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Medium-Chain Triglycerides (MCTs): What You Need to Know

Medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), also known as fatty acids, are the primary components of lipids. Triglycerides are transported into cells and stored as body fat or burned for energy. Unlike most fats, MCTs comprise shorter-chain fatty acids, making them easier to digest and absorb than longer-chain fatty acids found in other foods.

Key takeaways:

MCTs are found in oils such as coconut and palm oil, and their health benefits have made them popular among athletes, individuals on the Keto diet, and those looking to improve their overall health. They have several advantages as an efficient energy source and can help increase fat loss and improve metabolic health.

MCT – a healthy saturated fat?

When it comes to fats, not all sources are equal. Less healthy fats include saturated fats and trans fats. While MCT oil is a manufactured source of saturated fat — usually derived from coconut or palm oils — it differs from other sources significantly. MCTs go directly to the liver from the gut and are then burned to produce energy or turned into ketones. When the liver breaks down a lot of fat at once, it produces ketones, which the brain uses for energy instead of sugar or glucose. Therefore, despite the fact that MCT oil consists mainly of saturated fats, some people consider it to be a heart-healthy choice.

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What foods contain MCT?

MCT oil is most commonly extracted from coconut oil, as more than 50% of the fat in coconut oil comes from MCTs. Similar to coconut oil, palm oil is one of the highest MCT foods. In addition to these two sources, these fats can also be found in other foods, including but not limited to:

  • Desiccated coconut
  • Coconut milk
  • Dairy products (i.e., cheese, butter, yogurt, and milk)
  • Raw coconut meat

Benefits of MCTs

There are various health benefits when it comes to MCTs.

Promotes weight loss

If you’re looking to shed a few pounds, MCTs may be a great option to include in your diet. In a study, overweight male and female participants consumed 18–24 grams of MCT or olive oil daily for 16 weeks. At the end of the period, results showed MCT consumption had a reduction in body weight, total fat mass, and intra-abdominal adipose tissue compared to olive oil.

Another study examined overweight men who were given MCT oil at breakfast and lunch three hours later. Results showed a lower rise in triglycerides and glucose, while both peptide and leptin (hormones that signal fullness) increased. In conclusion, men reduced food intake after consuming MCT oil.

May increase energy levels

There’s some evidence that MCT can increase your energy thanks to ketones. Consuming MCT helps your liver make ketones like beta-hydroxybutyrate, which provides you with an energy source for your brain that will give you a boost of energy and focus without having the crash of glucose. In addition, some research suggests consuming a pre-workout drink containing MCT approximately 30 minutes before working out can enhance your total energy output.

Reduces lactate buildup in athletes

MCTs not only can increase energy levels during exercise, but they can also reduce lactate buildup after an intense workout. For example, one study had participants consume 6 g of MCT before a cycling workout. They were instructed to cycle at a workload of 60% peak followed by an 80% peak until exhaustion. Results showed that participants’ overall blood lactate concentration levels dropped significantly after consuming the MCT. Trying MCT might be a good option if you’re struggling with sore muscles after a tough workout and need to recover faster.

May improve gut health

MCT oil has been found to promote the growth of healthy gut bacteria, helping to strengthen the intestinal barrier and prevent harmful microorganisms and antigens from entering the gastrointestinal tract. In addition, consuming this oil may help to rebalance the diversity of microorganisms in the gut. Studies have also found that MCT oil can reduce the growth of harmful bacteria, prevent stomach and liver injuries, improve the immune response, and reduce colitis symptoms. Furthermore, how MCT oil is processed in the body can improve the gut microbiome and lining permeability, increasing metabolic function. As such, MCT oil can be a great way to improve the health of your gut.

Side effects of MCT

It is safe to consume MCTs for most individuals, but it’s important to know if you experience some adverse effects:

  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Irritability
  • Upset stomach
  • Abdominal discomfort
  • Decreased appetite
  • Gastric reflux
  • Nausea
  • Headache

Dosage: how much MCT should you take?

While there is conflict in whether consuming MCT is beneficial, if you do choose to take the MCT supplement, it’s essential to take the proper dosage. To calculate this, divide the dosage equally between all of your meals eaten daily. For example, if you eat three meals daily, you can take 1–2 tablespoons of MCT per meal. However, it’s recommended that you don’t exceed the upper limit of 4–7 tablespoons per day (60–100 mL/day) as a safety precaution for gastrointestinal intolerance precautions.

MCT has many potential benefits, whether for everyday lifestyles or athletes seeking improved performance. Despite the fact that it is a healthy-saturated fat, it should still be consumed in moderation and as part of a balanced diet. If you are considering introducing MCT into your routine, it is always a good idea to consult your physician to determine whether it is right for you. By discussing the potential benefits and drawbacks of MCT with your physician, you can make an informed decision whether it is a suitable addition to your diet.

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