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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Why Use MCTs on Keto?
While the benefits of MCTs obviously stretch outside of just ketone production, they’ve found a special home among keto diet practitioners.
What’s so special about ketones?
Before we dive into specifics, let’s talk basics. Ketones are fundamentally different substrates than the carbohydrates or fats your body typically uses to create energy.16 They are produced when your body begins using fat instead of carbohydrates for fuel. Ketones may even be a more efficient source of fuel than glucose; they provide more energy per unit.17
Keto is a low-carb, high-fat diet. So when the body doesn’t have any carbohydrates to rely on for energy, it will begin using the copious fat stores we all carry with us.
The brain’s usual source of energy is carbohydrates. They’re a quick, easily-used fuel. But what about when the brain doesn’t have those carbs to rely on? That’s why we evolved to create ketones, to fuel our brain (ketones cross the blood-brain barrier). In our neanderthal days, we’d go days or weeks without food. Our bodies needed a way to create energy from what we already had—fat.
Once the body is producing ketones, ketosis in considered ketones present in the blood at greater than 0.5mM; when you hear people say they’re in ketosis, this is what they mean.
Ketosis can be achieved in two distinct ways. The first is endogenous, which means through internal mechanisms within the body. By following a low-carb diet and/or fasting, the body will eventually stop running on glucose and begin producing ketones.
However, there’s another way to get into ketosis. Exogenous ketones are consumed through external means. Using exogenous ketones can raise blood ketones to a physiological level even if you aren’t following a high-fat diet or fasting.
The level of ketosis achieved can vary depending upon the type of supplement used. H.V.M.N. Ketone is a form of exogenous ketones (it’s the world’s first ketone ester drink) used to get into a deeper state of ketosis.18 Its patented technology is designed to deliver pure consumable ketones for sport, cognition, fasting or keto diet support. Ketone salts are another option but can require a high amount of sodium be ingested to reach desired ketone levels.19
MCT oil has gained substantial traction in recent years as a product shown to enhance ketone production and provide an immediate source of energy, albeit a lesser level than H.V.M.N. Ketone and salt-based products (because MCTs don’t actually contain ketones themselves).
Benefits of Ketones
Biologically, the body is designed to run on glucose and fat as its main forms of energy; but ketones are a more efficient fuel source when compared to glucose.17 Also, as you get into endogenous ketosis, the body is able to breakdown more and more fat for energy.
There are several evidence-based health benefits seen during a ketogenic diet, including:
- Losing weight: the most common reason people follow a ketogenic diet is for weight loss reasons.20 By changing your diet, you can help switch your body from a glucose-reliant to running on ketones and fat
- Managing diabetes: a keto diet may help control symptoms of type I and II diabetes by lowering carbohydrate intake and keeping blood glucose levels under control21
- Satiation: ketones can improve satiation, leading to less overeating.16 Research suggests a diet high in fat provides satiating benefits not seen with carbohydrates
- Treatment of certain diseases: the keto diet may help act as a supplemental treatment for diseases such as epilepsy, Parkinson’s, and even Alzheimer’s22
- Lowers rate of inflammation and aging: ketogenic diets have been shown to improve survival, memory, and healthspan in animal studies.23 Future studies may show the same effects could be seen in humans as well
The keto diet has gained popularity for a reason. Not only are the physical benefits sought after, but the mental clarity of ketosis, along with other neurological benefits, have also emerged as some of the main reasons people decide to switch to keto.
How MCT Oil Increases Ketone Production
MCTs go directly to the liver, and it’s here where they are converted into ketones through a process called ketogenesis. MCTs can help you stay in ketosis or get to ketosis faster because they’re a healthy source of fat and are less likely to be stored as body fat.24Longer-chain fatty acids, on the other hand, do not directly enhance ketone production because of how they’re metabolized.
MCT oil can be found in coconut oil, palm oil, and even some dairy products. However, these products do not contain 100% pure MCTs. They contain roughly a low percentage of C8 (the most optimal form of MCTs), along with other types of lower-quality fatty acids. In order to optimize the effects of high-quality MCT oil, it must be extracted from other sources into a highly-concentrated, stand-alone product.
Disadvantages of MCT Oil
Although MCT oil can provide plenty of health benefits, it can be easy to go overboard on calories if you do not measure serving sizes correctly. Even on a ketogenic diet, you should still be cognizant of your overall caloric intake to avoid overeating.
Taking too much MCT oil can also cause gastrointestinal distress in certain individuals in the form of side effects such as diarrhea, vomiting, bloating, and cramping.