By Uri Carlson, RDN
Thank you for returning to the Cofo Blog page! Our intention here is to write blog posts that give you a thorough yet simple understanding of each and every topic we feature. We want to do this for two reasons: first, so that you can understand it and thus decide if it’s something that you can use to make your life better and second, so that you can confidently explain it to your friends and people you care about. The world of nutrition can be confusing, but we hope that the content to follow provides a basis of simple understanding while also empowering you to fuel the best version of yourself!
MCTs (medium chain triglycerides) are a type of fat that get their name from their specific size and the type of fatty acids that they are made up of.
First, what sets MCT fats apart is their size. MCTS contain between six and 12 carbons, while long-chained fats, such as the omega-3 fats (DHA and EPA), have 13 to 21 carbons.
Second, what sets MCT fats apart is the type of fats they contain. Some commercial supplemental brands of MCT oil contain close to a 50/50 combination of C8 (8 carbons) and C10 (10 carbons) fats, but they can also have C6 and C12 fats. While C6 through C12 fats are considered MCTs, it’s the C8 and C10 length MCTS that have the most significant impact on energy production.
Your body processes MCTs differently from the long-chain fats in your diet. Normally, a dietary fat must be mixed with the bile released from your gallbladder and acted on by pancreatic enzymes to break it down in your digestive system. These long-chain dietary fats are transported to the lymphatic system where they circulate and then end up in your liver or are easily stored in adipose tissue throughout the body.
MCTs, on the other hand, don't need bile or pancreatic enzymes. Instead, they go straight to your intestine without requiring any action from the gallbladder or pancreas. From there, they diffuse through your intestinal membrane into your bloodstream and are transported directly to your liver, which naturally converts the fats into ketones to be used for energy. Because they bypass the need for bile, pancreatic enzymes and they don’t go through the lymphatic system, this is a significantly faster process than the digestion of long chain fats.
Note: The only exception here is C12, which DOES have to go through normal digestion just like long chain fats. For this reason, C12 is often not even considered a MCT. This illustrates the importance to be picky about the MCT products you purchase- make sure that they’re not primarily C12 (aka Lauric Acid).
Speaking of supplements, unlike natural sources of MCTs including pure coconut or palm oil, MCT oil supplements can be created to contain nothing else but the C8 and C10 MCTS.
For example: pure coconut oil has a high percentage of C12/Lauric acid and then a smaller amount of the most beneficial C8 + C10. This means you would have to take A LOT of coconut oil to get the same benefits you would see from an MCT specific supplement that has filtered the C12 out and contains more of the beneficial C8 and C10.
Lastly, know this: some MCT products specify their MCT breakdown, but some do not. Ideally, MCT products with the most amount of C8/Caprylic Acid are the gold standard, with C10/Capric Acid coming in a close second. As a consumer, this means it’s up to you to research the products you purchase so you can make sure you know what quality product you’re getting.
In our opinion, it’s always worth taking a few extra minutes to ensure you’re getting the most ideal product to meet your needs.
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