Why MCTs: What They Are, How To Use Them And Why They're Essential To A Graceful Keto Life


Cliff  Notes

  • MCTs are a specific type of fat - found most commonly in coconuts - that are converted into ketones (i.e. energy) more efficiently - and keep blood ketone levels higher - than other types of fats.
  • The MCT known as C8 (caprylic acid) is the most desirable of these as it produces the most significant rises in blood ketone levels.
  • MCTs (and C8 in particular) allow us to be more flexible in the way we eat while still keeping our blood ketone levels in the range where most people will feel and perform the best...and burn stored body fat at the fastest.
  • MCTs are particularly valuable to use during times of the day when blood ketone levels tend to be the lowest (like mornings and after meals)....as well as times when we want to have extra metabolic energy available (like during workouts or rigorous mental work)

What Are MCTs Anyways?

Ok, let’s start with just a bit of dietary chemistry 101. Bear with me here, I promise this will be useful in understanding this whole thing

This is alpha-linoleic acid (otherwise known as ALA), a common, run-of-the-mill “long-chain” fatty acid.

And this is capric acid, a common, run-of-the-mill “medium chain” fatty acid (aka MCT).

So you can see there are some similarities and some differences. They both have that HO--=O thing going on on the left side. That’s a carboxyl group, which is kind of what makes a fatty acid a fatty acid.

They also both have some squiggly lines to the right of that carboxyl group (those chains of carbons and hydrogens).

The obvious differences between the two, is the amount of squiggly lines and those “/=\” things on the right side (those are double bonds between carbons, if you’re curious).

It’s not overly important to know what all of these things are, what is important to know if that those extra squiggly lines and “/=\” things significantly change what the body does with these fats.

What Does The Body Do With MCTs vs Long-Chain Fats?

Put simply, MCTs like capric acid require much less processing by the body, and are much more easily turned into ketones and used for energy.

(Put slightly more complexly…) Long-chain fatty acids like ALA require a lot of processing by bile salts and enzymes in the stomach before they can be absorbed by the body. When they are absorbed, it’s into the lymphatic system, which then transports them at a leisurely pace to the liver, where they will (eventually…) be stored or converted into ketones for energy. This process is inefficient and takes a long time, relatively speaking, meaning long-chain fats are more frequently stored as fat.

MCTs in comparison, require very little processing. Once in the stomach, they’re quickly broken down by enzymes and are then sent directly to the liver (via the portal vein).  Unlike long-chain fats, MCTs don’t require any special processing in the liver and are usually quickly converted into ketones for energy. [1]

Are All MCTs Created Equal?

You can probably guess if I’m asking this question, the answer is “nope”.

There are 3 MCTs that you see most commonly (C8, C10 and C12), and the only difference between them is the length of their squiggly lines (chain of carbons and hydrogens, remember).

Above is capric acid (aka C10) which - you guessed it - has a chain of 10 carbons. Here is caprylic acid (aka C8):

They look almost identical, so how big of a difference can those two extra carbons make?

Turns out, it’s a pretty big difference. C8 is much more readily converted into ketones (oxidized is the technical term) in the liver, compared to C10 or C12. There is also evidence C8 can be oxidized directly in our muscle and brain cells, which is where those ketones were headed anyways. This means that C8 is a significant step up in efficiency over C10 or C12 (which are already way more efficient than long-chain fatty acids). [2]

So you may be asking, why all this obsession over efficiency?

Why MCTs Are Essential To A Graceful Keto Lifestyle

First a bit of background on blood ketone levels: Most ketosis researchers agree that if your blood ketone levels measure above 0.5mmol or 0.6mmol, you’re technically in a state of nutritional ketosis (meaning ketones have become a primary fuel source for your body).

What’s important to note, however, is that there can be huge differences in how your body and brain feel and perform even after crossing this magic threshold.

For most people, a blood ketone level of 1.5mmol (for example) will feel much different (read: better) than a blood ketone level of 0.5mmol or 0.6mmol, even though all of these are considered to be “in ketosis”, technically speaking.

With Graceful Keto, we aim to keep blood ketone levels between 1.0mmol and 3.0mmol as much of the day/week as possible. This sweet spot is where most people will feel the most significant mental, emotional and physical benefits of ketosis.

There also tends to be more utilization of your body’s own fat stores when you’re in this range, which is obviously valuable if weight loss is a goal for you.

If you’re following a Cyclic Ketogenic diet, eating higher levels of protein or just wanting to be a bit more relaxed with your carb counting (all of which we advocate in Graceful Keto)...it can be difficult to consistently stay in the sweet spot blood ketone range, even when you’re hitting your target ratios of fat/protein/carbs.

This is where MCTs are a game changer.

Because MCTs are converted into ketones in the body so much more efficiently than long-chain fats, they’ll keep your blood ketone levels significantly higher.  This effect is even more pronounced when proportionally more of those MCTs are coming in the form of C8. [3]

So in summary: MCTs (and C8 in particular) allow us to be a lot more flexible in the way we eat while still keeping our blood ketone levels in that magic 1.0mmol to 3.0mmol range where most people tend to feel and perform the best...and burn stored body fat at the fastest.

How To Use MCTs

Generally speaking, the higher the percentage of your fat calories that come from MCTs in a given day or week, the higher your blood ketone levels will be.

Using coconut oil as your primary cooking oil and salad dressing oil is one easy swap that will dramatically increase the amount of MCTs you’re consuming.

We’ll regularly have a packet of Ketomanna chocolate for breakfast, snack and dessert within a single day. Ketomanna has 12g of MCTs per/packet, making it an easy way to add significant MCTs (while essentially just indulging your sweet tooth).

And as explained in the section above, the rise in your blood ketone levels will be more significant if proportionally more of these MCTs are coming in the form of C8. This is where our C8 MCT powder, Ketobasis, comes in.

(While MCT oils tend to create gastrointestinal issues for a lot of people, MCT powders are generally tolerated well by most people, even in high doses.)

Because C8 MCTs are converted into ketones so quickly in the body, they can effectively be used as an on-demand energy source.

When C8 MCTs are particularly helpful:

  • Times in the day when blood ketone levels tend to be lower. For most people, blood ketone levels tend to be lowest in the first couple hours of the morning (due to natural rises in blood glucose that happen at the end of a sleep cycle) and after meals (due to insulin spikes in response to food).
    In sync with these natural blood ketone rhythyms, it’s smart to use Ketobasis as part of your breakfast and alongside a mid-day meal.
  • Before a workout. Using C8 for a quick rise in blood ketone levels will supply you with more metabolic enegy for your workout, allowing you to push harder. (plus, workouts tend to be more fun when you have a lot of metabolic energy)
  • When you need a brain boost. If you’re doing anything that requires a high level of concentration and brain-engagement, having extra ketones available will produce a noticeable increase in cognitive performance.  
  • Easy ways to use a C8 MCT powder like Ketobasis:

  • Mixed into a plant protein shake. Adding Ketobasis automatically makes any shake/smoothie creamier and generally yummier.
  • Keto Matcha Latte. One of our favorite recipes is 2 servings of Ketobasis + 2g of matcha power + 8oz of warm unsweetened almond milk. Add all of this to a jar and shake, and voila!  A creamy, frothy, delicious MCT matcha latte.
  • Take it straight. Ketobasis is naturally sweet and creamy, so it doesn’t really need any special treatment to be yummy. We always carry a packet with us so we can just pour it into water, mix and drink.

    Stay Synchro, 

    Graham Ryan


    [1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15544546

    [2] https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1471-4159.1988.tb02958.x

    [3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5998344/

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