MCT Oil – The Keto Shortcut?

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MCT oil

You may have heard of the Ketogenic or Keto diet, but have you heard of MCT oil? Learn more about this highly popular – and controversial – ingredient and find out whether (or not) you want it.

What are MCTs?

MCTs (medium-chain triglycerides) are the precursor to ketones that give the keto diet its name. Ketogenic diets have been shown to promote weight loss, whilst preventing the hunger typically associated with weight loss (1).

However, they are also difficult to maintain in the long-term and come with side-effects. Meanwhile, proponents of MCTs claim that they can help burn fat, control hunger and improve brain function … without necessarily needing to go on the keto diet and go through the acidosis that comes with it.

Where can you find them?

You can find small amounts of MCTs in natural foods like coconut oil and goat milk. A diet high in MCTs is possible and has been used therapeutically in the past, specifically as an experimental treatment for seizures (2).

More commonly, people use MCT oil as a convenient supplement. Typically, they are made up of the most ‘effective’ MCTs, C8 (aka. tricaprylin) and C10 (so-called because they contain 8 and 10 carbons, respectively) (3). This allows a ‘higher dose’ than natural sources, which, in contrast, contain a variety of compounds, not just C8 and C10.

Because MCT oil is tasteless, it can be added to anything from coffee and smoothies to salad dressings.

Is MCT oil for you?

In line with popular health claims, studies have found that both MCT oil and its natural sources can make you feel fuller for longer and reduce your food intake, in a similar fashion to the keto diet (4). This could make it useful for weight loss.

However, MCT intake, whether through the diet or a supplement, is definitely not recommended for everyone. For instance, there have been reports of liver failure when a patient taking the drug, valproate, goes on a diet high in MCT (2). If you have concerns, please contact your doctor before taking MCT oil or increasing it in your diet.

If you do want to try using MCTs, note that it is usually recommended to take a substance naturally through your diet versus in a processed supplement.

But if you still decide to take MCT oil specifically, make sure to take a supplement that is based on acacia gum or dextrin. These substances are actually beneficial for your gut. Dextrin, a resistant starch, even functions as a prebiotic. 

References

1. Gibson AA, Seimon RV, Lee CMY, Ayre J, Franklin J, Markovic TP, et al. Do ketogenic diets really suppress appetite? A systematic review and meta-analysis. Obesity Reviews. 2014;16(1):64–76. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25402637/

2. Liu Y-MC. Medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) ketogenic therapy. Epilepsia. 2008Nov4;49:33–6. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19049583/

3. Vandenberghe C, St-Pierre V, Pierotti T, Fortier M, Castellano C-A, Cunnane SC. Tricaprylin Alone Increases Plasma Ketone Response More Than Coconut Oil or Other Medium-Chain Triglycerides: An Acute Crossover Study in Healthy Adults. Current Developments in Nutrition. 2017;1(4). Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29955698/

4. Kinsella R, Maher T, Clegg M. Coconut oil has less satiating properties than medium chain triglyceride oil. Physiology & Behavior. 2017Oct1;179:422–6. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28689741/