Keto Coffee: Weight Loss Miracle, Or Ticking Time Bomb?

Here’s a riddle.

What’s something that can be both good and bad?

Delicious spicy food that turns out to be too spicy?
A terrific song that gets stuck in your head and becomes an earwig?
A silver medal at the Olympics?
Falling deeply in love – when you’re already involved with someone else?

Here’s one more to add to the list: keto coffee.

If you’ve done much reading about the keto diet, you’ve certainly seen lots of references to so-called bulletproof coffee, which is the name for keto coffee that a businessman trademarked in the early 2010s.

It’s said to be one of the best beverages you can drink when you’re following a ketogenic eating plan, and it contains zero net carbs. But if you look at the nutrition facts for an average cup of keto coffee, you see things like:

  • Calories: 440 (more than 20% of the daily recommended maximum)
  • Saturated Fat: 14 grams (more than 100% of the daily recommended maximum)
  • Nutrients: 0, other than the vitamins and minerals already contained in coffee

In just one cup of keto coffee? That certainly doesn’t look good.

So which is it? Is keto coffee a “magic button” that you can push to trigger impressive weight loss? Or is it a fad beverage that you should avoid?

Neither, really. It can be a great addition – in moderation – to a keto diet. But it definitely comes with drawbacks and risks as well.

Before you give into the bulletproof coffee craze, here’s what you need to know.

What Is Keto Coffee?

Short answer: it’s a blend of black coffee, butter and something called MCT oil.

Better answer: It’s a coffee drink that contains several ingredients which can be helpful to keto dieters. It’s a coffee drink that could potentially be harmful to those drinking too much of it. And it’s not a coffee drink that automatically helps you lose weight.

Who Invented Keto Coffee?

The keto coffee story goes back more than a thousand years, when the stimulant properties of coffee had only recently been discovered. People in Ethiopia found that when they combined ground coffee and a form of clarified butter called ghee, they had an easily-transportable snack that could provide an energy boost on long treks.

They eventually started drinking their coffee mixed with ghee or butter. Other peoples in the Himalayas began doing much the same thing, adding butter to their tea or coffee; they created a drink known to this day as butter coffee or butter tea.

Fast forward to the 21st century. An entrepreneur named Rick Asprey was trekking in Nepal, sampled the local yak butter tea, and supposedly experienced both extra energy and better cognitive function.

When he got back to the states he put together his own recipe for butter coffee, called it “bulletproof coffee,” and trademarked the name. There was one extra ingredient in Asprey’s recipe: a little-known oil with a number of health benefits, MCT oil.

The marketing of bulletproof coffee happened to coincide with the explosion of the phenomenon known as the keto diet. And as it happened, the butter and MCT oil in bulletproof coffee were ideal supplements to a ketogenic eating plan. People starting calling Asprey’s coffee “keto coffee” and a craze was born.

The Ingredients In Keto Coffee

We’ve mentioned them briefly, but here they are again: black coffee, butter (or ghee) and MCT oil.

  • Hot Coffee: Black coffee, please, since sugar wouldn’t make sense on any type of diet. The coffee shouldn’t contain milk either; for reasons we’ll discuss shortly, you’re not supposed to drink milk on keto. What about sugar substitutes, and either cream or non-dairy creamer? We’ll discuss them in a moment, but they should be added to the coffee after it’s prepared, not as an initial ingredient.
  • MCT Oil: This oil is composed solely of fats called medium-chain triglycerides, and you can find it in natural food stores and on Amazon. It’s extracted from coconut oil or palm kernel oil, and it provides a number of health benefits. But its unique properties make it a perfect match for the keto diet process.
  • Butter or ghee: They’re both fine to use, but needless to say, butter is somewhat easier to find (and less expensive). Grass-fed butter is preferable because of the extra nutrients it contains, and unsalted butter is better for the coffee’s consistency.

Don’t worry about “special” types of ingredients. Asprey sells MCT oil (he calls it Brain Octane Fuel) and super-duper low-acid coffee beans, but you don’t need to get fancy. Regular coffee beans or ground coffee, and MCT oil that contains caprylic and capric acids, work just fine in any keto coffee recipe. Even Asprey’s.

Making keto coffee is simple. You mix the ingredients together, and then blend for 30 minutes (in a blender or with a milk frother) until the coffee has the creaminess of a latte.

What other keto-friendly ingredients can you add to bulletproof coffee?

  • Zero-carb, zero-calorie natural sweeteners like stevia or monk fruit extract. (Artificial sweeteners are calorie- and sugar-free but not good for your health, and sugar alcohols like erythritol can cause digestive issues for some people.)
  • Heavy cream or whipping cream (in moderation, because they’re calorie-heavy), keto coffee creamer, or unsweetened non-dairy milks like almond milk, coconut milk or flaxseed milk.
  • Keto-friendly flavorings and spices like cocoa powder, cinnamon or vanilla extract.
  • Supplements with health benefits, like collagen peptides and Chaga mushroom powder.

Let’s talk a little more about butter, though, since it’s the most problematic ingredient in keto coffee. It’s loaded with saturated fat – and why would you eat lots of fat if your goal is weight loss? Actually, as contradictory as it sounds, you’re supposed to eat healthy fats when you’re on keto.

If you’re confused, you’re in good company. Keto guidelines can seem mysterious until you understand the reasoning behind them.

So let’s put keto coffee aside for a minute and look more closely at the keto diet. If you’re not planning to start keto, hold tight; a bit later we’ll discuss the more general subject of bulletproof coffee and weight loss.

The Keto Diet and Weight Loss

It would be virtually impossible not to know the basic principle of keto: you drastically limit the amount of carbohydrates you eat each day. Americans normally consume hundreds of grams of carbs daily. On strict keto, you’re only allowed 20-25 grams.

That dramatic reduction means cutting out most of the foods we all love to eat. That includes starches and grains like bread, pasta, rice, cereal, potatoes, root vegetables and bakery products; sugar in all of its forms, including the added sugar found in packaged and processed foods, desserts, soda, fruit juice and junk food; milk (because lactose is really just sugar); and most fruits (which contain fructose, another form of sugar).

What’s left to eat? Mostly, lots of protein and healthy fats. Those are the two macronutrients that replace carbohydrates in a keto diet, and it’s why keto isn’t just a low-carb diet. It’s a high-fat diet as well.

If the keto diet seems draconian, that’s because it is. But there’s a good reason for the restrictions. We’ll take it in bite-sized pieces.

  • All of the carbs we eat are broken down by the liver to make glucose, or blood sugar. That’s the fuel the body and brain run on every day.
  • When you don’t supply the body with enough carbohydrates, needless to say, it can’t make glucose. It has to find an alternate energy source in order to function.
  • Here’s what it does: it enters a metabolic state known as ketosis. In ketosis, the liver produces molecules called ketones, and both the body and brain can function normally on ketones instead of glucose. In some ways, the brain prefers ketones.
  • This last point may be the most important one of all. In order to produce ketones, the body burns its stored body fat. And we probably don’t have to tell you that fat burning is one of the major factors in weight loss.

This also explains why you can’t slip up when you’re on the keto diet. As soon as you consume too many carbs – and even having a soft drink or piece of cake might do it – the body falls out of ketosis and starts producing glucose again. If it’s no longer in ketosis, it’s not burning fat, and keto weight loss stops.

Two other key takeaways: it’s imperative for keto dieters to remain in ketosis, and they have to eat lots of healthy fat in order to replace the carbs they’re not eating.

Remember that as we get back to the topic of keto coffee.

How Bulletproof Coffee Helps Keto Dieters

We’ve talked briefly about the butter and MCT oil that goes into keto coffee. And now that we’ve discussed the keto diet, everything should fall into place.

Butter

Butter is the easy one. You’re supposed to eat lots of healthy fat on keto, and putting a tablespoon or two of butter (or ghee) into your coffee is an easy way to help accomplish that goal.

MCT Oil

MCT oil requires a more detailed explanation.

At a molecular level, the fats we consume are chains of fatty acids and carbon atoms. Almost all of them are long chains (so they’re called long-chain triglycerides) containing at least 13 carbon atoms. But a few foods (coconuts, palm kernels and some dairy products) contain fats with just 6-12 carbons, so their chains are shorter. Those are the medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs).

MCTs have a unique property. Since their chains are so much shorter than most of the fats we eat, they don’t have to be digested. They pass right through the digestive tract and end up in the liver – where they’re turned into ketones.

Bingo! When you’re on keto you have to stay in ketosis, so your body can produce ketones. So taking MCT oil – which is concentrated MCTs extracted from coconut oil or palm kernel oil – results in an extra supply of ketones produced from MCTs, and an increase in energy levels.

In short, MCT oil helps keto dieters achieve and stay in ketosis. That’s why it’s added to keto coffee. It’s also why some add it to their salad dressings and sauces, add it to so-called “fat bombs,” or just drink it straight.

We should also mention that MCT oil provides a wealth of other health benefits, whether you’re on keto or not. They are antioxidants and anti-inflammatories, and have antimicrobial properties as well. They also appear to boost brain function, help prevent heart disease, lower cholesterol, keep blood sugar levels balanced and prevent insulin resistance.

What’s more, MCTs seem to help with weight loss all on their own.

Keto Coffee and Weight Loss: Does It Help?

Even if MCT oil didn’t help keep keto dieters in ketosis, it would still make sense to add it to coffee. In fact, many people do – even if the coffee in question isn’t bulletproof coffee.

  • MCT oil helps to increase satiety. In other words, it makes you feel fuller for longer, because MCTs boost the release of hormones that promote a feeling of fullness. (Incidentally, fats like butter also promote satiety, because they take longer to digest.) 
  • MCTs appear to increase heat generation (thermogenesis) and increase energy expenditure in the body, which helps boost fat burning.
  • It’s believed that MCTs support gut biome health, and it’s easier to lose weight when you’re not suffering from intestinal or digestive issues.

In addition, MCTs contain 10% fewer calories than LCTs, and excess MCTs aren’t stored as body fat.

So MCT oil helps with weight loss. That’s the good news. Here’s the bad.

We mentioned at the start that keto coffee is extremely high in calories and saturated fat, thanks to the butter or ghee it contains. Of course, the fat is there for a purpose when you’re on keto. The calories are just along for the ride.

However, getting 20% of a day’s entire calories from a single cup of coffee, and consuming more saturated fat than you should be consuming an entire day, certainly isn’t optimal. There are two conclusions that can be drawn:

  1. Keto coffee should only be a once-a-day beverage, at most. It shouldn’t replace all of the coffee you drink, and it shouldn’t be a replacement for a healthy, nutritious breakfast.
  2. Keto coffee can do more harm than good if you’re dieting but not on keto (or another low-carb meal plan like paleo or intermittent fasting). You can get the health benefits of MCT oil (and black coffee, for that matter), without all the fat and calories contained in bulletproof coffee.

Here’s the bottom line: keto coffee, in moderation, can help boost weight loss in those who are already on keto. Those who aren’t rigorously following a low-carb diet, however, may actually pack on more pounds by downing keto coffee. They’re much better off avoiding the bulletproof coffee – and simply adding MCT oil to their diet.

Both keto and non-keto dieters can try something else to help with weight loss: Super Coffee, which is essentially keto coffee without the butter. It contains coffee, MCT oil, added protein and monk fruit extract for sweetness, and it provides the health benefits of bulletproof coffee without the unnecessary saturated fat and calories.

Written by Ben Knox

10 min read

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