Fat has to be one of (if not) the most controversial topics in the health industry over the past few decades. It all started in the 60s when sugar companies actually bribed Harvard scientists to indicate saturated fats were the leading cause of high cholesterol as well as cardiovascular diseases. The public response led to almost every type of food product coming out with a low fat version (which lead companies to increase the amount of sugar and sodium in these products).
It wasn’t long until top fitness icons of the 70s and 80s started to promote a low fat or even a fat free diet. It wasn’t until the past decade that more thorough and uncontroversial (i.e. not funded by sugar companies) studies came out contradicting past results. Not only are fats crucial for healthy hormone levels and many types of nutrient absorption processes, but also in some circumstances giving us clean energy as well as preventing all sorts of diseases and disorders. In this article I will be talking about a certain type of fat known as MCT’s, what they are and how they can help us live healthier.
What You Need To Know About MCT’s
To clear up the confusion, MCT stands for medium chain triglycerides and this name comes from its chemical structure. Every type of fat we eat is a combination of carbon and hydrogen atoms. The number of carbon atoms determines whether the fatty acid will be a short chain, medium chain or long chain triglyceride. Between one and five carbon atoms and the fatty acid is considered a short chain (the most popular of which being Butyric acid) and has health benefits such as contributing to colon health and various anti-inflammatory properties.
Long chain triglycerides contain between 13 and 22 carbon atoms and this is where many of the healthy fats we know about exist including Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), α-Linolenic acid (Alpha Linolenic acid), Monounsaturated and Polyunsaturated fats.
And finally, medium chain triglycerides consist of fatty acids that contain 6 to 12 carbon atoms and are very unique in a few ways. More than likely if you have been keeping up with your health and fitness you have come across the existence of coconut oil and its supposed health benefits. Beyond its uses outside of the body as a moisturizer and shampoo, it is known for its anti-bacterial, antiviral, and immune system strengthening properties. The only reason why I’m mentioning this is because coconut oil is comprised of mostly MCT’s, predominantly lauric acid (a saturated fat) which has 12 carbon atoms. And while these health benefits aren’t to be taken lightly and should be utilized as often as possible, coconut oil is actually quite different from pure MCT oil (something most don’t realize).
MCT Coconut Oil
If you are eating coconut oil purely for its various health benefits then you don’t need to worry about supplementing pure MCT oil, but for those who want an energy boost from their fat (especially individuals partaking in a ketosis based diet), MCT’s are extremely essential and here’s why.
Lauric acid which makes up around 40% of coconut oil is great to make your body healthier, but unfortunately it isn’t broken down very easily, having to go through many processes before it can be used for energy in the. Three other MCT’s, Caproic, Caprylic and Capric acid, with six, eight and ten carbon bonds respectively are what you want for a ketogenic diet. The rationale for this conclusion is in the science of the pathways the fats need to take to be converted into energy. To keep it simple, the less carbon atoms in the fatty acid, the easier it can be converted into ketones (a secondary source of energy used instead of glucose) and readily used in the body.
Of course every fatty acid will eventually be broken down, but MCT’s are unique in the way that they can be used in the body for energy very quickly and easily without the need for drastically low carbs, something ketogenic diets are known for. If you’re still having a hard time picturing this, think of most fats we eat as a steak, which needs to be broken down over hours into the amino acids needed to start muscle growth, and MCT’s are like drinking a glass of BCAA’s (branch chain amino acid) which are already broken down and can get right into the bloodstream to the muscles in minutes.
MCT Oil Benefits
MCT’s are very beneficial for many groups of people that suffer from various ailments. It can help those with diabetes as long as they are taking insulin replacement as ketones do require some insulin to function properly. They can help keep your brain healthy by protecting against neurological diseases (or help treat those who already have neurological diseases).
MCT’s can help your heart by lowering LDL or the bad cholesterol and lowering your risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke. And most surprising is MCT’s ability to be therapeutic for those suffering from nutrient absorption deficiencies (such as Crohn’s Disease) as well as individuals without a gallbladder.
How To Supplement MCT’s
MCT’s are found in foods, with coconut oil containing all four, but mainly lauric acid at about 40%-50% (about 15% of coconut oil is one of the MCT’s with six to ten carbon atoms). Palm kernel oil contains about 8% MCT’s, butter and milk contains 7%, and yogurt has a bit less with 6.5%. Of course none of these sources will show a significant difference because MCT’s are in such low quantities in these foods, so if you really want to maximize the amount of MCT’s you can get in, a MCT’s oil is very necessary.
But don’t get MCT oil and coconut oil confused as the same thing. While they are almost molecularly the same, the concentration of certain MCT’s makes a much larger difference than most realize. While coconut oil has its own unique health benefits as discussed early from the amount of lauric acid (12 carbon atoms) in the oil, MCT oil is manufactured to remove all the lauric acid and long chain fatty acids, leaving only Caprylic and Capric acid (eight and ten carbon atoms). And as we discussed earlier, these MCT’s are the most effective for being converted into clean energy as well as all the other health benefits listed above.
If you decide to buy a pure MCT oil there are a few things to remember. The research on correct dosages has not been officially established, but studies have been conducted using as little as 5 g and as much as 50 g per day. You want to start small when it comes to MCT oil as it can have a laxative effect on those who start with the maximum amount. Start with 5 g and if you feel a positive effect (or no negative side effects) you can start to slowly up your dose daily until you reach an amount good for you.
MCT Oil vs Coconut Oil
MCT oil is tasteless and odorless, you can add it to anything you like or just drink it straight. Common practices include adding it to salads, shakes, smoothies, and to cook with. But some controversy exists over whether cooking with MCT oil is safe or not, as its flash point (smoke point) is only 320 degrees Fahrenheit, the same as olive oil. If used for cooking and the temperature is brought above the flash point the oil will literally start to smoke and oxidize which can eliminate the health benefits while simultaneously creating toxins and free radicals. If you’re cooking with low temperature I wouldn’t worry about it, but if you want to be on the safe side, coconut oil for cooking would be the better option as its flash point is closer to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Take Home Message
After a long temporary retirement, fats are no longer being shamed, but instead being eaten willingly. In this article we went over the difference between short, medium and long chain triglycerides, examples of each and their health benefits. If you didn’t know of the existence of medium chain fatty acids (or did but didn’t know why they are healthy), you now know they are healthy for many reasons, but are unique in how they give us fast and clean energy in the absence of carbs (glucose) in the bloodstream or stored in the body. And even if you aren’t doing a ketogenic diet, you now know many types of fat (including saturated) are in fact very healthy for you in moderation no matter your situation or lifestyle!