If asked “what is a ketogenic diet?” many people would simply respond with “low carb” or “no carb.” The keto buzz is everywhere these days, but the definition is not that simple. In order to implement a healthy and effective keto diet, followers should fully understand what ketosis is, how it differs from ketoacidosis, and how to monitor changes in your body to ensure the maximum health benefits.
Don’t be alarmed: you don’t need a medical degree to understand ketosis! We can break this down for you in plain and simple language. We will explore ketosis and outline the benefits of a keto diet, as well as the use of MCT oil as a supplement. And here’s a quick hint for those already skeptical about a ketogenic diet: the use of MCT oil allows ketogenic dieters to consume more carbohydrates versus those on the diet who aren’t using the supplement. So, don’t throw in the towel on a ketogenic diet without reading on for a better understanding. You will not have to say goodbye to carbs forever!
What Is MCT Oil?
Along with the buzz surrounding ketogenic diets, you may have heard of MCT oil used in weight-loss strategies. It often goes hand in hand with keto diets and we’ll explore how it can be beneficial to a keto routine.
MCT stands for “medium chain triglycerides.” In other words, it is FAT. Now, as we have established, a keto diet sends your body into ketosis so that it will burn fat and turn it into glucose as an alternative energy source. Enter MCT oil as another source of fat.
Fat gets a bad rap, but we also know there is a great deal of hype around “healthy fats” and how our bodies can benefit from them. MCT oil is an option for using fat in a healthy way!
“Medium chain” indicates the length of the carbons in the “fat chain” and medium fats have less than ten carbons in this chain. The length of the chain actually determines how our bodies metabolize the fats. This is why the type of fat you consume has an impact on weight and not all fatty foods are bad for you. Medium chain triglycerides are fats that are rapidly absorbed into the blood from the intestinal tract. Longer fat chains are much slower to be absorbed as they have to be broken down (so you can now make the connection that slower to absorb would mean slower to burn off!) MCT fats in the form of an oil supplement are quick to absorb and act as an energy source for the body. Effectively, it is fat that is not stored. Think of MCT as having a very quick shelf life!
While MCT is a component in the fats found in coconut oil (another heavily hyped diet aid) and some dairy products, the best way to reap its benefits it in conjunction with a keto diet is to use an MCT oil supplement. Coconut oil, for example, contains some of the longer chains of fatty acids. Bypassing this and going directly to an MCT oil supplement means none of the longer chains; you are guaranteed to get the specific medium chains that are so quickly absorbed and made available to the body as an energy source.
MCT Oil and Weight Loss
By now you might be thinking, "Ok, I understand what MCT oil is, but how can it help me lose weight?" That's a great question! There are a few ways that MCT oil accelerates weight loss:
- MCT oil increases fat oxidation in the liver which helps you burn more fat
- MCT oil is satiating, which means it can help curb your appetite and keep you feeling full longer
- In conjunction with a ketogenic diet, MCT oil can help reduce the time it takes your body to enter a state of ketosis since the MCTs get converted to additional ketones
- MCT oil is rapidly absorbed by the body and provides a quick source of energy to help power your workouts
Studies have shown that daily use of MCT oil results in a reduction in overall body weight, waist circumference, hip circumference, total body fat, total subcutaneous body fat and even visceral fat.
How Do I Use the MCT Oil in My Daily Routine?
The good news is you have many options! MCT oil can be introduced in a variety of ways. First, let’s look at dosages to get started. If you are new to the keto diet and MCT oil supplements, you will want to start out with small doses. For most people, this means a half tablespoon per day or up to six MCT oil capsules. As with any new supplement you introduce, it’s best to start with a low dosage to see how your body tolerates it first and then slowly work your way up.
One of the most popular ways MCT oil is used is by adding it to your daily coffee. MCT oil is mostly flavorless, so adding it to a morning cup of coffee is an easy way to introduce it into your routine if you already have a java habit! For those who don’t drink coffee, the oil supplement can also be added to a breakfast smoothie or a morning cup of tea, or easily taken orally with softgel capsules.
Another great way to incorporate MCT oil is by adding it to salad dressings. It can also be used as a cooking oil; however, be sure not to use MCT oil for cooking at temperatures higher than 320 degrees, when the fat may oxidize.
By trial and error, you can determine the best way to introduce MCT oil into your daily routine. Do heed the advice to start with low dosages, as starting a high dose too quickly may cause some gastrointestinal side effects.
I Still Want to Know…Can I Eat Carbs?
If you’ve been reading this article with that question at the forefront of your mind, the good news is…YES! A ketogenic diet plan can and does include some carbohydrates—though as part of a low-carbohydrate diet. To be clear, if you have been eating a nightly plate of pasta that could feed a family of four, you are out of luck. However, you will still be able to include some moderate daily carbohydrate intake in your keto diet. Think of it as a very low-carb diet.
By combining MCT oil with the ketogenic diet, people can consume more carbohydrates and protein rich foods and still remain in ketosis. As always, we recommend testing your individual tolerances of carbohydrates to find what works best for you. Start with consuming somewhere between 20-50g of carbs per day and test your ketone levels to see how many carbohydrates you can eat and remain in ketosis.
You can check out additional guidelines on our site for keto diets, but we will shift our focus now to the specific use of MCT oil as a supplement on a ketogenic diet.
What Are the Side Effects of Using an MCT Oil Supplement in a Keto Diet?
Most side effects that occur when using MCT oil are temporary and will go away over time. They typically occur when an individual tries to start out with a higher dosage, rather than slowly building up a tolerance and allowing the body time to adjust.
The most common temporary side effects are nausea, diarrhea, cramping, and bloating. Less common side effects that may be linked to the dosage are headaches and jitters. A rare side effect is an increase in the individual’s serum cholesterol. As always, it is best to discuss any supplement use with a physician and monitor these side effects. Most of them will go away once your body adjusts to the oil.
And the good news is that these temporary side effects are nothing in comparison to some of the long-term benefits of MCT oil. Over time, it can improve gut health and digestion, and it acts as an anti-inflammatory, improving your overall heart, brain, and nervous system function.
If you are already on a keto diet or getting ready to start eating low-carb, then MCT oil should be part of that routine! For more information on ketosis, read on below.
What Is Ketosis?
You’ve heard of alternative fuel sources in an age of environmental awareness, but did you know our own bodies are equipped to find “alternative fuel” as well? That is the fundamental meaning of ketosis and here is how the process works.
Glucose is our main source of fuel and energy. It fuels the functions of our body, whether it is the energy we need to run a race or climb a flight of stairs or stay focused on a task. The glucose in our diet typically comes from consuming carbohydrates. Whereas many people associate carbohydrates with sugary food or junk food, we get glucose from a variety of sources, such as grains, starchy vegetables, and legumes. In our bodies, the glucose is either used immediately as fuel or it is stored as a reserve for energy to be used later. (Think of the runner eating a large plate of pasta the night before a big race, or “carb loading” as it is also known as; he is storing up glucose for energy.)
But what happens when you don’t consume enough glucose? Does this mean our bodies will become completely depleted of energy? That we can no longer run or exercise? That we can no longer focus on tasks?
It’s actually quite the opposite. Our bodies won’t give out without glucose (side note: this doesn’t apply in the case of diabetes, which we will touch on later). Our bodies instead look for an alternative fuel source. It seeks out fat stores to turn them into glucose.
Right away, this may sound appealing to many: ketosis will burn my fat? And yes, it will, but you need to be aware of how to manage this process effectively!
Without the presence of glucose, our livers will break down the fat stores and turn them into glucose. During this process, ketones are created as a by-product. And ketone bodies come in three different types: Acetate, Acetoacetate, and Beta-Hydroxybutyrate (BHB). They are then used by the body as an alternative fuel so ketosis effectively turns your body into a fat-burning machine.
But I’ve Heard Ketosis is Bad for You…?
There are many misconceptions around ketosis and the primary point of confusion stems from people confusing ketosis with ketoacidosis. To be clear, here is how the two differ:
- Ketosis is a state in which there are LOW levels of ketones in the blood and it is safe as part of a ketogenic diet.
- Ketoacidosis is a state in which there are HIGH levels of ketones in the blood, which can turn the blood acidic and it can be deadly if untreated.
Now, you may be asking, how can I prevent ketoacidosis? How can I ensure my ketone levels don’t become dangerously high? Ketoacidosis typically happens in three extreme scenarios: when people are starving (not just hungry—truly malnourished as in the case of extreme poverty), people who suffer from alcoholism, or people with diabetes who do not have enough insulin.
Diabetics are not candidates for a keto diet plan; they should always manage dietary choices in consultation with their physicians. When diabetic ketoacidosis occurs, symptoms present may include excessive urination or thirst, nausea and vomiting, shortness of breath, hyperglycemia, and what is often described as “fruity smelling breath.” Ketoacidosis requires immediate medical attention and treatment. Ketosis, on the other hand, is a safe and effective process and most generally healthy people CAN thrive on a keto diet, with improved athletic and cognitive function!
So…Nothing “Bad” Happens in Ketosis?
We have tried to clear up the confusion between ketosis and ketoacidosis, but to be clear there are also some common side effects when the body enters ketosis. It’s a shock to the system and it will take your body a while to adapt. However, some short-term side effects are nothing in comparison to what can be gained if you stick with it!
Initially, when your body enters ketosis you may experience some fatigue, digestive issues, and insomnia; this period is referred to as the "keto flu." Once your body adjusts to ketosis, however, there are some significant and positive effects. Many people report increased energy and better sleep after ketosis. After just a few weeks, these initially unpleasant side effects can disappear and be replaced by better overall function, both in athletic performance and cognitive function as well.
One great way to monitor and manage ketosis, which offers reassurance to those who worry about the possibility of ketoacidosis, is to measure ketone levels in your body. This can be done easily and inexpensively, too! There are three ways to measure ketones: urine tests, blood tests, and breath tests. You should be able to find these on Amazon or at your local pharmacy, with the blood glucose meters being the most expensive option, at around $5–$10 per test. You will need to consult the packaging information with any product to determine what units of measurement are used and how to assess the results. Ketone measurements are not “one size fits all” as the different tests may have different units. Most will use millimoles per liter (mmol/L); however, in some cases, you may see milligram per deciliter (mg/dL). If you plan to start a keto diet and test your ketone levels, be sure to discuss this with your physician as well!