The ketogenic diet can be one of the best nutritional strategies out there. Whether you’re looking to shed pounds, improve health, get a mental boost, or change your body’s metabolism—keto may be just the right path to get you on the road to success.
Before we go further let’s take a quick class in keto 101 so you can gain a better understanding of how the mechanisms of the diet works.
On the surface, keto may appear to be a fairly recent phenomenon in the dieting world. But actually, the ketogenic diet has been around for nearly a century. What began as a form of treatment for epileptic patients in the 1920s has spawned itself into one of the most popular diets followed today.1
The ketogenic diet focuses around following a low-carb, high-fat, moderate-protein macronutrient ratio. Although fat is the main driver of the keto diet, the end goal is helping the body achieve ketosis. Usually, ketosis is achieved by following a low-carb, high-fat diet. The body will eventually begin to produce ketones, getting you into a state of ketosis, where ketones will become present in the blood. It is thought that having a ketone level of 0.5mM is being in a state of ketosis.
So, why does a low-carb diet increase the presence of ketones in the blood?
Typically the body works like this: we are physiologically designed to run on both carbohydrates and fat. Carbohydrates are used in the form of increasing energy levels via blood glucose or stored as a molecule known as glycogen in the liver.
If carbs are eliminated from the diet, the body will turn to glycogen to help keep glucose levels stable; after a while, the body will turn to an alternative source of energy—fat.
We have copious amounts of stored fat, but must enable the body to leverage them as the preferred fuel source by reducing carb intake (because the body will choose the quicker-burning carbs instead). The problem with fat is that the brain can’t use it for energy; the brain loves carbs. That’s why we evolved to create ketones—ketones are a hyper efficient fuel source for the brain. They also have the ability to cross the blood-brain barrier, something which fat cannot do. So the result of fat breakdown is ketones being produced by the liver.
Ketosis generally happens via one of two methods—endogenously, through dietary mechanisms or exogenously from an external source, such as a ketone ester drink.
Getting into ketosis can provide more than just weight loss benefits. It can also help improve your overall health in a number of different ways mainly:
As you can see, these are just a few of the potential benefits you may realize by switching to the keto diet.
By now you might be wondering...if there’s any possible way of speeding up ketosis?
One of the best tools that can go hand-in-hand with the keto diet is a little thing called MCT oil. When used properly, MCT oil can help increase the efficiency of ketosis while working in sync with the diet.
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MCTs are medium chain triglycerides. They’re fatty acids, which are the building blocks of fat. Though they’re “medium” in length, they could have a huge impact on your keto diet.
All fatty acids have a certain number of carbon atoms. The length of the chains will place the fatty acid into one of three different categories:
Each of these fatty acids have unique characteristics and different purposes within the body.
Short-chain triglycerides are usually made by gut bacteria as a byproduct of fermentation. They are touted for acting as therapeutic agents in certain ailments related to the gut such as different forms of colitis.5 This helps to improve digestive health and improve cellular energy within the colon.
Long-chain triglycerides can be found in a number of common household cooking ingredients, namely—extra virgin olive oil, palm oil, palm kernel oil, fish, avocado, nuts, and meat.6 Some of these include EPA, DHA, and oleic acid.
MCTs are third type of triglycerides. Although saturated fats receive a negative connotation as being harmful, MCTs, despite usually being saturated, are actually considered healthy fats with a number of advantages. Within the MCT category, there are several sub-categories based on the amount of carbon atoms.
As we discussed, MCTs have varying quantities of carbon atoms within the MCT category. Each one is slightly different and acts uniquely within the body. Let’s take a look at the various attributes of each one.
Although there are various types of MCTs, we will be focusing on caprylic acid (C8) as it is considered the most ketogenic of the group.
MCTs are different from other fatty acids due to the fact that they are rapidly metabolized in the liver for ketone production whereas LCTs end up in the lymphatic system to be shuttled around the body.10 That’s why so many people use them on a keto diet; even though they aren’t ketones, they help the body produce ketones.
There are also a number of health benefits that can be achieved from taking MCTs regularly—weight loss, improved satiation, increased energy expenditure, and better cognition. Let’s explore each.
If weight loss is your main goal, you might see some benefits from regular MCT consumption.
Numerous studies have pointed to the efficacy of MCTs and how they may be able to help you improve body composition.
A study was performed on overweight adults who consumed either 20g of MCT or 20g of olive oil daily. Over the course of four months, both groups had weekly measurements performed. MCT had more prolific results in terms of lower body weight and lower fat mass compared to the olive oil group. As such, this study shows MCTs can increase fat burning and lower body fat when used as a part of a structured dietary plan.11
Studies performed on animals also showed positive effects. For example, a study was conducted on mice who consumed MCTs as part of their daily consumption in contrast to mice following a similar caloric intake. Results of the study illustrate both animals and humans have shown similar positive weight loss results attributed to MCTs.12
Another benefit of MCTs is through increasing energy expenditure—this is the number of calories a person uses throughout the day. If your body uses 2,000 calories, you’ll burn this amount without causing changes in your weight.
This number remains steady in your body, but can be increased through diet or exercise.
MCTs are one tool shown to have an effect on increased energy expenditure.
A study was performed on eight college-aged men who consumed various concentrations of MCTs or LCTs in identical quantities at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The group who consumed the highest amount of MCTs showed the highest increase in daily expenditure—roughly 5%.13 Although it may seem insignificant, over time this small amount could add hundreds of calories to your increased daily expenditure.
A secondary study looked at MCT consumption amongst both lean and obese males.
Each of these subjects followed a similar dietary plan with one key main difference—one group consumed MCT oil while the other had corn oil, which has little to no MCTs. Energy expenditure was measured both before and six hours after eating. The results showed total energy expenditure increased by 48% in lean individuals and 65% in obese individuals compared to the LCTs control group. The study goes to show that all types of people can benefit from MCTs regardless of body composition.14
Adding MCTs as part of a regular diet can help increase energy expenditure and may increase weight loss as a byproduct.
Many people believe all fats can lead to heart disease. While this may be true in excessive amounts, but the truth is that for MCTs, the opposite may be true. MCTs have been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease and certain types of diabetes in certain instances.15
A study in mice showed that consumption of MCTs help increase reverse cholesterol transport, which is the ability of your body to send cholesterol back to your liver. This process is seen as beneficial because it can help decrease one’s risk for cardiac related diseases like atherosclerosis.
Interestingly, another study in humans showed that consumption of MCTs didn’t alter cholesterol levels.16 It seems there may be some conflicting conclusions in the literature but it appears that consumption of MCTs doesn’t negatively affect cardiovascular risk markers. Hopefully more studies are done on the subject so we can mechanistically figure out why different scientists are reporting different conclusions.
Diabetics may also see positive effects from taking MCTs.
In a study done on a group of type 2 diabetics, subjects took either MCT oil or LCTs in the form of corn oil over the course of 90 days. Each group took 18g per day as part of their daily dietary needs. The MCT group had reductions in a number of different areas including body weight, waist circumference, and a reduction in insulin resistance compared to the other group taking LCTs.17 The results suggest that type 2 diabetics may be able to maintain a healthy weight and improve other health markers through that weight loss.
MCTs may effectively reduce the risk of heart disease and potentially help to treat diabetes.
MCT may also improve your focus and mental clarity. This is likely a result of increased ketone production, and you already know that ketones are great brain fuel.
A study was done on type 1 diabetics who took either MCT-based drinks or placebos over various sessions. The group results of the MCT group indicated an improvement in mental task ability, verbal memory, and various cognitive tasks.18
A separate study looked at Alzheimer’s patients suffering from mild cognitive disorders. They performed a series of tests two hours after taking either MCTs or a placebo. Eight weeks after the trial, patients taking MCTs showed improvement in both immediate and later tests compared to placebo groups.19
The benefits of MCTs may go far beyond the physical by helping to improve our mental capacities as well.
As we’ve already discussed, not all MCTs are considered equal. MCTs can come in a number of different varieties so it’s important to choose only high-quality ones.
Here are a few things to remember when it comes to choosing the best premium MCT oil products.
With the prevalence of the keto diet, you’ll see countless MCT oil supplements in health food stores. Using some of the criteria above, we’ve selected some of our favorites.
There are a number of MCT based products currently on the market today and each provides their own unique set of benefits. It’s up to you to decide which product can best fit into your active lifestyle.
MCTs can improve a number of different health markers, including reduction of body fat, improved satiety, and an increase of ketone production.
Try incorporating MCTs into your everyday diet so that you can see which one works best for you. Whether you’re following keto, Paleo, or any other diet—chances are you can experience real benefits by simply adding MCTs into your daily routine.
What are you waiting for? Try it for yourself today.
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|1.||D'andrea meira I, Romão TT, Pires do prado HJ, Krüger LT, Pires MEP, Da conceição PO. Ketogenic Diet and Epilepsy: What We Know So Far. Front Neurosci. 2019;13:5.|
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|4.||Dashti HM, Mathew TC, Hussein T, et al. Long-term effects of a ketogenic diet in obese patients. Exp Clin Cardiol. 2004;9(3):200-5.|
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|6.||Jain AP, Aggarwal KK, Zhang PY. Omega-3 fatty acids and cardiovascular disease. Eur Rev Med Pharmacol Sci. 2015;19(3):441-5.|
|7.||Huang WC, Tsai TH, Chuang LT, Li YY, Zouboulis CC, Tsai PJ. Anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties of capric acid against Propionibacterium acnes: a comparative study with lauric acid. J Dermatol Sci. 2014;73(3):232-40.|
|8.||Vandenberghe, C., St-Pierre, V., Pierotti, T., Fortier, M., Castellano, C.-A., and Cunnane, S.C. (2017). 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 1.|
|9.||Bergsson G, Arnfinnsson J, Steingrímsson o, Thormar H. In vitro killing of Candida albicans by fatty acids and monoglycerides. Antimicrob Agents Chemother. 2001;45(11):3209-12.|
|10.||Takeuchi H, Sekine S, Kojima K, Aoyama T. The application of medium-chain fatty acids: edible oil with a suppressing effect on body fat accumulation. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 2008;17 Suppl 1:320-3.|
|11.||St-onge MP, Bosarge A. Weight-loss diet that includes consumption of medium-chain triacylglycerol oil leads to a greater rate of weight and fat mass loss than does olive oil. Am J Clin Nutr. 2008;87(3):621-6.|
|12.||Montgomery MK, Osborne B, Brown SH, et al. Contrasting metabolic effects of medium- versus long-chain fatty acids in skeletal muscle. J Lipid Res. 2013;54(12):3322-33.|
|13.||Dulloo AG, Fathi M, Mensi N, Girardier L. Twenty-four-hour energy expenditure and urinary catecholamines of humans consuming low-to-moderate amounts of medium-chain triglycerides: a dose-response study in a human respiratory chamber. Eur J Clin Nutr. 1996;50(3):152-8.|
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|15.||St-onge MP, Jones PJ. Greater rise in fat oxidation with medium-chain triglyceride consumption relative to long-chain triglyceride is associated with lower initial body weight and greater loss of subcutaneous adipose tissue. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 2003;27(12):1565-71.|
|16.||St-onge MP, Bosarge A, Goree LL, Darnell B. Medium chain triglyceride oil consumption as part of a weight loss diet does not lead to an adverse metabolic profile when compared to olive oil. J Am Coll Nutr. 2008;27(5):547-52.|
|17.||Han JR, Deng B, Sun J, et al. Effects of dietary medium-chain triglyceride on weight loss and insulin sensitivity in a group of moderately overweight free-living type 2 diabetic Chinese subjects. Metab Clin Exp. 2007;56(7):985-91.|
|18.||Page, K.A., Williamson, A., Yu, N., McNay, E.C., Dzuira, J., McCrimmon, R.J., and Sherwin, R.S. (2009). Medium-chain fatty acids improve cognitive function in intensively treated type 1 diabetic patients and support in vitro synaptic transmission during acute hypoglycemia. Diabetes 58, 1237-44.|
|19.||Ota M, Matsuo J, Ishida I, et al. Effects of a medium-chain triglyceride-based ketogenic formula on cognitive function in patients with mild-to-moderate Alzheimer's disease. Neurosci Lett. 2019;690:232-236.|
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