Medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) are a unique class of fatty acids. Almost all of the MCTs used in research, medicine, and food products come from coconut oil, palm kernel oil, or a derivative of the coconut plant.
All Triglycerides Are Not Alike
MCTs were first formulated in the 1950’s as a source of calories for patients too ill to properly digest typical fats and oils. It was also included in the diets of patients who required fast weight gain as they were recovering from illness. MCTs were considered so nutritious that they were soon incorporated in baby formulas then and to this day.
All dietary fats are made up of carbon atoms linked in chains. When we describe triglycerides, we typically refer to the “chain length.” The main form of fat in the typical American diet consists of long chain triglycerides (12 to 18 carbons), or LCTs. The majority of the fats and oils that we consume, either in the saturated or unsaturated form, are made up of LCTs. Foods such as butter, heavy whip cream, mayonnaise and some oils are included as LCTs.
MCTs are a type of dietary fat that is easily digested and absorbed, providing nourishment and energy to the body. MCTs are readily broken down into fatty acids by enzymes in saliva and gastric juices and are absorbed by the intestines, and quickly sent to the liver where they are burned as fuel similar, to carbohydrates. Medium chain triglycerides (6 to 10 carbons) are thought to provide unique properties to enhance good health, based on faster conversion, and transport to the liver. Coconut oil is composed of approximately 66% MCTs.
The fact that MCTs are easily digested to produce a ready-from of energy and stimulate metabolism, has made it popular among athletes and others looking to enhance their exercise regime. No wonder you can find MCT as a listed “ingredient” in sports drinks and energy bars.