The Kind of Fat You've Never Heard of, but That Could Help You Lose Weight

Long gone is the nutritional notion that all fat is bad for you. Now we know that there are healthy fats and not-so-healthy fats, and that when it comes to weight gain and loss, it’s all about the types and quantities of fat you consume. For example, maybe you now cook with coconut oil or palm oil instead of butter -- a decidedly good move. But what if you could turn up the power of that healthy oil and shed pounds at the same time?

Enter medium-chain triglycerides, or MCTs. Don’t let the scientific name scare you. MCTs are fatty acids found in foods you probably already eat, such as the aforementioned oils and dairy products like cheese and yogurt -- just not in large doses. Some geniuses had the idea to extract the MCTs from these products and bottle them up in a concentrated form, called MCT oil, which is most likely available at your local health-food store.

So what exactly is so magical about MCTs? Let me explain:

It's all about molecular structure, baby

Medium-chain triglycerides isn’t just a clever name; it refers to the size of the molecules. Because MCTs contain fewer carbon atoms than their long-chain counterparts, they're more readily oxidized in the liver, leading to greater energy expenditure.

MCTs help you burn more energy than their longer-chain relatives

When you consume food, your body expends energy in completing the digestion and metabolism processes. Different foods have different energy expenditures, and even though long-chain triglycerides and medium-chain triglycerides are both fat, MCTs actually produce a greater energy expenditure in your body. So while you may be consuming the same number of calories from fat, MCT oil burns through more energy, which is why it may help you lose weight.

It's not a diet!

Everyone knows most diets are doomed to fail due to their emphasis on deprivation and foods that taste like cardboard. Diets are rarely sustainable for the long term, so why bother? Simply incorporating MCTs into your existing regimen can result in decreased weight and body-fat percentage, and you don't have to cut anything out. And while MCTs may raise cholesterol levels, they have a much greater impact on HDL (good) cholesterol than LDL (bad) cholesterol, lowering your total cholesterol-to-HDL ratio.

MCTs could be a boon for brain function

Research shows that MCTs may have a number of medical applications, such as battling cognition impairment. For example, one study showed that MCTs had a beneficial effect on cognition in diabetes patients suffering from hypoglycemia, and another showed that they can delay cognitive decline in those with Alzheimer's.

How do you use it?

There are multiple ways to get the benefits of MCT oil. You can take it on its own as a supplement (the serving size is 1tbsp), or you can incorporate it into other foods, such as smoothies and salad dressings. The oil has very little flavor of its own, so it's easy to slip in undetected. Just keep in mind that it's best not to cook with MCT oil because of its low smoke point. And for the coffee drinkers out there: A recent love-it-or-hate-it trend called Bulletproof coffee includes MCTs.

All I'm saying is, a bottle of MCT oil sounds like a pretty great stocking stuffer or Hanukkah gift.

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Katie McDonough is a freelance writer and editor whose favorite phrase in the English language might be healthy fat. Follow her @thewritekatie.