MCT Powder: What it is, Benefits vs. MCT Oil, and How to Judge MCT Powder Quality

In this article, we take an in-depth look at medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) powder products.

You may already be familiar with MCT oil products. MCT powder products are a more recent innovation that have some benefits.

Read on as we explain and uncover:

What is MCT Powder? How is it Made?

MCT powder is a powdered form of medium-chain triglycerides.

The production process is like that in which protein powders are made – a process called spray drying.

Saturated fatty acids are solids at room temperature. This is why butter, coconut oil and lard are room temperature solids, they have different, but high saturated fat content. The saturated structure of the fatty acid allows them to close-pack next to each other, this effect creates higher melting point solids.

MCT oils are usually formulated with three medium chain saturated acids that are linked together by a glycerol chain. This disrupts the close-packing present in saturated acids and is the reason that MCT oils are liquids at room temperature. As such, the liquid MCT oil can be spray dried and micro-encapsulated with a powder “carrier shell” to give it the appearance and convenience of a powder.

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spraydrying

Schematic of the Spray Drying Process

Clarification: MCT powder does not contain beta hydroxybutyrate (BHB) or ketone salts. This contrasts with exogenous ketone products (which we covered before here & here). For example, Keto Kreme by Pruvit does not contain BHB as many people assume.

The Main Difference – What is Used for the Powder?

The powder is generally composed of starch/ starch derivatives and milk proteins. Obviously, these ingredients are not used in the pure MCT oil or caprylic acid oil products. Carbohydrate and protein based support powders can raise insulin levels, so MCT powder formulation needs to be carefully selected to prevent unnecessary insulin spikes. Below is a list of the most common powder ingredients used for MCT powder products:

  • Maltodextrin
  • Glucose Syrup Solids
  • Sodium Caseinate
  • Soluble Corn Fiber
  • Soy Lecithin

The exact amount of carbohydrate and protein in the final MCT powder product varies based on the ratio of powder used. Typically, the powders are between 50% and 80% oil based with the rest made up by the powder carrier.

Why Use MCT Powder vs. MCT Oil?

MCT powder

MCT Powder

The main advantages of converting MCT oil to a powder product include:

  • Incorporation into solid products (for example, adding them to a baking recipe or any other powdered product) and a possibility of controllable “slowed” release of the MCT oil during consumption.
  • MCT powder products tend to be used for a convenient on-the-go option in single serving sachets, and powders are generally easier to transport than liquids.
  • Many people can experience gut distress (diarrhea or “the runs”) issues when consuming MCT oils; anecdotal feedback suggests that MCT powder products are much more tolerable in that regard and thus you can take greater amounts of MCT, and potentially double the blood ketone impact vs. standard MCT oils.
  • It is also viable to stack MCT powder with other ingredients that boost blood ketones (such as BHB mineral salts) to further augment the effect (see graph below). In effect the MCT powder works as a good carrier for BHB mineral salts in the body. See the complete discussion of using BHB mineral salts to raise ketones for context.
  • Powders provide an alternative rich texture with potential for flavoring. Many people use the MCT powders as a “creamer” for coffee or hot drinks. There’s also flavored varieties available depending on the company and product you use.

Effects of Naturally-Derived Ketone Supplements on Blood BHB Levels 1

  • BMS (Beta-hydroxybutyrate Mineral Salt) – sodium/ potassium based (similar to KetoForce)
  • MCT (medium chain triglyceride oil)
  • BMS + MCT (1:1 mixture of beta-hydroxybutyrate mineral salt and MCT oil)

Benefits of MCT Powder Use: The Research

To date, virtually all research on the benefits of MCT supplementation has used MCT oil, and not MCT oil powder.

Anecdotally, researchers like Dominic D’Agostino have commented that you are typically able to increase blood ketones two fold higher than ordinary MCT oil. This is simply due to the ability to consume more MCTs in the powder form by avoiding the greater GI distress potential of the oil form.

Nonetheless, the benefits of MCT oil powder should be identical to the benefits of MCT oil since the only difference is the delivery method.

The best researched benefits to MCT intake include improved blood lipids, increased energy expenditure, weight loss, neuroprotection, and potential reduction in risk of cancer.

We will cover the research benefits of MCTs in general in a future in depth article on MCT oil.

What to Look For in MCT Powders

As noted in the product comparison table found further down in this article, MCT powder products come in either premium brand-name iterations or are sold in bulk with a generic label.

While generic MCT powders come with a better price tag, they make some quality tradeoffs to make up for the reduced cost. These quality tradeoffs determine the ketone driving potential of the MCT powder, whether it has positive or negative gut impacts and its allergen free status (e.g. gluten, dairy).

MCT Oil Powder Properties

How to Understand the Quality of an MCT Powder

The key differences you need to be aware of between MCT powders are the following:

  • Grams of Active Ketone-Producing MCTs: First, the percentage of the MCTs that are ketone producing (i.e. C8 and C10). Second, the total grams of MCT oil vs. other ingredients per gram of product.
  • Quality of Powder Carrier: The different powders used to “carry the oil” have different properties, some adding negatives (e.g. being high glycemic or gut irritants), some adding benefits (e.g. promoting beneficial gut flora growth).
  • Non-Allergen Status: Whether they use GMO, gluten, dairy-based or derived (e.g. sodium caseinate) ingredients.

Grams of Active Ketone-Producing MCTs

The end benefit from consuming MCT powder comes primarily from its active ketone producing benefits. This in turn depends on the total grams per unit and quality of the MCT oil (in terms of ketone producing capacity).

First, consider what the ratio of MCTs to powder (and other ingredients) by weight a product has. This can vary between 80% – 50% oil to powder ratio, thus providing more or less MCTs per gram. An MCT powder with an 80% oil to powder ratio is providing significantly more MCT oil per gram than its 50% counterpart.

This is not information that is typically reported, but if you look at the nutrition facts and compare these between products you can estimate the MCT (fatty acid) to non-MCT ratio.

Second, the quality of the MCT oil itself matters. MCT oils on the market are made from varying combinations of C8 (Caprylic Acid), C10 (Capric Acid) and C12 (Lauric Acid). Only C8 and C10 provide the ketone producing benefits, and C8 is the most effective. So you’re looking for the highest concentration of C8, with C10, but avoiding C12 incorporating products.

For an in depth discussion on why C8, Caprylic Acid, drives more ketones than other oils read this article.

Quality of Powder Carrier: Gut & Ketone Supporting or Negating Properties

There are a wide variety of powder carriers being used for MCT powders already, although unfortunately, these are not always reported in the ingredients.

The first, and simplest rule to follow is to avoid high-glycemic powders. While ketones can offset some of the glucose and insulin spiking effects of glycemic ingredients, the overall balance will still produce higher glucose levels with the higher glycemic ingredients used. So it is likely to be counter productive to the goal of raising ketones and to keto diets or achieving ketosis in general.

In general, when you purchase bulk MCT powder, it’s safe to assume you are getting a powder that uses glycemic maltodextrin and/ or glucose-syrup solids as part of the powder carrier as these reduce the cost of manufacture. Looking at the nutrition facts you can see the carbohydrate content of each product – however in the U.S. this combines both non-glycemic fiber and glycemic carbs. Look for Carbs – of which sugars for the glycemic part if reported.

To simplify navigating product information: We recommend purchasing products that list the ingredients of their MCT powder to be sure or to track your blood ketones and glucose 30 minutes after consuming a product to be sure.

The second rule is in relation to gut health. Certain carbohydrates and proteins used in powdered MCT products are potential gut irritants. Maltodextrin, for example, can be a gut irritant for some people.

On the other hand, some digestion-resistant starches (such as soluble corn fiber and cyclic dextrin) appear to promote digestive health by influencing growth of specific microbiota in the gut and by altering the morphology of gut tissue2.

Non-Allergenic: Corn Derived, Sodium Caseinate etc.

Many of the basic MCT powder products contain ingredients that some people will want to avoid for allergenic reasons (or if they follow a diet aiming to be low allergen such as Paleo for example).

The two main ingredients that people are likely to be concerned about are Corn derived ingredients (especially if GMO) and the dairy protein derived, Sodium Caseinate.

Note of warning: In some MCT powders the actual ingredients of the powder are not reported. They just state “MCT Powder” in the ingredients list, without stating the actual powder or other carriers used. So if you are aiming to avoid these types of ingredients, it’s best to either enquire or avoid products that do not state all ingredients separately.

Specialized MCT Powder Products / Latest Product Innovations

While pure MCT powder products are making waves in the supplement industry, there are innovative products now available that combine exogenous ketones (BHB salts) with MCT powder to enhance the effects. An example of this type of combination product is Keto OS.

Another product that differs from others is Bulletproof’s Instamix. This combines grass-fed butter and the Brain Octane caprylic acid oil, resulting in a product that may be higher in caprylic acid content than other MCT powders (unfortunately fatty acid breakdown is not reported).

It will be interesting to see if companies continue to up the ante with MCT powder products by adding possible synergistic ingredients.

Comparison of MCT Powder Products Currently Available

PRODUCT Size (g) MCT Quality MCT per Gram Powder Quality Price Carbs per Gram Price per MCT Gram Other Added Ingredients/ Comments
Keto Kreme
(15 Packets)
336g Typical MCT composition (C8, C10 & C12) <0.66g* Unknown (probable in part sodium caseinate) £75.00 0.17g >£0.34* Ceylon Cinnamon, Stevia
Quest MCT Powder 454g Unknown MCT composition 0.77g Soluble Corn Fiber, Sodium Caseinate, Sunflower Lecithin £26.97 0g (Fiber 0.11g) £0.08 Silicon Dioxide
Phat Fibre 454g Unknown MCT composition 0.6g Digestion-Resistant Maltodextrin (gut flora benefits) £31.25 0g (Fiber 0.37g) £0.11 None
Bulletproof Instamix 259g Combination of Caprylic Acid Triglyceride (C8) and grass-fed butter fatty acids <0.7g** Highly Branched Cyclic Dextrin (gut flora benefits) £31.95 0g (Fiber 0.27g) >£0.18** Sorbitol, Vitamin E TPGS
Generic MCT Powders
(e.g. TheProteinWorks,
Bulk Powders)
500g Unknown MCT composition 0.7g – 0.74g Typically Malto Dextrin and Glucose Syrup (Glycemic impact and potential negative gut impacts) £19.46 – £25.99 0.16g – 0.3g £0.06 – £0.07 Typically unknown additive ingredients. Not dairy free.
Source: Nutritional Information provided by products and/ or Certificates of Analysis where available.
* KetoKreme active MCT % unknown due to coconut shortening powder fatty acid presence.
** Bulletproof Instamix active MCT % unknown due to grass-fed butter fatty acid presence.

The Main Takeaways

MCT powder products are a convenient and effective addition to a ketogenic lifestyle. Based on feedback to us, most people find it easy to integrate them into their life by adding them to their hot beverages.

The benefits of MCTs span a broad range, but more research studies are needed on the effects that come specifically from powdered MCT products (as opposed to MCT oil).

Remember that while generic MCT powder products come with a better price tag than premium products, they cut corners that aren’t appropriate for a keto lifestyle by using glycemic carbohydrates such as glucose syrup for the powder base.

QUESTION: What questions do you have about MCT Powders that haven’t been answered in this article? Let us know in the comments and we’ll reply there.

References:

  1. Kesl, S. L., Poff, A. M., Ward, N. P., Fiorelli, T. N., Ari, C., Van Putten, A. J., Sherwood, J. W., Arnold, P. and D’Agostino, D. P. Kesl, Shannon L. et al. “Effects Of Exogenous Ketone Supplementation On Blood Ketone, Glucose, Triglyceride, And Lipoprotein Levels In Sprague–Dawley Rats“. Nutrition & Metabolism 13.1 (2016): n. pag. Web. 23 July 2016.
  2. Knapp, B. K., Bauer, L. L., Swanson, K. S., Tappenden, K. A., Fahey, G. C., & De Godoy, M. R. (2013).Soluble fiber dextrin and soluble corn fiber supplementation modify indices of health in cecum and colon of Sprague-Dawley rats. Nutrients, 5(2), 396-410.
  • Ivan Dolphin

    Great article! Thanks for the info. Found you via Google searching for “mct powder oil”.

    • Thanks, appreciate the feedback.

      • Andy Farrow

        Damien. Truly informative article and your site is one of [if not the most] informative sites on Keto information out there. Much appreciated that you share this valuable information.