Are medium chain fatty acids really better for you and why?
Letís tackle this one by first defining what a medium chain triglyceride (MCT) is. MCTís are 6-12 carbon fatty acids. Due to their chain length they more closely resemble carbohydrates than fat. These intermediate length triglycerides do not require breakdown or energy to be absorbed into the portal system and metabolized for fuel. Contrarily, long chain triglycerides (LCTís) require bile acids, energy, and numerous steps to be digested and made available for use. MCTís are naturally present in milk fat, coconut oil (66% MCTís), and palm oil. From an energy standpoint MCTís provide approximately 8.3 calories per gram while LCTís provide 9 calories/gram.
Are MCTís good for us? The simple answer is yes. MCTís have many potential uses and benefits. Due to their rapid absorption and metabolism MCTís are quickly converted to energy for use by the muscles and organs. This decreases the likelihood of their being stored as fat. Additionally, they are frequently used in enteral and parenteral nutrition formulas for the critically ill; as they are easily absorbed and may enhance immunity. MCTís are especially useful in treatment of diseases and conditions that result in impaired lipid metabolism including: celiac disease, cystic fibrosis, Crohnís disease, pancreatitis, enteritis, malabsorption, and cirrhosis to name a few.
Thatís not all! MCTís have a slight hypoglycemic (blood sugar reducing) effect, are useful in epilepsy treatment as part of a ketogenic diet, may prevent atherosclerosis, stimulate thermogenisis (fat burning), and act as antioxidants. Many endurance athletes find MCTís performance enhancing as they provide quick energy without the insulin spiking effect of carbohydrates. Compared to carbohydrates MCTís are a more efficient source of fuel. Additionally, they prevent muscle breakdown and conserve lean body mass.
Should you abandon all other fats for MCTís? No! While they are useful, it is possible to get too much of a good thing! High MCT consumption may result in abdominal pain, diarrhea, bloating, and an upset stomach. Be smart and balance your fat intake incorporating a combination of very long chain omega-3 fatty acids, MCTís, some saturated fat, and a minimal amount of omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids.