Ever wonder what life would be like without fat? At first, it may sound as if such a world would be healthier than the one we live in now. After all, we’ve often been told that fat is dangerous, harmful, even detrimental to our health. It contributes to type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and high cholesterol levels, right? Well, perhaps not.
To suggest that fat is unhealthy is to share only half the story. Peel back the curtain on fat and quickly we find that fats are actually an important part of our daily lives. So important, in fact, that we can’t live without them. Fats provide essential fatty acids, keep our skin soft, deliver vitamins, and act as a source of powerful fuel during energy expenditure, amongst numerous other benefits.
While it’s true that some sources of fat are bad for our health, the same can’t be said for every source of fat we receive from our diet. One group of fats that have gained attention for health benefits are referred to as medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs). As a source of healthy fat that’s easy to digest and absorb, MCTs are found primarily in oils. But before we jump into the many benefits of MCT oil, let’s take a step back and learn a bit more about the world of fats.
The Four Types of Fats
Our body utilizes three primary macronutrients as sources of fuel: carbs, proteins, and fats. While carbs and proteins contain four calories of energy per gram, fats contain nine calories per gram, making them a dense form of energy with a world of possibility. And we can break down fats even further into the four types of fats that exist: saturated fat, monounsaturated fat, polyunsaturated fat, and trans fat.
Saturated fat was once considered an unhealthy fat, but researchers have since discovered that some saturated fats, such as MCT oil, are actually good for the body. Monounsaturated fats aim to protect our heart while regulating insulin sensitivity, fat storage, weight loss, and energy levels in the body. They can be found in avocado, olive oil, and macadamia nuts.
Polyunsaturated fats are found primarily in nuts and seeds, and include Omega–3 and Omega–6 fatty acids. Omega–3 fatty acids reduce inflammation while supporting hormone levels and cell membranes. Omega–6 fatty acids support healthy brain and muscle functions, but on the downside, they promote inflammation in the body.
And finally we have trans fats, also known as the worst type of fat. Consuming trans fat has been shown to increase the risk of heart disease.
Now that we know MCT oil is a healthy saturated fat, we can discuss it in more detail.
What Are MCTs and What Is MCT Oil?
Most of the fats we consume in our foods are referred to as long-chain triglycerides, or LCTs for short. Found commonly in animal products as a form of saturated fat, LCTs are plentiful, but they’re not the easiest form of fat for our body to digest and absorb.
As a result, we’ve since discovered that medium-chain triglycerides (remember MCTs?) are a high-quality source of dietary fat that our body can digest with ease. MCTs can be absorbed into the bloodstream and utilized as a source of energy with rapid speed. And best of all, MCTs are healthier than their LCT counterparts.
So where can we find these MCTs in our daily lives? One place is within the many oils that contain a higher composition of MCTs. We refer to these many oils simply as MCT oils, grouping them together because of their collective benefits. Oils that include coconut oil, palm oil, and palm kernel oil are all classified as MCT oils. Some dairy products, like cheese, contain MCT as well.
Where Do MCTs Even Come From?
If certain oils happen to contain elevated levels of MCTs, then where do MCTs come from in the first place? To answer this question, we need to look at fats as a whole. Fats are technically referred to as triglycerides, but we can use the term fatty acid and triglyceride interchangeably. At the end of the day, triglycerides (or fatty acids) serve two main purposes: to be burned as energy or stored in the body as fat.
Named for their chemical structure and the length of their fatty acid chains, triglycerides consist of a glycerol molecule and three fatty acids grouped together. Long-chain fatty acids are composed of 13-21 carbon atoms. Short-chain fatty acids are composed of fewer than 6 carbon atoms. And medium-chain fatty acids are composed of 6-12.
The most common MCTs are capric acid (C10), caproic acid (C6), lauric acid (C12), and caprylic acid (C8). And these are the forms of fatty acid found in oils that have the ability to work wonders on our body.
Now that we’ve gained an understanding of fats, MCTs, and MCT oil, it’s time to discuss the many benefits of this healthy saturated fat.
Benefits of MCT Oil
So what are the benefits of MCT oil? For starters, MCT oil promotes weight loss by increasing specific hormones in our body that make us feel full. Some research has even suggested that taking two tablespoons of MCT oil each morning with breakfast will ensure we eat less food for lunch.
In addition to making us feel full, MCT oil can be converted into ketones, which are produced from the breakdown of fat when carb intake is low. Those following the ketogenic diet can take MCT oil to help themselves stay in the fat-burning state known as ketosis.
Aside from the promotion of weight loss, MCT oil does well to improve our brain function while managing diseases of the brain such as Alzheimer’s disease, epilepsy, and autism. One study found that a dose of MCTs improved short-term brain function in 20 people with Alzheimer’s disease that had a specific gene type.
Just as MCT oil is good for the brain, it’s one of many foods that are good for the heart as well. Because MCT oil has been shown to support weight and fat loss, an individual’s risk of heart disease may decrease as a result. Utilizing MCT oil to decrease body fat or as a source of weight management is not an uncommon practice, and more medical professionals are beginning to prescribe this as research evolves.
Even athletes may benefit from MCT oil, as MCTs can reduce lactate buildup in the muscles that would otherwise lead to soreness and swelling. As a result of this benefit, exercise performance may increase simply because the body isn’t hurting as much as it otherwise might.
As we can clearly see, MCT oil possesses many benefits that have the ability to impact a vast number of individuals across a wide spectrum of health. But are there any risks?
Potential Risks & Side Effects
Believe it or not, there are very few potential risks or side effects associated with the consumption of MCT oil. The primary risk comes from the consumption of MCT oil over prolonged periods of time, as it contains a lot of calories and can lead to weight gain. As is the case with most dietary supplements, it’s best to consume MCT oil in moderation and to consult a dietitian.
Making MCT Oil A Part of Your Daily Diet
Rarely do we encounter a dietary supplement that can impact so many individuals. From athletes to those practicing a low carb diet, MCT oil has the ability to benefit us all.
As a saturated fat that promotes satiety and decreases one’s risk of heart disease, each of us would do well to consult a licensed dietitian and determine if MCT would benefit our lives. Found in superfoods like coconut oil and avocado, MCT oil is easy to incorporate into our diets.
MCT oil is a simple biohack that can launch us into the new year with more energy, focus, and stamina.