Why Drink Butter Coffee? The Science of Bulletproof Coffee
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“Butter tea, it was never my cup of tea.”
Perhaps Austrian Mountaineer Heinrich Harrer
would have liked butter coffee better than
the Tibetan Yak Butter tea. Recently, blending
some mixture of fat in your coffee and having
that for breakfast has gotten quite popular.
The main version, “Bulletproof coffee”
is made by mixing Coffee, Grass Fed Butter
and pure C8 MCT Oil in a blender. This recipe
comes from entrepreneur Dave Asprey, who apparently
got the idea after having Yak Butter Tea in
Tibet in 2004.
Proponents of Bulletproof coffee claim that
the coffee will keep you focused and curb
your appetite for hours. While coffee with
a gob of fat may sound like a newfangled trend,
the practice of ingesting coffee with fat
was around even before people drank coffee
as a beverage. Sometime between 575 and 850
CE, nomadic mountain warriors of the Galla
tribe in Ethiopia would combine crushed coffee
beans with animal fat, and snack on that for
energy during long treks and warfare.
“Excuse me, can I have a butter bar please?”
Personally, I can attest to the sustained
energy that comes from ButterProof coffee,
but what could be making it so magical? And
should you be replacing your breakfast with
Before we get into it, it’s necessary to
understand that saturated fat in general is
not the enemy that it’s been made out to
be. You also have to know a little bit about
ketosis because this is one of the goals of
the coffee. Very briefly, ketosis occurs when
you restrict carbohydrate intake enough and
for long enough. When you’ve burned out
enough of your carbohydrate stores, your liver
then turns fatty acids from your diet, and
from your body fat into ketones. These ketones
are used for energy in the body and brain
rather than relying on glucose or carbohydrate.
Ketosis has many benefits, physical and mental.
It helps you lose weight and reduces hunger.
There’s also evidence that it improves longevity
and healthspan, it suppresses oxidative stress,
and it improves cognition and memory.
So by doing intermittent fasting or being
on a low carb and high fat diet, your body
gets energy primarily from fat rather than
carbohydrate. This allows you to get through
the day without blood sugar spikes and crashes,
and you’ll have more stable energy, feel
more focused and less hungry. Obviously butter
coffee plays into this because it’s just
fat and zero carbs.
But there are some other fascinating properties
of butter coffee that help get you into ketosis.
First, the caffeine in the coffee actually
helps to boost ketone production, even if
you’re not doing a low carb diet.
This study from last year in the Canadian
Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology had
people fast for 12 hours, then have breakfast.
One group had no caffeine, another had 1 and
½ cups of black coffee, and another had caffeine
pills that were the equivalent of 3 cups of
coffee. They found that “Caffeine given
at breakfast significantly stimulated ketone
production in a dose-dependent manner.”
So, the more caffeine, the more ketones.
This is interesting, because insulin which
is produced in response to eating carbohydrates
hinders ketone production, but the subjects’
breakfast was 78% carbohydrate. Though, that
doesn’t mean you should drink butter coffee
no matter what your diet is. We can expect
that ketone production would have been even
higher if they had the caffeine without carbohydrate.
It’s important to drink this with a ketogenic
breakfast, or better yet, with no breakfast
at all. If you’re mixing up some grass fed
butter and MCT oil in your coffee and then
you have a cream cheese bagel, or bowl of
cereal along with it, you’ll blunt the ketogenic
effects of the coffee and store a lot of that
fat on your body.
You see, there are two ways you can fill up
fat cells: One is by eating enough carbohydrates
to where carbohydrates are stored in the body
as fat through a process called de novo lipogenesis;
the other is through a process called re-esterification.
Simply put: re esterification is the process
of taking fatty acids and forming them back
into fat, which is then stored in your fat
cells. Then, the way you get the fat out of
your fat cells is by breaking down the fat
through another process: lipolysis.
So, let’s say you’re on a ketogenic diet
and you decide to whir up a bunch of fat in
your coffee, and drink it for breakfast while
you read Garfield comics from 1995.
Fat’s going to be coming in, but because
the main feature of ketosis is that you use
fat for energy, lipolysis is going to be way
up and you’re going to be using the fat
from your fat cells and the fat from your
coffee for energy. So that’s not too bad.
But if you’re having toast, eggs and potatoes
with your butter coffee, then you’re gonna
have some of the carbs stored as fat through
de novo lipogenesis, and actually even more
re-esterification will occur and the fat output,
lipolysis, will be low.
When you fat with carbs, even more of that
fat goes into your fat cells and you burn
less fat because insulin, which is secreted
when you eat carbohydrate, increases re-esterification
and inhibits lipolysis. One of the benefits
of bulletproof coffee is that it’s supposed
to help you lose weight, but it might do the
opposite if you put sugar in it or have it
I didn’t realize how big this Butter and
MCT oil coffee trend was getting until I saw
that a pre-made version of it hit the shelves
of a convenient store chain here in Tokyo.
Unfortunately, the coffee they use is so weak
the drink just tastes like skim milk but…
I was impressed that they got the ingredients
right – it’s not just coffee with butter,
it actually has grass fed butter and MCT oil
So what’s the deal with the MCT Oil?
MCT stands for medium chain triglycerides,
and, compared to long-chain triglycerides,
-Absorbed quicker and turned into energy more
-Result in less body fat gain
-They make you feel fuller faster
-And, they enhance the production of ketones.
So here we have another ingredient that promotes
ketones. There’s a couple different types
of MCT’s – c12, c10, c8 and c6 which refers
to the length of the chain. The shorter the
chain, the easier it turns into ketones. C6
isn’t usually used because it easily upsets
the stomach and apparently smells like goats
– So, pure C8 – caprylic acid, is your best
bet for maximum ketone production, but a mix
of C8 and C10 is usually more available and
more cost effective.
So why the grass-fed butter? Well, Butter
provides great fat soluble Vitamins like Vitamin
K2 and Vitamin A and Vitamin E. And studies
suggest grassfed butter has better Vitamin
A and E content, higher omega-3’s and higher
levels of the antioxidant glutathione. Though,
this is just a nice little bonus- I wouldn’t
say BulletProof coffee is packed with vitamins.
So the big point of this fatty coffee is to
boost your ketone production so you can get
the benefits of ketosis even when you’re
not super strict on intermittent fasting or
eating really low carb.
But is it healthy having this every morning?
I would say “healthier than what?” If
having this coffee is getting you to keep
your blood sugar down and insulin levels low
thanks to it replacing your high carb breakfast,
I would say yes, it’s healthier.
I’d consider Grass fed butter and MCT oil
a healthy addition to your daily diet for
reasons I just discussed, so the question
becomes: is daily coffee consumption healthy?
There’s a ton of research on coffee showing
that more coffee consumption increases longevity,
reduces diabetes risk and heart disease risk.
Recently, coffee and even decaf coffee have
been shown to promote an anti-aging process
called autophagy. But coffee is a very complex
beverage that affects all kinds of hormones
and neurotransmitters like Adenosine, Dopamine,
Cortisol, Adrenaline, Cholecystokinin and
Gastrin. Coffee has also been shown to produce
inflammation. Personally I love butter coffee
and feel great for a couple hours after I
drink it, but I feel more calm and content
in general when I don’t have a coffee habit.
Recently, I’ve slowly cut my morning coffee
consumption in half over a couple weeks. I
get less of a spike in focus, but I’m calmer
and more focused in general throughout the
day. Then again, that’s just me.
There’s a lot more to say about coffee,
but that’s a great topic for another time.
There is one more thing I should mention about
coffee. This June 2012 paper, authored in
part by Ryan N. Coffee actually has nothing
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