Butter? In MY coffee?
The concept of adding fat to coffee gets a lot of blogger treatment as though it’s some insane notion. Cracked even did an article a few years ago about “weird health trends that are wrong”, and it included “butter coffee”. Their consensus was that it was bad, spoiler alert (also pretend I said spoiler alert first).
With the rise of keto as a buzzword and trend, buttered coffee has become something of a cult phenomenon. It’s somewhat ridiculed by a skeptical community fueled by 50 years of bad science that made us into lipid phobic but keto coffee enthusiasts don’t hear that and swear by the butter coffee practice. The most likely source of this trend is Dave Asprey, the “Bulletproof Executive” who coined the phrase bulletproof coffee or “BPC”. Does branding make Bulletproof Coffee healthier than just throwing fat into coffee? (Probably not, no).
Turns out, the practice of adding butter or ghee to coffee is far older than any of this. Ethiopians, who adore their coffee with an enviable reverence and who almost certainly first cultivated coffee plants, have been putting butter in their coffee since the 9th century. Yak butter in tea is how Tibetans keep themselves warm and fueled and have for centuries. As you can see, this isn’t a new trend but a revival of an old one.
But what’s the point?
Fat for energy
In an absence of sugar, fat is a pretty good energy booster, but without the blood sugar swing that glucose gives you. The idea of a “sugar high” and then a crash comes from this blood sugar rollercoaster. The rise in insulin needed to bring blood sugar back to normal also causes hunger and so you get onto a constant hunger/constant eating ride that just won’t stop. If, however, you eat fat and protein – particularly in the morning – you set yourself up for both satiety and even energy levels.
While the idea that “breakfast is the most important meal of the day” is largely nonsensical (particularly if you’re having donuts or something), it is true that if you have unstable blood sugar, eating first thing in the morning can help. In addition, adding fat your coffee can keep hunger at bay until later in the day.
Typically, keto coffee or butter coffee is:
- 8-12 oz of strong brewed coffee
- 2 tbsp of butter
- Heavy cream (sometimes)
- Coconut or MCT oil
- Stevia or some sugar-free syrup
This is a typical recipe but of course there are many variations, with the original Bulletproof Coffee actually calling for a handful of other products (which Dave Asprey sells). These include special coffee beans that lack the “mycotoxin” that taints other beans (supposedly), their own brand of MCT oil, collagen, and whatever else.
So the primary benefit of keto coffee is satiety and energy, as well as mental clarity. Assuming you’re using primarily fat and you forego the cream and sugar free slop, the ketone production of this drink will create a fasting-like state. Since fasting can create intense mental focus, this would be a benefit for sure.
But is it healthy?
Is Keto Coffee Healthy?
The average butter coffee will have about 400 calories in it, give or take. That’s kind of a lot of calories with no real nutritional benefit aside from satiation and mild ketone production. For a similar amount of caloric density you could eat:
- 2 egg omelet with 1 oz of cheddar, 2 strips of bacon, and 1 cup of uncooked spinach
- Low carb whey protein powder, 1/2 cup of blueberries, full fat Greek yogurt smoothie
- Chia pudding with 1/2 cup raspberries and a 1/2 cup walnuts
This is hardly an exhaustive list but for the same amount of calories as a BPC, you can have an actual breakfast, providing protein, fat, folate, choline, a slew of vitamins and minerals, fiber, potassium, and zinc. Though you may lose some of the edge that a fasted state provides, eating a whole meal will provide you with more nutrition and help keep extreme fluctuations in your energy and hunger at bay.
Butter coffee isn’t any more or less unhealthy than just butter by itself, and you wouldn’t just eat butter (or maybe you would, you do you, boo-boo). Butter isn’t unhealthy, despite what we’ve been sold for years about saturated fats, but it’s certainly not a nutritious food. It’s energy, pure and simple.
So because of that, maybe it’s not best to couch keto coffee in terms of “healthy or not” but rather “is it useful” or “is it beneficial compared to a real meal”? Should you drink Bulletproof coffee? That’s up to you, and hopefully the information I’ve put here can help inform that decision, but if you have access to more nutritious, keto foods, go with those in most cases.
Getting the most out of your butter coffee
First of all, let’s make sure we’re using good butter. Yes, it makes a difference, so get grass-fed butter and from a reputable source. Kerrygold farms, who make Irish butters with the same name, got into some big trouble in 2017 regarding just how factual that “grass fed cows” claim was. The reason that feeding the cows grass matters is because it translates into a much higher omega 3 profile in the butter, which is far healthier than omega 6 you’d find in grain-fed cows.
So assuming you have the right butter, you can move onto other ingredients. I still find the addition of coconut oil or MCT oil to be pleasantly invigorating. For me, a cup of coffee with coconut oil in it is like rocket fuel, keeping me buzzed but focused and alert. With that said, however, go slow on adding coconut or MCT oil to your drinks, as it can easily cause stomach cramping. Start with 1 tbsp and work your way up.
You can add cream, with the caveat that adding dairy into your diet can stall your weight loss. Also, look for grass fed cream, for the same reason as the butter. 1 tbsp is plenty.
If you lift weights, creatine isn’t a bad addition, and a scoop of whey powder can add a bit of protein as well.
Finally, adding some trace spices and minerals can have a positive effect overall. I add turmeric, sea salt, and sometimes cinnamon. Turmeric is highly anti-inflammatory, as is cinnamon and cinnamon has shown to have a positive effect on controlling blood sugar. Salt needs to be supplemented on keto because of the diuretic effect of the diet overall.
None of this needs to be name brand goofiness, nor does it need to be ultra organic or grown in a patch of mountaintop land by a person who looks like a Dr. Seuss character and charges a 750% markup. I “source” most of my ingredients from Aldi.
Toss all of the ingredients into a heat-safe blender (make sure it’s heat-safe!) and blend it up. The result will give you energy, focus, clarity, and can be carried around in a cup or thermos, which is handy; can’t say that about a ham and cheese omelet. The main thing, though, is don’t add butter coffee to an otherwise energy-dense meal. This is a common mistake I see a lot where people share their breakfast on social media and it’s a huge, wonderful omelet or something AND keto coffee. At that point you’re just adding unnecessary calories and that will stall your weight loss efforts.
Coffee with your butter?
That’s effectively it – keto coffee isn’t unhealthy or healthy, it’s simply a means to an end. It’s a very efficient delivery system for quick energy and appetite suppression, but if you have the option of fasting, keto coffee, or sitting down for an actual meal, consider each option carefully. All three provide certain, unique benefits, and all fit within a ketogenic approach to your morning.
Be aware that if you’re choosing keto coffee and someone gets up in your business about it, chances are good they’re eating donuts or something ridiculous for breakfast. Just smile and nod.
Do you add fat to your coffee or tea? What benefits do you gain from it; I’d love to hear in the comments!