There are certain healthy fats that aid the keto diet, coconut oil being one of them due to its relatively large amount of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs). That is because shorter fatty acid chains burn faster than longer ones, known as long-chain triglycerides (LCTs). MCT oil is an even higher concentration of MCTs, exclusively made of the MCTs people seek when using coconut oil for the keto diet. So MCT oil vs. coconut oil: which one will work the best for you and why?
What Are Good Fats for Ketosis?
The keto diet is a streamline approach to fat burning, limiting the amount of glucose that goes into the body, so that more fat can be processed out as quick energy. The ideal is to reach the state of ketosis (sounds almost like a visiting nation on a sci-fi show, doesn’t it?): the state where the body knows that it isn’t starving and is happy to burn off fat stores for your daily energy. Just as you would never eliminate all carbs and sugar from your diet (even those on a keto diet may need to carbo-load before a vigorous workout or sporting activity), you don’t want to say goodbye to the good fats either. So which are the good fats for ketosis?
Types of Dietary Fats
First, let’s run down the categories of dietary fats.
Polyunsaturated Fatty Acid (PUFA)
The two main types of polyunsaturated fats are omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids (the numbers denote the length of the carbon chain). According to a chapter in The Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease Through the Mediterranean Diet:
- These omega fats can be found in plants and vegetable oils: nuts, safflower oil, flaxseeds, and unhydrogenated soybean oil.
- Omega fatty acids are also contained in fatty fish: sardines, salmon, albacore tuna, and mackerel.
- Health benefits from these fats include the extensively studied link between fish and omega-3 intake for preventing and possibly treating heart disease and stroke.
- Dietary omega-6 reduces bad cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein or LDL) and triglycerides, which is associated with significantly lowered risk of cardiac disease.
Monounsaturated Fatty Acid (MUFA)
Monounsaturated fats have one unsaturated carbon bond in the molecule (polyunsaturated fats have two or more). The American Heart Association recommends that the majority of the fats we eat should be either polyunsaturated or monounsaturated. Monounsaturated fats are:
- Found in canola oil, olive oil, peanut oil, safflower oil, and sesame oil
- Also found in nuts such as pecans, cashews, almonds, and macadamias
- Contained in avocados, olives, and nut butters
- Potentially beneficial to lowering your risk of heart disease by lowering LDL cholesterol, improving blood vessel functioning, and helping to control blood sugar and insulin levels
Saturated Fatty Acid (SFA)
So called because they are saturated with hydrogen molecules, saturated fats are fat molecules that have no double bonds between carbon molecules. Usually solid at room temperature, saturated fats:
- Are contained in meat, coconut, palm kernel oil, butter, cheese, lard, and cream
- Have the potential to raise your LDL cholesterol, and thus should only make up 5-6% of your dietary intake (about 13 grams per day based on a 2000-calorie diet)
Artificial trans fats are created during the industrial practice of adding hydrogen to vegetable oils (thus making them more solid). Trans fats can be found in a large variety of processed foods, including:
- Refrigerated or frozen doughs (biscuits, cinnamon rolls, pizzas)
- Some stick kinds of margarine and vegetable shortenings
- Coffee creamers and ready-to-spread frostings
- Cookies, cakes, crackers, and pies
- Snack foods like microwave popcorn, cream-filled candies, and many potatoes, corn, and tortilla chips
Trans fats are never recommended, while the complex bonds in polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats might provide significant health benefits.
The Keto Advantage Fats
While avoiding trans and saturated fats is an excellent way to prevent gaining weight, the keto diet goes to the next level: using up the body fat already stored in your body. Losing unnecessary fat off your frame benefits your heart, your joints, your fitness potential, and your physique, so how can the right fats help you get there?
While long-chain fatty acids are usually the best for your health, when trying to achieve ketosis, it’s the medium-chain fatty acids that can be accessed more quickly. Medium-chain fatty acids don’t have to be extensively broken down before they can be used. Glucose and sugar can be converted into energy quickly, but when your goal is to strike a balance that allows you to access fat stores without putting your body into crisis or starvation mode…that is when these foods can best benefit your goals!
Of all the foods and oils with natural amounts of MCTs, coconut oil has the highest amount at 15%, significantly more than palm kernel oil at 7.9% or yogurt at 6.6%.
Coconut Oil: The Good and the Bad
Virgin coconut oil has a naturally occurring higher amount of MCTs that can more quickly unlock the weight-loss potential of a keto diet. However, coconut is still a saturated fat, and it contains lauric acid, which is still not a fully understood component. While lauric acid may have benefits when applied to skin prone to acne, it is yet to be determined what effect it has on cholesterol levels when ingested.
MCT Oil vs.Coconut Oil for Keto
If you’re unsure about coconut oil or just want the MCTs for your keto goals without any extra saturated fat, MCT oil might be a better solution. Pure MCT oil is made up of what is referred to as the “capra fatty acids,” namely:
- C6 — caproic acid or hexanoic acid
- C8 — caprylic acid or octanoic acid
- C10 — capric acid or decanoic acid
While lauric acid (C12) is sometimes included on this list of MCT acids, experts will also argue that caproic, caprylic, and capric reflect the definition of medium-chain types of fatty acids more accurately than lauric does. However, C6 has a reputation for foul taste and smell and is normally left out of consumer MCT formulas.
If lauric acid is what’s needed, coconut oil is an excellent natural source for it. But if it’s MCTs you’re after, you may want to limit your consumption to exactly what you need, and no extras (that’s the keto way).
Frequently Asked MCT Oil Questions
- What kind of MCT oil is best for keto? MCT oil is made by isolating the MCTs from coconut and palm kernel oil. Pure C8 is one option or a combination of the C8 and C10 capra fatty acids provide an overall balance.
- How do you take MCT oil on a ketogenic diet? Either in capsule or liquid form and yes, you can take it straight: you can even put MCT oil in coffee instead of the unpleasant task of taking it by the spoonful (like some generations were made to swallow cod liver oil).
- When should you take MCT oil: morning, noon, or night? When you should take doses of MCT oil depends on your needs. Morning if you need more energy to start the day, midday if it’s in preparation for a workout, or before bed if you’d like to know you’re aiding fat loss in your sleep (while also reducing insulin spikes so you can fall asleep more quickly).
At the end of the day, MCTs are more rapidly broken down and absorbed due to their shorter carbon chain length. Many people are aware of the “brain fog” that comes along with adjusting to the keto diet, and utilizing MCTs to reach ketosis faster can improve brain function, daily energy, and help curb hunger while you reset your body to a purer form of functioning.
Whether you use MCT oil or gain MCTs through selecting the right foods, any type of MCT will provide a faster energy source that is less likely to be stored as fat than more complex chains of carbon atoms are. Moreover, the benefits of MCT oil applied directly to your keto diet might mean reaching a state of ketosis sooner rather than later, and when it comes to your health, the sooner the better.
If you’re ready to embark on the keto diet and would like some help from MCT oil and other keto diet supplements, visit the Fitoru Keto Shop.