If you’ve stumbled across any health and wellness website over the last couple of years, there’s a good chance you’ve come across every keto lover’s favorite acronym: MCTs.
MCTs stands for medium-chain triglycerides, a form of fat. Unlike long-chain triglycerides (LCTs) found in the majority of fats and oils, MCTs are more accessible to digest and typically burned for energy rather than stored as body fat.
They are considered one of the most highly efficient energy sources our bodies can use. As an increasing amount of research has zeroed in on the power of MCTs, scientists have discovered a multitude of health and fitness benefits that come with consuming this particular type of fat.
And if you’re following a ketogenic diet, MCTs can be an especially valuable tool to keep you in a powerhouse state of ketosis.
What is MCT Oil?
MCT oil is a human-made supplement extracted from coconut and palm oils. MCT oil helps the body metabolize fat quickly and efficiently. It’s a much more efficient energy source than glucose (sugar), and it doesn’t have any effect on your blood sugar.
Because of this, there’s evidence that MCT oil can help induce ketosis, burn calories, increase fullness, and boost fat loss (1).
And that’s just the beginning. As a ketone maker, MCT oil can also support your brain, heart, and digestive and immune systems. We’ll discuss more of these long-term benefits below.
What is MCT Powder?
MCT powder is a powdered form of MCTs. It’s made from MCT oil through a process called spray drying.
This is a food industry method that is completely safe. However, it’s important to check what the manufacturer uses to make the powder. They must mix the oil with a carrier substance (typically a starch), then spray dry the mix into a powder.
Cheaper powders may use low-quality starches and have a higher percentage of starch to MCTs (as much as 50% starch). This could be enough to impact your carbohydrate count and even mess with your blood sugar.
It’s best to look for a product with acacia fiber, which is a prebiotic that promotes gut health and won’t spike your blood sugar.
In the form of a powder, MCTs can easily be mixed into keto drinks, smoothies, and baked goods.
MCT Oil vs. MCT Powder — Which One is Better?
Most of the current research on MCTs has focused only on the oils, not the powders, so there’s no real consensus as to which is nutritionally better at this point.
That said, MCT powder may be easier to digest for some people. The powder is also more convenient and portable versus the oil, but it may be more expensive.
If you do decide to choose an MCT powder, you’ll want to examine the ingredient label carefully. Make sure the product contains no extra sweeteners or fillers, including corn or grain-based fillers like maltodextrin, soy lecithin, sodium caseinate, or glucose syrup solids.
Health & Fitness Benefits of MCTs
Whether you end up choosing an MCT oil or powder, you’ll experience some pretty amazing benefits either way.
When consumed, MCTs are easily converted into ketones, which can help you reach and sustain the fat-burning state of ketosis. In turn, they can positively impact everything in your body, from your brain to your heart to your gut.
MCTs and Heart Health
Since MCTs promote weight loss, they can, consequently, help reduce your risk of heart disease.
They may also have an even more direct effect on keeping your cardiovascular system strong. Studies have found that taking MCT oil can reduce LDL (or the “bad) cholesterol, as it increases HDL (or the “good”) cholesterol (2).
MCT oil has also been shown to decrease blood lipids—therefore, reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease (3).
MCTs and the Immune System
While studies are still a bit slim on how MCTs may protect your immune system, initial research has found some exciting results.
Some studies have found that MCTs can help activate the immune system, at least in test tubes (4).
But perhaps even more promising are MCTs’ potent antimicrobial, antifungal, and antiviral properties. You’ve probably heard about coconut oil’s impressive effects against bacteria and yeast. Well, this is likely due to its MCT content.
In particular, coconut oil has been shown to reduce the growth of certain types of bacteria and yeast, including the all-too-common Candida.
MCTs May Help Enhance Gut Health
Immune health is also closely linked to your gut health, which MCTs can help boost as well.
As newborns, many of us were already reaping MCTs’ potent benefits. This is because human breast milk naturally contains a ton of MCTs, which help protect the gut and reduce transmission of pathogens.
The same level of gut protection can be true for adults. Consuming MCTs can help the growth of good bacteria and strengthen the gut lining (5).
With a stronger gut comes a stronger immune system. On top of that, all of that good gut bacteria will even positively affect your mood and energy levels.
MCTs, Energy Levels, and Exercise Performance
As you continue to burn fat through the help of MCTs, you may also notice a nice lift in your energy, and, if you work out regularly, a boost in your exercise performance.
As MCTs quickly convert to ketones, you’ll experience a near instantaneous uptick in your energy levels, and, unlike carbs, you won’t have to worry about an imminent crash.
If you’re starting on your keto journey, you may want to consider supplementing with MCT oil to help you get over any fatigue you may experience as you prime your body to work into ketosis.
And if you’re an athlete or regular gym-goer, MCTs may be your new favorite exercise companion. They can reduce lactate buildup, thus helping your muscles recover faster and increasing the amount of time you can manage high-intensity exercise (6).
It’s recommended to take a small dose of MCT oil before exercising to help lower those lactate levels and allow your body to use more fat than carbs for energy.
MCTs Enhance Brain Health and Cognitive Function
The beauty of MCTs is that you won’t only feel its benefits throughout your body, but in an actual way, you think as well.
Yes, the brain loves fats; the brain is 60% fat itself! So, as MCTs become ketones, your brain can quickly use that energy, pushing aside any potential brain fog.
MCTs may also be able to lower inflammation and risk of disease in the brain. There’s already been some research showing the potential of MCTs in managing Alzheimer’s disease, autism, and epilepsy (7).
Coconut Oil vs. MCT Oil — Is It Better than Coconut Oil?
So, with all these amazing health and fitness benefits, what’s the best way to get your MCTs?
Coconut oil is probably the easiest, cheapest, and most convenient source of MCTs. However, it only contains about 55-60% MCTs, so it doesn’t pack quite the same punch as MCT oil, which is 100% pure MCTs.
One other reason you may want to invest in MCT oil is that it could also keep you feeling more satiated. At least that’s the conclusion of one study that found that people who took two tablespoons of MCT oil with breakfast ended up eating less for lunch than those who took coconut oil (8).
That doesn’t mean you should forgo coconut oil, though. Taking coconut oil can come with slightly different benefits, especially from the large amount of an MCT called lauric acid.
Lauric acid has been found to have incredible antimicrobial properties, helping you fight against various bacteria, yeasts, and parasites.
So, your best plan is to use BOTH coconut oil and MCT oil. Keep in mind that MCT oil is flavorless, so it’s especially great for adding to keto drinks, like coffees and smoothies, without affecting their taste.
Should You Add MCTs to Your Diet?
Why not? There are myriad benefits and virtually no risks to adding MCTs to your diet.
Just remember that when first trying MCT, you’ll want to start small to avoid any digestive discomfort.
For the oil, begin with half-teaspoon doses, up to 3 times a day, then work your way up slowly to 1 to 2 tablespoons a day. For the powder, start with a 1/4 serving, then gradually work up to a full serving.
Supplementing with MCTs may be the keto secret you’ve been looking for. Taking small amounts of it daily can be incredibly useful in getting your body into ketosis and helping it stay there.