Should You Add Butter To Your Coffee? Here Are The Pros & Cons
Butter coffee has become a buzzworthy health trend over the past decade, with many claiming that it can be a tasty way to curb appetite and bump up morning energy levels. However, there are also plenty of skeptics out there, with many wondering whether this high-fat beverage actually lives up to the hype.
We reached out to experts to explore where butter coffee came from, how it can impact your health, and whether or not it's worth a try.
Why do people put butter in coffee?
Butter coffee is typically made by adding a few tablespoons of butter and medium-chain triglycerides (MCT) oil to coffee. Beyond bringing a rich flavor and creamy consistency to your cup of coffee, it might also offer a few health benefits.
In fact, fans of butter coffee swear by its ability to boost energy levels, rev up weight loss, and fine-tune focus. It's become particularly popular among keto dieters and those practicing intermittent fasting, who claim that it can help speed up the transition into ketosis1, a metabolic state that uses fat for fuel instead of sugar.
"Although blending butter or oil into one's morning cup of coffee seems like a recent trend, people have been adding animal fats to their coffee for well over 1,000 years," Hannah Cutting-Jones, Ph.D., a food historian and the director of Food Studies at the University of Oregon, tells mindbodygreen.
"Sometime between 575 and 850 CE, Ethiopians consumed coffee beans crushed up with animal fat (probably ghee, or clarified butter) to provide them with energy, stamina, and courage," Cutting-Jones adds.
According to Cutting-Jones, the practice is still pretty common in many parts of the world, including Tibet and certain areas in India, Singapore, and Vietnam.
Its recent resurgence may be thanks to American entrepreneur David Asprey, who visited Tibet in 2009 and "came home a believer in the physical and mental benefits of drinking coffee with yak butter," Cutting-Jones says. Once he was back in the United States, Asprey developed his recipe for Bulletproof coffee made with coffee, MCT oil, and butter, launching the trend throughout the Western world.
What does putting butter in coffee do?
Adding butter to your coffee is often touted as an easy way to increase the flavor and richness of coffee while also bumping up the fat content of your brew.
In fact, each tablespoon of butter packs in about 11.5 grams of fat2, 55% of which is saturated fat. Butter is also high in calories and vitamin A, an essential nutrient needed to keep your eyes healthy and enhance your immune system3. In butter coffee, butter is usually paired with MCT oil4, a type of saturated fat derived from coconut oil.
While there haven't been many studies on butter coffee specifically, its individual ingredients have been linked to some health benefits. Here, we take a closer look at what the science says:
It can keep you feeling full.
"Both butter and MCT oil are fats which can help promote feelings of satiety5," explains Angela Poff, Ph.D., a metabolism scientist and the co-founder of the Metabolic Health Initiative. "For some people, choosing a breakfast that is higher in fat and protein and lower in simple carbohydrates may result in less midmorning hunger pangs and snacking, allowing them to more easily wait until lunchtime for their next meal."
In one of the only studies to look at Bulletproof coffee specifically, trading black coffee for Bulletproof coffee made with MCT oil and ghee enhanced feelings of fullness6 and reduced prospective food consumption after three hours. Research also shows that MCT oil could slow the emptying of the stomach7, leading to less food intake later in the day.
It may help boost brain function.
While there's not a lot of research on butter coffee itself, plenty of studies have found that caffeine can help give brain function a boost. For instance, several studies have found that caffeine may help enhance attention8, increase processing speed9, and improve both short-term and long-term memory.
Poff notes that MCTs are also naturally ketogenic10, meaning that they are converted into ketones (a type of chemical produced in the liver), even if you're not cutting carbs. "Many preclinical studies have shown that both MCTs and ketones can support neuronal health and brain function, especially in conditions where it may be limited, such as in cognitive impairment," she says.
In fact, research shows that MCTs could slow the progression of Alzheimer's disease11 and enhance cognitive performance12 in young adults.
On the other hand, not all research has been quite as promising, and studies in humans are still pretty scant. Furthermore, the 2021 study6 mentioned earlier showed that coffee combined with MCT oil and ghee offered no additional benefits over regular coffee for cognitive performance.
It could enhance energy levels.
In theory, some of the specific ingredients used to make butter coffee could help ramp up energy levels and fend off fatigue.
MCTs13, for instance, are absorbed and metabolized differently than other types of fat, providing a quick burst of energy for the body, according to Poff. Meanwhile, the caffeine found in butter coffee (and regular coffee) has been shown to boost wakefulness14 and increase alertness, making it a popular choice as a midmorning pick-me-up.
Still, more research is needed to evaluate how caffeine and MCTs may affect energy levels when combined.
Risks & side effects of butter coffee
Although some swear by the potential health benefits of butter coffee, it definitely does have a few drawbacks. Below are some of the key downsides to consider:
It could contribute to weight gain.
The total calorie count for your cup of butter coffee can vary depending on several factors, including how much butter and MCT oil you add. Regardless, there's no denying that it's definitely not a low-calorie beverage—even with just 1 tablespoon each of butter2 and MCT oil15, a single cup contains 224 calories.
While there is some evidence that its high-fat content could suppress hunger and keep you feeling full between meals, the extra calories can stack up pretty quickly, especially if you're drinking a cup or two each day. If you're not making any other changes to your diet to balance out your calorie intake, this could lead to weight gain over time.
It might cause digestive distress.
The high-fat content in butter coffee can be difficult to digest, causing issues like bloating, gas, nausea, and diarrhea, especially if you're not used to consuming large amounts of fat with your morning meal. This may be even worse for those with digestive issues, as some studies suggest that going overboard on fat intake could worsen symptoms of indigestion16.
It's not a great fit for those with heart disease or high cholesterol levels.
Butter is high in cholesterol, with nearly 33 milligrams2 packed into each tablespoon. For the most part, researchers agree that dietary cholesterol has little to no impact on cholesterol levels17 in your blood. However, about one-third of the population is considered "cholesterol hyper-responders," meaning that they may be more sensitive to the effects of cholesterol found in foods.
Therefore, if you have a history of heart disease or have high cholesterol levels, be sure to check in with your doctor before making butter coffee a staple in your daily diet.
How to make butter coffee
Curious to try the brew? Whipping up a cup of butter coffee is easy and requires just a few simple ingredients. Here's how to get started:
- 1 to 2 tablespoons MCT oil
- 1 cup coffee
- 1 to 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- Brew 1 cup of coffee using freshly ground coffee beans.
- Add MCT oil.
- Stir in butter.
- Mix together in a blender for 30 seconds, or until foamy.
Do you need a blender?
While using a blender can ensure a more smooth and even consistency, it's not a must-have for making butter coffee. If you don't have a blender, other kitchen gadgets like a milk frother or food processor can also do the trick. Alternatively, simply add all your ingredients to a Mason jar, seal the lid tight, and give it a vigorous shake to mix everything together.
What about if you're fasting?
Adding a scoop of butter or MCT oil to your morning cup of coffee is a popular choice during fasting. Because butter coffee doesn't contain any carbohydrates, it's unlikely to spike your blood sugar levels. Plus, its high-fat content can help keep you feeling full until your next meal.
However, note that coffee may slightly increase insulin production20, meaning it might not be suitable for a super-strict fast. To minimize its effects on blood sugar levels, be sure to skip the sugar packets, flavored syrups, or other sweeteners to keep it completely carb-free.
What about if you're keto?
If you're following a high-fat or ketogenic diet, butter coffee might be worth a try. Poff points out that both butter and MCT oil are high in fat and can help those following these diet plans reach their macronutrient goals. Additionally, one small study found that combining caffeine with MCT oil could drive up ketone production, meaning that it could actually help ease your transition into ketosis.
Is butter coffee just a fad?
According to Cutting-Jones, people have been enjoying the rich flavor and health benefits of butter coffee for well over 1,000 years, and it's still a common practice in many parts of the globe. "Tibetan farmers still drink a fermented black tea with yak butter, and in parts of India, Vietnam, and Singapore, butter coffee (or tea) is consumed regularly," she says.
However, whether or not butter coffee has staying power past the current high-fat keto craze remains up for debate. "I think Bulletproof coffee is probably a fad," says Cutting-Jones. "But to those who enjoy the rich taste of butter in their coffee without expecting it to be a panacea for all their health issues, I raise a mug!"
Butter vs. other coffee adds
Butter vs. coconut oil:
Some people opt to add coconut oil to their coffee in lieu of butter or MCT oil.
Coconut oil is high in saturated fats and contains MCTs, so it may offer some of the same health benefits as butter coffee. However, unlike MCT oil, coconut oil21 also contains some long-chain triglycerides, which aren't associated with the same health-promoting properties. Plus, keep in mind that it can be a bit harder to blend and could add a subtle coconut-like flavor to your coffee.
Butter vs. milk/cream:
Milk and cream are also common coffee additions used to bring a touch of sweetness to your brew.
However, unlike butter coffee, coffee made with milk or cream can increase your intake of carbs, especially if you're adding more than a splash or so. These varieties of coffee can increase blood sugar levels slightly, meaning they may not be a good fit if you're fasting or on a strict keto diet.
Can you drink butter coffee every day?
Swapping out your breakfast for a cup of butter coffee each day might make it harder to meet your nutritional needs. Plus, butter coffee is very high in calories and fat, meaning it might not be ideal for drinking on a daily basis, especially if you're not adjusting your diet to even out your calorie intake.
Is butter coffee good for weight loss?
Butter coffee might help reduce hunger levels and support satiety, which could go on to promote weight loss. On the other hand, it’s also high in calories and fat. For this reason, it could cause weight gain if you don't make adjustments to your diet to account for the extra calories.
What is a butter coffee alternative if you're vegan?
Try trading butter for coconut oil in your coffee to give it a vegan-friendly twist. Like butter, coconut oil can help bump up your fat intake, without the dairy.
Though butter coffee has recently become a hot trend in health and wellness circles, it's actually been around for quite some time. While some research suggests that it could increase focus, enhance energy levels, and help hold you over until lunch, it can also have some side effects and may not be the best choice for everyone.
If butter coffee isn't your style, try experimenting with other mix-ins like collagen, turmeric, or cinnamon. Alternatively, give other healthy drinks like green tea, black tea, or matcha a shot instead.
Rachael Ajmera, MS, RD is a registered dietitian and writer based in San Francisco. She holds a master's degree in Clinical Nutrition from New York University and an undergraduate degree in Dietetics.
Rachael works as a freelance writer and editor for several health and wellness publications. She is passionate about sharing evidence-based information on nutrition and health and breaking down complex topics into content that is engaging and easy to understand.
When she's not writing, Rachael enjoys experimenting with new recipes in the kitchen, reading, gardening, and spending time with her husband and dogs.