One of the hardest parts of dieting is giving up the things that you love. For many, that includes parts of their morning: from cereal to coffee and cream, from eggs and cheese to pancakes and maple syrup; our tried-and-true breakfast staples don’t always fit into various diets that are all the rage nowadays.
For those on the ketogenic diet, this can be especially true. That’s part of why self-appointed “lifestyle guru” and founder of Bulletproof 360 Dave Asprey started to market something called “bulletproof coffee,” or butter coffee.
If it sounds strange, that’s because it is. Drinkers brew regular, black drip coffee and put it in a blender with grass-fed butter and coconut oil, then down the frothy concoction before they get their day started.
It has been heralded as a replacement for breakfast and as a mega mind-booster and weight-dropper, with promises to keep you alert longer while boosting your metabolism and helping you stick to the parameters of a diet like a keto diet.
Even those who aren’t into crash dieting have become intrigued, though. So these are the facts—both good and bad—behind the latest major health food trend.
What Is It?
Butter coffee, or “bulletproof coffee,” has exactly what you’d expect; it’s coffee blended with butter, plain and simple. You can add things like coconut oil or a derivative, but the main ingredients are a tablespoon of unsalted, grass-fed butter for every 16 oz of coffee poured into the blender.
The resulting brew is frothy like a latte but doesn’t have the added sugars that most flavored creamers have nowadays—which can cause some extra jitters to go with the caffeine and then result in a massive energy crash when the sweet stuff wears off. The claims are that it helps to build muscle, improve focus (thanks to the coconut oil and coffee), boost your metabolism, and help you get your day started without the need to pick up a massive breakfast burrito or donut. The fat in the butter also helps to control the introduction of the caffeine into the bloodstream, so it keeps you alert longer.
Asprey, the founder of Bulletproof 360, is credited with introducing the practice to modern western diets. But Ethiopians have actually been adding coffee grounds to butter since the 9th century, creating a quick pick-me-up known as “ghee,” and they’ve been adding ghee to their brewed coffee for almost as long.
The resulting drink is a little different from the typical cup of black coffee that most Americans enjoy, but those who have tried it out certainly seem to be happy with the morning alternative that it provides. The frothy latte-like nature makes it feel like a specialty brew, and the rich flavor of the butter gives it an almost dessert-like quality without actually picking up the carton of Ben and Jerry’s.
Does It Actually Work?
It depends on what, exactly, you’re trying to use it for—but the safe answer is that yes, butter coffee can certainly be a good breakfast beverage alternative for those who are looking to get their morning fix within a set of dietary restrictions.
The claims that drinking butter coffee can help you reach ketosis “faster,” as the Bulletproof website claims it does, aren’t quite accurate. The true ketogenic diet was initially created to treat epilepsy patients, and is neither easy nor fun—which are two of the main factors many consider when choosing it over other similarly restrictive diets. Just switching out your usual breakfast for a butter coffee won’t actually push your body close enough to “starvation mode” to kick-start ketosis, and certainly won’t do it before lunchtime.
The other claims, though, seem to be supported by science.
A study conducted in 2015 suggests that the fats found in MCT oils, the coconut-derived oil used to make butter coffees, are more effective as a weight loss aid than other forms of fat due to the length of the fat chains. So if you’re looking for a “healthier” alternative to your morning coffee than a super-sweet latte or other specialty drink, this is definitely pointing you in the right direction.
The medium-length fat chains found in butter coffees and bulletproof coffees also break down a little bit slower than a typical latte or coffee would, which does indeed slow down the absorption of the caffeine and the drink into the bloodstream. So the claims that it’s going to improve your mental focus for longer may not be all that far off.
What Are the Risks?
For every health trend, there are almost always two sides to the story—and the true health benefit falls somewhere between where the die-hard enthusiasts and the concerned skeptics would have you believe.
Butter coffee is no exception. On one side, there are entire websites claiming that you can use it to replace your entire breakfast and end up running marathons and losing weight—while on the other side there are doctors telling you that it’s all a massive lie.
Studies have shown that the concept behind butter coffee does indeed work, especially for someone who is currently on a ketogenic diet. It can help boost energy levels and provide the necessary fats to keep your body from harming itself, and it can even provide a benefit to people who are just looking for a new way to get their morning energy source.
The problem, though, comes when you drink it every day—and when you use it to replace your regular breakfast.
Butter is a great source of carbs, and the health myths of generations past have been slowly disproven. Within the last decade, the myth that eating fewer saturated fats lowers your cholesterol was busted—leaving butter enthusiasts everywhere jumping for joy.
Still, scientists and doctors don’t recommend consumers jump to the other end of the spectrum and start consuming saturated fats in excess. And with nearly the American Medical Association’s daily recommended allowance of saturated fats in each cup of butter coffee, it’s probably not a good idea to drink it every morning.
It also doesn’t contain as many nutrients as a true breakfast would. So while the calories may be there, the nutritional content isn’t.
The Bottom Line
It’s always tough to decide whether or not a new diet trend fits in with your lifestyle, but this one is fairly harmless—so it’s worth a shot, as long as you drink it in moderation. For those looking to enjoy their morning coffee while sticking with their new nutrition schedules, or even those who just want to see if changing things up can help wake them up a bit before work, it’s a good bet that you may walk away from your first cup of frothy goodness as a full-fledged convert.
Overall, though, moderation is key. So even if you fall in love, just remember—even the best nutritional aids can only help if you consume them the right way!