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Keto Coffee Recipes: How To Make A Low-Carb Morning Treat
This article has been written by experts and fact-checked by experts, including licensed nutritionists, dietitians or medical professionals. The information in the article is based on scientific studies and research.
It is designed to be honest, unbiased and objective, and opinions from both sides of an argument are presented wherever there is disagreement.
The scientific references in this article (marked by 1, 2, 3, etc.) are clickable links to peer-reviewed research material on the subject being discussed.
Google shows about 67,000,000 results when you search for the phrase “Starbucks recipes” – even though the company’s own compilation of recipes for its coffee drinks is the very first result.
The interest in those recipes isn’t surprising. After all, Starbucks stores serve about three trillion customers every year. (The average customer visits six times per month.)
The best-available statistics, by contrast, estimate that about 10 million Americans (6% of U.S. adults) have tried the high-fat, low-carb keto diet at some point in their lifetime.
Even so, Google returns about 34,000,000 results – half the results for “Starbucks recipes” – when you search for the phrase “keto coffee recipes.”
Let’s repeat that:
Three trillion customers per year – 67,000,000 search results for “Starbucks recipes.”
Ten million dieters in history – 34,000,000 search results for “keto coffee recipes.”
(And that’s not counting 153,000,000 search results for “butter coffee,” another name for keto coffee.)
Wow. This keto coffee stuff must be really amazing.
“Amazing” might be overselling things, to be honest. But keto coffee (or keto butter coffee, or bulletproof coffee, as it’s also known) is undoubtedly a craze among those who follow the ketogenic diet.
Let’s find out why.
The Basics of Keto
Keto coffee is simply black coffee, with a few ingredients added to increase the effectiveness of the keto diet. You can’t understand the purpose of those ingredients, though, until you understand the goals and mechanisms of the keto diet.
The Simple Stuff
The ultimate goal of keto, of course, is weight loss. And the obvious “mechanism” is a drastic reduction in daily carbohydrate consumption. That’s why people following a strict keto meal plan (or any other low-carb diet like paleo) can’t eat foods loaded with carbs. Most people know keto requires them to eliminate starches and sugars from their diet, but surprisingly carb-heavy foods like fruit are also on the “naughty” list.
That’s the stuff everyone knows. Here’s what matters more to our understanding of keto coffee’s benefits: the reason why restricting carbs can lead to weight loss.
The More Complicated Stuff
Physiologists, biologists and nutritionists spend years studying the “complicated stuff.” We’ll try to explain it in a few bite-sized paragraphs.
- The body and brain need energy to function. We’re all aware of that; when we’re run down, we say that we’re “low on energy” and reach for an energy drink, an energy bar, a banana or an apple, or some chocolate. (We prefer chocolate.)
- The energy that the body runs on is supplied by glucose, often called blood sugar. Glucose is manufactured by the liver, which primarily uses the carbohydrates we eat to produce glucose.
- If the body doesn’t get enough carbs to make the glucose it needs, it experiences an energy emergency. Thankfully, it has a backup plan; it enters a metabolic state that’s known as ketosis.
- When the body is in ketosis, the liver manufactures molecules that can function quite well as a substitute energy source. They’re called ketone bodies, or ketones for short. The body and brain perform just fine on ketones instead of glucose.
- Normally, the liver burns carbs to make glucose. In ketosis, though, it burns stored body fat to make ketones. And it will continue to burn fat until normal carb intake resumes – once that happens, the body “falls out of ketosis” and glucose production resumes.
There are three key takeaways from that explanation.
- The immediate goal of the keto diet is to put the body into ketosis and keep it there.
- The primary mechanism of the keto diet is forcing the body to burn fat, so it can produce ketones.
- Fat burning, needless to say, is an important component of weight loss. So as the body stays in ketosis and burns stored fat – the keto diet’s ultimate goal is achieved. The dieter loses weight.
Does the Keto Diet Work?
Absolutely. The ketogenic diet works, and works well, for most people. There’s no definitive “number” for how much weight you can lose on keto, since everyone’s situation, medical condition and food consumption are different. The best estimates say weight loss averages 1-2 pounds per week, after an initial loss of five pounds in water weight.
More rigorous research does show, however, that the keto diet generally leads to greater weight loss than traditional choices like a low-fat diet or the Mediterranean diet. There’s also evidence that keto lowers appetite, so people on the diet usually end up eating less. There are two apparent reasons; ketones suppress appetite-boosting hormones, and the extra fat and protein you eat on a keto diet make you feel more full.
Hopefully, at this point we’re all on board with how keto works and what it does. But where does coffee fit into the picture?
The Keto Diet and Coffee
Most of the beverages that are integral to American diets are off-limits on keto. When you’re strictly limiting carbs, you can’t drink soda, fruit juice, energy drinks, beer (with a few low-carb exceptions) or even milk.
The first three are loaded with added sugar, beer is made from grains, and lactose is actually “milk sugar,” so they all contain enough carbohydrates to endanger your diet. A few can even kick you out of ketosis all by themselves. Some dieters believe they can still drink low-carb or zero-carb diet soft drinks on keto, but research shows that the artificial sweeteners in diet soda make you crave sugar and pose other health risks.
That leaves just a few beverages that are green-lit for keto: water (of course), some non-dairy milks, bone broth, alcoholic spirits like gin and vodka, heavy cream (in moderation), tea – and coffee.
Black coffee is as perfect as you can get to a keto beverage. It contains zero carbs, zero calories, and it has a glycemic index of zero (meaning it doesn’t spike blood sugar). It even provides a number of health benefits, with heart health notable among them.
One word was important in that last paragraph: black. Once you start adding milk and sugar to coffee, unfortunately, you’re adding carbs – and endangering your keto diet.
On strict keto, you’re limited to 20-25 net carbs (net carbs means total carbs minus undigestible dietary fiber) per day. And two teaspoons of sugar and a splash of milk turn zero-carb black coffee into a beverage containing almost ten net carbs, or half the total daily allowance.
Even worse, the average American drinks more than three cups of coffee each day. With added sugar and milk (what they call “regular coffee” in New England), that’s enough carbs to kick you right out of ketosis and end your weight loss.
Those who love their coffee black (or are espresso fans) have no worries. Other coffee drinkers, though, have to find alternatives to the traditional milk and sugar.
What Can Keto Dieters Put Into Their Coffee?
Lots of people don’t use milk or sugar. They use coffee creamer and artificial sweeteners like Nutrisweet or Sweet ‘N Low. Are they all OK on keto?
Most commercial coffee creamers, like Coffee-Mate, add two problematic ingredients in order to simulate the creaminess of milk or cream: vegetable oil and some form of sugar (usually corn syrup). Sugar’s obviously a deal-killer on its own, and vegetable oil isn’t exactly good for you, either.
There’s good news on the creamer front; more and more companies are now selling low-carb (or zero-carb) keto coffee creamers made with coconut oil, coconut milk or MCT oil instead of sugar and vegetable oil. They’re fine for keto dieters.
Even better are a number of non-dairy milks like unsweetened macadamia nut milk, almond milk and coconut milk. Hempseed milk and flax milk are good choices as well. All are very low in carbs.
We briefly mentioned cream, but it deserves its own paragraph. Heavy cream (or heavy whipping cream) is actually a keto-friendly ingredient that’s used in many keto diet recipes, since it contains almost no carbs per tablespoon. The problem is that a tablespoon also contains 50 calories and five grams of fat, so heavy cream should only be used in moderation.
We’ll discuss the whole idea of putting fat into your hot coffee shortly.
The natural food alcohol erythritol is often used as a sugar substitute in packaged and processed foods, but it still contains carbs and isn’t convenient for use in coffee.
You’d think that zero-calorie artificial sweeteners are perfect on keto, because they contain – at most – only a gram of carbs. That’s literally true, but they’re a bad choice for reasons we’ve already explained. Just like diet soda sweetened with artificial sugar substitutes, Splenda, Nutrasweet and other man-made sweeteners make you hungrier and make you crave sugar. And as we’ve mentioned, they pose health concerns as well.
The correct answer to the question “how do I replace sugar in my coffee?” is “with novel sweeteners.” That name describes a new category of natural sweeteners, notably stevia and monk fruit extract, which contain no carbs and no calories. They also provide a wealth of health benefits, and let you add sweetness to your coffee with no worries.
What Is Keto Coffee?
So far, our list of acceptable keto-friendly coffee additives includes heavy cream, some non-dairy milks, keto creamers, stevia and monk fruit.
There are two more: MCT oil and butter.
What Is MCT Oil?
MCT stands for medium-chain triglyceride; the long name simply defines the molecular structure of a group of fatty acids. And “medium-chain” makes them different from most of the long-chain fats (or lipids) we consume in our diets.
Here’s why that’s important. MCTs are so short that they don’t have to be digested after they’re swallowed. They go straight to the liver – where they help the body make more ketones. Obviously, more ketones is a very good thing when you’re trying to stay in ketosis. MCTs also help with fat burning, and make you feel fuller. (They contribute other health benefits too, including improved cognitive function.)
MCT oil is available in most natural food stores and on Amazon. And it’s easy to see why many keto dieters add MCT oil to their salad dressings, sauces and snacks, or drink it right from the bottle.
They also add it to their coffee.
If you’ve been reading closely, you now know (if you didn’t already) that keto isn’t just low-carb, it’s high fat, too. Healthy fats are the macronutrient that’s essentially a “replacement” for the carbs you cut out of your diet, and keto encourages you to eat lots of healthy fat. That’s why “bacon” and “keto” are often used in the same sentence, and it’s why keto websites and cookbooks always show pictures of steak with a huge pat of butter on top.
The healthiest form of butter is grass-fed, unsalted butter; another great option is grass-fed ghee, a type of clarified butter. And adding either butter or ghee to coffee is an easy way to consume healthy fat while adding a unique taste to the beverage.
We’ve got coffee, MCT oil and butter. Let’s put them all together.
The combination of coffee, butter (or ghee) and MCT oil was popularized by an entrepreneur named Dave Asprey. He based it on the butter coffee which has been drunk in some regions of Asia and Africa for centuries, but gave it the name “bulletproof coffee.” He now has a thriving business selling coffee beans, MCT oil (which he calls “Brain Octane”), supplements and other merchandise.
Asprey began marketing bulletproof coffee right around the same time that the keto diet’s popularity exploded – and it was a match made in heaven: zero-carb black coffee, MCT oil to help with ketosis, and butter to add healthy fat.
One of the great things about keto coffee is that it’s simple to make. It requires no prep time, and takes just a minute or two of total time to make.
Easy Keto Coffee Recipe
Most keto coffee recipes are based on Asprey’s original bulletproof coffee recipe:
- Combine a cup of hot coffee (decaf is fine), 1-2 teaspoons of MCT oil, and 1-2 tablespoons of grass-fed butter or ghee.
- Blend for 30 seconds so the MCT oil and coffee will combine. (Oil and water don’t mix, remember?) You don’t have to use a standalone or immersion blender; a milk frother works fine.
- When your keto bulletproof coffee has the consistency of a latte, you’re done.
Pour it into a coffee mug, and voila! A cup of keto coffee. (It’s a great way to break your fast if you’re following an intermittent fasting program, too.)
Keto coffee tastes good, but not quite like coffee with milk and sugar. Many people also add keto creamer, monk fruit extract or stevia, keto-friendly extras like cocoa powder, cinnamon or vanilla extract for added flavor, and protein or collagen powder for additional benefits.
We won’t pretend that keto coffee is as yummy as a Starbucks coffee drink like a mocha or a caramel macchiato – but it’s not bad at all, and it’s a smart way for coffee drinkers to increase weight loss on a keto diet.
However, there’s a fine line between “smart” and unhealthy, since keto coffee is extremely high in both calories and saturated fat. Just one cup can contribute one-quarter of the total calories a healthy adult needs in a day, and all the saturated fat that’s recommended for daily consumption. Two cups of bulletproof coffee a day is one cup too many.
There’s a healthier and easier way to get most of the benefits of keto coffee: ready-to-drink Super Coffee. It’s a zero-carb, zero-calorie, dairy-free and gluten-free combination of premium black coffee, MCT oil, monk fruit sweetener and added protein; it’s available in a number of flavors – and there’s nothing wrong with having more than one in a day.