Butter in Your Coffee? The Bulletproof Craze, Explained.

If you aren't drinking your own Bulletproof/butter coffee right this second then it's like you don't even know about things that everyone is doing now. So let's talk more about this new trend that is not really new but looks to be headed straight for a mainstream near you.

What is butter coffee?

Butter coffee is brewed coffee blended with butter and something called MCT oil, which stands for medium chain triglycerides and is comprised of the fat from coconut/palm kernel oil. Bulletproof® coffee is a brand of coffee created in 2010 by Dave Asprey, an entrepreneur in Silicon Valley who, legend has it, was "literally rejuvenated" after being given yak butter tea by locals after hiking in Tibet in -10 degree weather at 18,000 feet. (A new company in Los Angeles has a Kickstarter going to fund their own instant butter coffee, called Coffee Blocks, which adds egg yolks to the mix, and Bulletproof does a Keurig-compatible cartridge, too.)

And it's really just butter and that MCT stuff?

This is the recipe:

1 cup of black coffee

1 to 2 tbsp of unsalted grass-fed butter

1 to 2 tbsp of MCT oil

Blend until frothy (about 20-30 seconds)

There's a more detailed explanation of all the variations on making it here, and some folks still added sweeteners like almond milk/honey/cinnamon. The butter is said to be critically, crucially, do-not-fuck-this-up important, and must be unsalted and grass-fed (not simply "organic"). It can't be some Country Crock, k? There is a brand called Kerrygold that people swear by. And the coffee should be "good coffee," meaning at least organic, ideally single-origin beans. In the Bulletproof world, there is a proprietary coffee blend sold called "Upgraded Coffee" that is said to have low mycotoxins, which is basically mold-free (but even paleo types argue that most commercially sold coffee ought to be mold-free already, or only have unconcerningly low levels, and so maybe this thing is a bullshit thing).

Is it 'spensive?

You betcha! At least, it seems to cost more than trad-coffee. Bulletproof says it's only .47 a cup if you buy a ¾ lb bag for $18.95. But a roughly 1 lb. bag of single-origin coffee at my local Groundwork is in the $12-$15 range. Plus, you'll be adding butter that runs $4.99 per 8 oz. to it, and a big jar of MCT oil — enough for a few months, probably, is around $15 (and the Bulletproof brand is twice that much, at $29.95).

What does it do?

People say it does a lot of things: Helps with energy and focus. Gives you greater mental clarity. Gives you a coffee buzz but without the jitters or acid-stomach feeling. Sustains your energy over a longer period of time (six hours). Keeps hunger at bay. Aids in weight loss. Makes you high performance. MAKES YOU BULLETPROOF.

Is this like a paleo thing?

Yup. Says Muscle Mag, who notes that a holistic health guy named Paul Chek has been recommending butter coffee for a decade already to his clients:

It is particularly popular in ancestral-diet circles — followers of the caveman type of eating that advocates mostly animal proteins, fats and vegetables, and those who engage in intermittent fasting. Top performers from the Los Angeles Lakers to MMA fighters to competitive strength athletes swear by it.

and:

Chek's discovery was different than Asprey's. He was looking for a way to couple nutrition with coffee and reduce the magnitude of blood-sugar swings from caffeinated beverages. An avid espresso drinker, he found the single shots gave him extra energy and mental clarity, but also led to quick adrenal fatigue that wrecked the recovery phase between his workouts. "I began to explore different fat sources as a means to reduce the caffeine hangover effect and found butter worked the best," he says.

But aren't there any other famous people doing it that can make me feel more glamorous for trying it?

Of course. Free-spirited nymph Shailene Woodley thinks it's the greatest thing evs:

And uh, that band Third Eye Blind.

Is it gross or what?

Depends on how you feel about having buttery lips first thing in the a.m. Because it's hot and frothy and creamy, it is a lot like drinking a latte, only more buttery/oilier.

And even though it's got fat and tons of calories, it's "healthy"?

Here's where it gets interesting. A cup of this stuff is, depending on how much of the butter and MCT oil you're using, ranges between 200-500 calories, and 45 to 65 fat grams, most of which is saturated fat, and all that adds up to a very dessert-like breakfast (compared to the, say, 480 calories/20 fat grams in a Starbucks Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate).

This could be beneficial and/or risky:

"There is some evidence that regular consumption of MCTs can induce very mild fat loss over time," says Christopher Ochner, Ph.D., research associate at The New York Obesity Nutrition Research Center at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospitals. "MCTs may also help regulate cholesterol levels, but the types of coconut oils and things from which people typically try to get MCTs often contain dangerous amounts of trans and saturated fats," says Ocher, who notes that 1 tablespoon of grass-fed butter and 1 tablespoon of MCT oil adds up to more than 100 percent of your recommended daily allowance of saturated fat.

"It's an extra 200-300 calories, so it has to replace some food or another caloric beverage," he says. "Otherwise, you would gain an extra 20 to 30 pounds each year by having a cup per day."

That said, there are wellness experts and doctors on record saying to go for it. Andrew Weil, MD, wrote last year that, in light of the adding of butter to hot drinks being commonplace the world over, and because of the misguided campaign against saturated fats, he thinks:

Blending a tablespoon or so of high-quality, unsalted, organic butter into your morning coffee or tea is unlikely to do you any harm, and is a worthwhile experiment for the sake of both taste and health if you are inclined to try it.

In so much as you think daily caffeine is OK for you as it is, and assuming you agree "good fats" like butter and coconut oil are also OK (or not so different than adding, say, grass-fed cream to coffee), then there are some nutrients here alongside your caffeine jolt (except in this case, more like a caffeine stretch) that could make for a pleasant experience.

Is it supposed to be a meal replacement?

Some people use it to replace breakfast entirely, while others simply use it as a hunger-minimizer and add a light breakfast a bit later.

So, butter coffee for everyone!

The more popular Bulletproof coffee gets, the more people are beginning to warn against possible risks. For one thing, they say a more traditional breakfast is likely to be more nutritious overall than butter coffee. Even folks who agree saturated fat was "unfairly demonized" say that such fat should be eaten WITH a meal and not AS the meal. It can raise cholesterol in some folks.

However! Even nutritionists such as NYC nutritionist Amy Shapiro, RD, who say you can benefit from the fats in the drink and the longer-lasting energy, still caution against "just anyone" doing it:

…if you're not eating a low-carb, Paleo-style diet and are packing in carbs and sugar to begin with, your body may store the fat instead of using it for energy. "This can add a lot of high-fat calories, if the rest of your day doesn't consist of clean eating," she says. In other words, maybe don't pair your butter-coffee with a stack of pancakes.

If you're concerned about how you'd do on the stuff but want to try it, you could always go get bloodwork done and see where you're at, cholesterol-wise, and then check back in after trying it for a while and make sure it's not doing any harm.

Have you tried it?

Indeed. Some friends who are pretty devoted to it gave me a test run over the weekend. They are both active, fit people who eat really well and are basically vegan. Neither had been drinking coffee for years until they heard of Bulletproof, and wanted to see if it gave them a caffeine boost but without all the crashy/acid-stomach/heart-racing feelings. It did.

I had a big mug of it, and it tasted like a buttery latte. As it is, I drink pour-over coffee and use coconut milk to sweeten it, so I'm not necessarily looking for a new coffee fix, but I'm interested in sustained energy. I definitely felt a more even-keeled buzz that lasted longer, and never had any distinct feeling of crashing or needing a boost later on. But the main thing I noticed was how filling it was, so much so that it made me want to eat really light food for the remainder of the day — fish and vegetables at lunch and a light salad for dinner. So though I would probably not use it on the daily or skip meals with it, I can see doing it every now and then if it resets your relationship to food, a thing I am a big fan of doing every now and again.

Image by Jim Cooke.