Bulletproof coffee: Does it really make you limitless?
Increased focus, better memory, and improved performance. Who wouldn’t want these things? It seems like a Hollywood myth, available only through the kind of strange pill Bradley Cooper’s character takes in Limitless. But there is something that allegedly offers similar effects to the fictional NZT-48 tablet: bulletproof coffee.
If you’re a keen follower of fitness bloggers or are just really into your own fitness and healthy eating routines, the term “bulletproof coffee” may have cropped up on your radar. Bulletproof coffee is a branded version of butter coffee. The creamy, buttery beverage is the latest trend that promises to keep you energised, fuller for longer, and improve your performance whether at the gym or in the office.
But how many of the supposed benefits are true, and how does butter coffee go about providing these things? Here, we’ll go through everything you need to know about the coffee blend, whether it’s safe to drink, and whether it really can make you limitless.
What is butter coffee?
Butter coffee is simply coffee blended with butter and oil, which you can drink as a replacement for breakfast. To make butter coffee, you need a high-powered blender, black coffee, unsalted grass-fed butter, and a medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) oil.
How to make butter coffee:
- Using high-quality coffee beans, make a cup based on how strong you’d like it, and with your preferred method, whether it’s with a French press, percolator, Aeropress, or a coffee machine.
- Put two tablespoons of butter, 1-2 tablespoons of your MCT oil, and your coffee into a blender.
- Blend on high for about 30 seconds or until the coffee turns creamy in colour and looks like a frothy latte.
- Pour into a mug and enjoy.
If you’re just getting started with butter coffee, you can start with lower amounts of butter and oil to help get used to the taste and your body used to drinking such an intense amount of butter and oil so early in the morning.
What are the health benefits of butter coffee?
It may not seem like adding oil and butter to your coffee would have any benefits—after all, many studies that have found too much of these ingredients can increase LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol. This type of cholesterol is what you may know as “bad cholesterol”, as it can build up in the arteries and lead to serious health problems including heart attack or stroke. So how can adding excess amounts of them to your morning coffee ever be good for you? Despite these concerns, butter coffee has been found to have the following effects:
Improved concentration and more energy
Fans of the buttery beverage have reported higher levels of energy and concentration for a longer period of time. Furthermore, many drinkers have claimed they get these benefits without any kind of subsequent caffeine crash. This is because the high-fat content of the drink slows the time it takes for your body to metabolise caffeine, giving you a longer and steadier buzz with less of a crash at the end.
Grass-fed butter is generally recommended for butter coffee, as it’s around 80% fat and contains hundreds of different fatty acids and vitamins, including vitamins A, E, and K. While the media largely portray saturated fats in a negative way, the truth is that, in moderation, it provides the body with fuel and can help with stabilising blood sugar. Butter is also an excellent source of medium-chain fatty acids, which are easily absorbed by the body and are used for energy.
The addition of MCT oil to butter coffee simply increases the number of medium-chain fatty acids, giving you an instant energy buzz. It can also reduce lactate buildup, which helps with exercise performance. A 2009 study found that athletes who took about 6 grams of MCTs with food before cycling had lower lactate levels, making it easier to exercise in comparison to long-chain triglycerides.
Easier weight loss
The high amount of fat in butter coffee helps to keep you fuller for longer, making you feel as if you’ve eaten a large breakfast. Coffee is also a known appetite suppressant and, partnered with the high amount of fat, you will find that you don’t feel any hunger pangs for a longer period of time in comparison to a normal cup of morning coffee. This discourages you from snacking between breakfast and lunch, reducing the number of needless calories you eat throughout the day.
MCTs have also been linked to helping with fat loss, as the body absorbs the quick-digesting fat and metabolises it for fuel instead of storing it as fat on the body. Once the body has used up the MCT oil as a source of energy, it can then move onto the fats already stored on the body. MCTs have also been linked to lowering the risk of heart disease, as they help with fat loss.
The foods with the highest levels of medium-chain fats include coconut oil, palm kernel oil, and coconut milk. For those interested in making butter coffee for themselves at home, virgin coconut oil is perhaps the most readily available oil to blend with the butter and coffee. However, there are purer forms of MCT oil available on the market, which provide you with higher levels of medium-chain fatty acids per tablespoon.
Fewer negative caffeine side-effects
Butter coffee experts recommend using high-quality coffee beans that you grind yourself, as opposed to the more convenient instant coffee. This is because instant coffee generally has higher levels of mycotoxins, which are toxic chemicals produced from naturally occurring moulds. A 2003 study found that over 90% of 60 Brazilian coffee samples studied contained some form of mould, which is lessened within high-quality coffee beans. The average concentration found was 2.38 microg kg, which is well within the EU limit of 8 microg kg.
Higher quality coffee beans are generally treated in order to reduce the amount of mould, which diminishes the nasty side effects of caffeine, including heart palpitations, jitters, and caffeine crash.
Is butter coffee safe to drink?
While butter coffee does offer benefits, there are concerns over whether it’s safe to drink on a daily basis. The addition of calorific butter and oil reduces how many calories you should eat for the rest of the day, and the fat content of the drink can also be cause for concern. Here are some of the risks and pitfalls:
Other meals must be more nutritious
A cup of butter coffee, or bulletproof coffee, has around 440 calories on average, based on a recipe with two tablespoons of butter. If you are going to drink a cup of butter coffee in the morning, there is increased pressure to get enough nutrients in your remaining calorie allowance during the day.
As the energy and calories are high in butter coffee, and it leaves you feeling full, it’s best to simply have a cup of it for breakfast as opposed to drinking it along with a meal. However, this then means that you’re missing out on the fibre, protein, and important vitamins and nutrients that you would get from a healthy, balanced, food-based breakfast.
Increases intake of saturated fats
Adding both butter and oil also means that you’re taking in more saturated fats on a daily basis. Most health experts agree that unsaturated fats, which are found naturally in things like fish, avocados, nuts, and seeds, are much healthier. However, the origin of the fat is important. For example, a quality product such as grass-fed butter will generally contain a better type of saturated fat than a heavily-processed fast-food meal. The addition of both grass-fed butter and MCT or coconut oil can have an effect on your cholesterol levels, so if you are looking at introducing butter coffee into your diet, it’s best to first check your cholesterol with your doctor and continue to monitor it regularly.
Drinking such a high amount of fat on an empty stomach can wreak havoc on your digestive system, especially if you’re not used to it, or if you have gastrointestinal issues such as IBS. Fat stimulates gut activity, meaning the coffee could simply pass right through you. The best way to overcome this is by starting off with a very small amount of butter and oil in your coffee and working your way up to the recommended two tablespoons of each over a period of a few weeks. This gets your body used to the fat levels and can ease any discomfort.
The keto diet doesn’t always work
Butter coffee tends to go hand-in-hand with the popular keto diet, which drastically cuts your intake of carbohydrates in order to push your body into a state of ketosis. This means the body gets its energy from ketones in the blood as opposed to glucose from carbohydrates, and relies on the conversions of fatty acids into ketones. However, this diet isn’t suitable for everyone due to its high levels of fat and protein. It’s always best to speak to your doctor about your health before drastically changing your diet, and make sure you fully understand the benefits and risks associated with consuming an increased amount of fat.
If you’re trying to lose weight and be healthier, the best and easiest thing is to eat a balanced diet. Having the right nutrients from a range of foods, and sticking to the right amount of calories you need on a daily basis, can improve your overall body health. It’s also important for you to listen to your body—if you’re hungry, you should eat, rather than rely on foods that suppress your hunger.
However, the benefits of butter coffee can’t be dismissed, whether it’s for improving your concentration and becoming more “limitless” or for losing weight. Even if you don’t necessarily want to drink a whole mug of buttery coffee each morning, you could mimic the benefits by simply including more MCT oils into your diet. In any case, if you are going to drink coffee in the morning, it’s best to go for higher quality beans in order to skip past the nasty side effects of caffeine that can come with mouldy coffee beans, even if you don’t add the butter.