treat Diabetes
Building off the other metabolic benefits of MCT, it may be able to help treat individuals with diabetes.
A study was conducted on two groups of overweight type 2 diabetic patients.15 One group was given 18g of MCT and the other was given 18g of LCTs in the form of corn oil over the course of 90 days. The results of the study showed a reduction in body weight, waist circumference, and homeostasis model assessment of insulin in subjects taking MCT oil. No differences were noted in the LCT group. These results suggest MCTs have a positive effect on diabetic-related treatment.