The question: I've heard that adding butter to coffee is healthy. Is this true? Do you recommend it?
The answer: Coffee blended with butter has no appeal to me. I like my coffee black and have never liked the taste of butter (except melted on popcorn). But according to advocates, I need to get used to its taste. Stirring butter into your morning coffee – and skipping breakfast – is said to boost energy, improve cognitive function, reduce food cravings and shrink your waistline. Really?
The elixir was made popular by entrepreneur David Asprey, founder of Bulletproof Coffee, who discovered butter-blended tea in the mountains of Tibet. His recipe uses coffee: Blend one to two tablespoons of grass-fed butter and one to two tablespoons of medium chain triglyceride (MCT) oil – a blend of coconut oil and palm oil – with coffee until frothy. (No surprise here: You can buy Bulletproof coffee beans and the special fats needed create the so-called high-octane brew on the Bulletproof website.)
Grass-fed butter supplies more omega-3 fats than conventional butter, mainly from alpha linolenic acid (ALA), which is plentiful in flaxseed, chia seeds, hemp hearts, walnuts and walnut oil. While a higher intake of ALA has health benefits – it reduces inflammation, guards against Type 2 diabetes and may help protect from heart disease – it doesn't boost brainpower. Rather, an omega-3 fatty acid in oily fish, called dococosahexaenoic acid (DHA), is linked to better brain health.
Can you lose weight by drinking this concoction? Not if you're adding this beverage to your usual morning meal. One tablespoon each of butter and MCT oil adds 240 calories to your cup of coffee. Research shows that medium chain fats are stored less in fat tissue and may increase calorie burning in the body. Yet there is scant, if any, evidence that MCT oil – or adding it to coffee – will help you shed unwanted pounds.
MCT oil is also absorbed faster than other fats, suggesting it could be an energy booster, but there is no evidence of this. There's also no proof that drinking butter-laced coffee prevents food cravings. Even so, it could. Since fat takes longer to digest than other foods, it keeps you feeling satisfied longer.
But so can a breakfast of low-glycemic steel-cut oats (slowly digested carbohydrate), topped with a tablespoon of almond butter (heart-healthy fat), a tablespoon of ground flax (omega-3 fatty acids) and a handful of blueberries. Served with a cup of black coffee, of course. But you won't find fibre, whole grains, monounsaturated fat (not much) and berry antioxidants in a cup of buttery coffee.
There's a reason why the Tibetans add butter to their tea: The hot drink wards off the cold temperatures and helps avert hunger during physically demanding days. I'm not sure a sedentary desk job requires a 240-plus-calorie cup of coffee.
My take: Don't expect that adding a tablespoon or two of grass-fed butter and MCT oil will make you slim, enhance your memory or rally your energy level. If you like the taste, great. (It's certainly a better choice than a sugar-laden Starbuck's Frappuccino topped with whip cream.) Just be sure to compensate for the extra calories elsewhere in your diet.
Leslie Beck, a registered dietitian, is based at the Medisys clinic in Toronto. She is a regular contributor to CTV News Channel; lesliebeck.com