I've dabbled in and out of the keto diet for about a year and while I always try to keep it simple with my meals and maintain my regular supplement regime, it's hard not to fall into the world of "keto" supplements. Products like exogenous ketones, collagen, and even MCT oil can be found in the mass market today, but are they really all they're cracked up to be?
Maybe and maybe not!
I'm going to break down these supplements into basic information that will provide you with the knowledge you need to decide if these are right for you, your diet and your goals!
* Remember to always consult a qualified healthcare practitioner prior to changing diets and supplements.
Let's start with MCT oil
Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCT) are a form of fat, predominately found in coconut oil. This is one of the many reasons coconut oil has become a huge staple in the health industry. Triglycerides are the main form of fat in the average diet. They are also the main form of fat storage in the body. Triglyercides can be broken into one of three categories: short chain, medium chain and long chain. Long chain triglycerides are the most numerous in animal meat and processed foods and so many of us get more than enough of these. When we eat fat, our body must produce a product called "bile." Bile is responsible for making fat absorbable. This is true when we eat long chain fatty acids (or triglycerides) like soybean oil or canola oil. However, when we reduce the size of the fat molecule, our body is able to absorb the fat without the help of bile. While it's not really the production of bile we are concerned with in this case, it is a fun fact to note! Because we don't need bile for shorter chains of fatty acids, the body can uptake the MCT with very little effort and we can begin to use it quickly and effectively as a source of energy; This is a similar process to when we use carbohydrates (or carbs) to pump us up for a gym session or to stay awake during the dreaded afternoon slump!
Studies have shown that MCT oil can help with weight loss by increasing feelings of fullness and acting as a source of energy dense nutrition. MCT oil has also been studied in relation to memory and cognitive (brain) functioning as well as being used with a ketogenic diet. Some researchers have even looked at the use of MCT oil in athletes and whether or not it helps to temporarily increase athletic performance (by providing a big hit of energy). The jury is still out on this, but it may be worth trying if you aren't into pre-workout supplements.
What is the best way to take MCT oil?
*Dosing information is mixed and is based on why you are using it! A good rule of thumb:
--you can take MCT oils at every meal to help increase levels of satiety and fullness
--or before athletics to temporarily increase energy and performance
Caution: Oils can cause loose stools or diarrhea- so be mindful of starting slowly and building up your tolerance to the additional oils.
*Coconut oil in cooking and baking
**avoid using purified (liquid) MCT oil in cooking or baking as it has a low smoke point and can easily burn
*MCT oil on salads or in place of Olive Oil when not cooking
*Fat Bombs (popular on a Keto diet, simply a treat made mostly of fat)
Brands I've Tried:
With my history in the skincare industry, I know that collagen can be useful for the skin and ageing, but I've only ever experienced it topically. Collagen is mostly* an animal by-product (*there are plant-based versions available) . It comes from the bones of animals and is a cousin to gelatine. Collagen is a great source of protein and a wonderful source of amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein. Collagen can be useful for many health concerns including skin and ageing, but can also benefit those dealing with joint pain, bone loss and even those dealing with inflammation. Collagen has been suggested as a method of cardiovascular protection as well. It has been hypothesized and shown in a single clinical trial that collagen supplements have increased the elasticity of blood vessels in the body, helping to reduce plaque build up.
Collagen is naturally carb free, and thus is "safe" for a keto diet, but why has it become synonymous with a ketogenic diet? Well, put simply, it's a nutrient rich protein powder! Many protein powders contain carbohydrates. These may come from natural sources, like the vegetable or dairy product that is used as the protein base of the powder, or the carbs may be due to additives like flavours, sweeteners or other questionable ingredients. When you choose a collagen powder as a protein powder, it can be a great way to reduce dairy products, and/ or other unwanted carbohydrates.
Collagen protein can be used as any other protein powder - as a meal replacement or snack or as a recovery product, but an important note to make here is that collagen supplements are often more expensive and contain less protein per serving than whey and other vegetable based proteins. For this reason, it might be best to use collagen as a nutritional supplement and use a different protein source as a recovery from exercise A few great ways to use collagen (whether it's for your skin or for sore muscles and joints) include:
*as a shake
*in hot drinks
Dosing: for skin health, dosing is often low, below 5gm/ serving. When dosing for protein and nutrition, dosing can be around 10gm.
Products I've Tried:
I am a social media ambassador for Orange Naturals and received this product for free. I do not make any money should you use the links provided above.
3. Exogenous Ketones
This is the big one. There are so many mixed reviews on exogenous ketones. You might be wondering what is an exogenous ketone and how does it differ from a ketone made when you eat fat. They are the same thing. EXOgenous simply means "outside the body." So it's a lab made form of a chemical the human body already makes (which is called ENDOgenos ketones). Some people claim that exogenous ketones can help the body to get into a state of ketosis faster and with less side effects than occur when drastically reducing carbs. A great info-graphic from Dr. Anthony Gustin of Perfect Keto also shows how ketones can benefit the body in ways that aren't related to weight loss and dieting. You can find a great post on exogenous ketones from Perfect Keto here (which also links to the infographic source.)
The chemical name of the ketone that provides the body with energy is called beta-hydroxybutyric acid or beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB). This is the body's "sugar" when it is starved of carbohydrates. BHB is a safe and very effective form of energy for the body- so why are some people for and some against taking supplements? Well the jury is still out. Ketone supplements can be expensive. They can cause more harm than good- many ketone "salt" supplements provide more than a daily intake of sodium per serving. It's been suggested that they may help to lower the blood sugar of those with impaired insulin sensitivity (pre diabetes or type 2 diabetes), and they've also been shown in scientific studies to increase the levels of ketones in the blood quickly following ingestion- meaning that taking exogenous ketones might actually get your body into a state of ketosis faster than fasting alone.
With all of that being said, there are a few additional factors you might want to consider when deciding on whether or not to add exogenous ketones to your diet. Price. Taste. And frequency of use (as far as I am aware, once you are in ketosis, it isn't necessary to use exogenous ketones daily. They can be used to get into a deeper state of ketosis (meaning more ketones in the body) or recover quickly from a carbohydrate intake).
The BHB supplements I've tried:
All in all, these 3 "keto" supplements have hit the market with a force greater than most! If you are just starting a keto diet and are considering these supplements, I would URGE YOU TO KEEP IT SIMPLE to start. These supplements might be more useful to someone who is familiar with ketosis and how their body works with ketones. With that being said, always be sure to check with your health care practitioner before starting any new supplements!