The best saturated fats are those that our bodies can burn most easily to fuel our energy. These are the fats that are highest in medium-chain triglycerides.
This term is such a mouthful that we usually call them just MCTs. Triglycerides are the big part of vegetable oils and animal fats. Medium-chain means that these fats are 6 to 12 carbons long, while the much more common long-chain fats thats have 14 to 28 carbons.
Our bodies need to cut down the fats that we burn for energy to chains of carbons that are no more than 12 carbons long. MCTs are already that short, so our bodies can burn them better. That’s why athletes often prefer MCTs for energy and why MCTs are especially valuable for people when they start to follow a very-low carbohydrate lifestyle to better manage their diabetes.
The connection between carbohydrates and fat may not be that clear to everyone. All our nutrition comes from carbs, fat, and protein. So when we follow a very low-carb lifestyle, why can’t we just boost the protein and leave the fat alone?
One problem with that strategy would be that the extra protein above what we need each day would just raise our blood glucose level. Adult men need 56 grams of good quality protein per day and most adult women need 46 grams, according to the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine. Pregnant women and nursing mothers need 71 grams. Another problem is that protein wouldn’t give us the energy we need. Only carbohydrates and fats provide us with a source of energy.
Some of the long-chain fats have special problems. I think that everyone knows by now that we need to avoid transfats, which in this country we are fortunately reducing in our food products and in our diet.
Few people find any problem with monounsaturated fats, like the fat in avocados, except that it’s harder to digest than MCTs. Polyunsaturated fats go rancid all too easily and also have an unfavorable ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fats, which I have written about in “Cutting Back on Omega-6.” Those are good enough reasons to avoid polyunsaturated fats except fish oil and “Krill Oil.”
Some people are still concerned about how healthy saturated fat, which is commonly found in red meat, is for us. MCTs are saturated fat, meaning that they are solid at room temperatures, but they are a special kind, since they are both plant based and more easily digestible.
In my most recent articles here, “The Trouble with Saturated Fat” and “Coconut Oil: A Different Kind of Saturated Fat,” I wrote about my interview with Ron Rosedale, M.D. While I focused my questions on coconut oil, which is mostly MCT, I learned from him a lot about three other important saturated fats that are also high in MCT.
In addition to coconut oil, we can use palm oil, which is almost as high in MCT as coconut oil. Ghee, a clarified or purified butter, is has less MCT, but offers the advantage of having a very high smoke point so we can use it where we need to cook at high heat. And I was surprised to learn that we can get pure MCT.
My next article will discuss these other oils that, along with coconut oil, rank as the best saturated fats.
HealthCentral published an earlier version of this article.