When you think of butter, what comes to mind? Maybe it’s toast and jam or holiday baking or even the farm-fresh churned kind, right from the cow. But how about coffee?
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Bulletproof coffee, also known as butter coffee or keto coffee, is coffee with an added dollop of butter and oil. But… Why? Registered dietitian Kayla Kopp, RD, LD, explains the thinking behind this trend and whether it’s worth trying.
What is bulletproof coffee?
Plenty of people sing the praises of this coffee concoction, which is popular among intermittent fasters and followers of the low-carb, high-fat keto diet. Some fans even turn to it as a breakfast replacement.
The prep is simple: Add two tablespoons of butter and a little bit of oil to your morning cup of joe, and start sippin’. But you can’t use just any old ingredients. Bulletproof coffee calls for unsalted, grass-fed butter or ghee and medium-chain triglyceride oil (MCT) oil added to low-toxicity coffee beans. No doubt it’s an interesting flavor, but it’s the possibility of increased energy and weight loss that give traction to this morning jolt.
What does bulletproof coffee do?
“The claims are that butter coffee can aid in fat loss, increase energy levels and boost mental clarity,” Kopp explains.
Are they real? Let’s delve deeper into what proponents claim the drink can do for you — and what the science really says.
May boost your energy
Caffeine, of course, is a powerful stimulant, that can boost your energy. But fans of bulletproof coffee say caffeine isn’t the only reason that this brew provides a wide-awake start to the day.
MCT oil can increase your energy levels, which may make it a powerful partner to the caffeine in coffee. Typically, your body stores dietary fats in its adipose tissue, the fat around and inside of your muscles. But MCT travels directly to your liver, where it’s processed into powerful energy particles called ketone bodies.
“Because medium-chain triglycerides are digested much quicker than other types of fats, they may lead to quicker bursts of energy,” Kopp notes.
Butter and ghee also contain omega-3 and omega-6 fats that may slow down how quickly your body metabolizes caffeine. Butter coffee drinkers say this helps your body hold onto energy longer and avoid the crash that comes when the stimulant wears off.
High in calories and saturated fats
A plain, black cup of coffee has zero fat and fewer than five calories, but that changes as soon as you add butter and oil.
Depending on how you prepare it, one cup of bulletproof coffee can range from 230 to 500 calories. Those numbers creep higher if you add protein powder, as some drinkers do.
Butter, ghee and MCT oil are also high in saturated fats. Consuming too much saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of heart disease and may cause your LDL cholesterol (sometimes called “bad” cholesterol) levels to spike.
“Bulletproof coffee is very high in calories and saturated fats, so this drink isn’t necessarily safe to be consuming every day,” Kopp states. While healthy fats and oils do have a place in our daily diets, she says you’re better off getting monosaturated and polyunsaturated fat through olive oil, avocados, nuts, seeds, fatty fish and plant oils.
May help you feel full, but it lacks nutrients
MCT oil is thought to promote the release of hormones that tell your brain that your stomach is full, which can reduce your appetite and lead you to eat less (which may lead to weight loss).
“Medium-chain triglycerides may increase your satiety more than the long-chain triglycerides found in polyunsaturated fats like nuts, seeds and some other oils,” Kopp explains. “And the butter in the coffee is very slowly digested, potentially causing you to feel fuller longer.”
But you know what else can keep you feeling full? A healthy breakfast.
“Butter, oil and coffee, even when combined together, do not meet the standards of a well-balanced breakfast,” Kopp warns. “It’s important to have more nutrients, like protein and fiber, to help keep you fuller longer and to avoid any energy crashes.”
May improve your workouts, but so can healthier foods
Grass-fed butter and ghee are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which are known to help battle inflammation and reduce joint pain. But you’re better off getting your omega-3s elsewhere.
“Grass-fed butter does contain some healthy omega-3s, but you can get more bang for your buck by consuming other sources of omega-3s, like salmon, walnuts and chia seeds,” Kopp says.
Some studies show that MCT oil may reduce your lactic acid levels, which is associated with being able to exercise harder and for longer. But more research is needed on how and whether MCT oil can affect workouts.
Who shouldn’t drink bulletproof coffee?
Butter coffee is often incorporated into the keto diet, an eating style that isn’t recommended for everyone.
“There is research indicating that the way your brain uses ketones can be beneficial for people who have epilepsy,” Kopp notes. “Otherwise, the evidence on consuming a keto diet for other health benefits is not well supported.”
But even if you’re not going full keto, there are some people who shouldn’t hop on the bulletproof coffee bandwagon. Skip this drink if you have:
- Diabetes: When you stay full longer, you may be inclined not to eat at regular intervals, which isn’t necessarily a good thing when you have diabetes. “It’s not the safest route for people with diabetes, who need to be consuming a consistent amount of carbohydrates throughout the day,” Kopp explains. (Also of note: If you have diabetes, it’s very important to talk with your doctor before going keto.)
- Gastrointestinal issues: “MCTs may actually be beneficial for people with GI issues who are experiencing weight loss, since they’re a shorter chain length and are digested and absorbed much more efficiently,” Kopp says. But some people who try butter coffee report experiencing unpleasant side effects like bloating, diarrhea and an upset stomach after drinking it.
- Heart problems: People with high cholesterol and other heart issues are often advised to scale back on butter, due to its high amounts of saturated fat. Bulletproof coffee is definitely not part of a low-cholesterol diet.
The verdict? Drink sparingly
So, do the health benefits of butter and MCT oil mean you should start adding them to your morning coffee? A cup every now and then probably won’t hurt, but in general, Kopp suggests skipping this trend, as there just isn’t enough research to back up the claims.
“Bulletproof coffee is OK to drink in moderation if you want to,” Kopp says, “but I wouldn’t recommend drinking it every day, especially if you have gastrointestinal problems, diabetes or a heart condition.”
So, definitely don’t skip your morning meal in favor of bulletproof coffee. There are lots of healthy, tasty breakfast options to try instead, and if you’re craving that caffeine boost, simply sip on a regular old cup of coffee on the side — the good old-fashioned way.