Coffee spiked with butter: Best idea ever or heart attack waiting to happen?

Butter in your coffee: madness or genius?

Are you used to stirring skim milk, soy milk or half-and-half into your morning joe? Do you like to temper this bitter brew with sugar or a few packets of artificial sweetener? Then, blending butter with coffee may seem nothing short of madness — what about all that fat?  (I can hear you wondering.)

From a nutritional standpoint, especially when taking absorption and assimilation into account, adding butter to coffee makes sense.

Those who metabolize coffee well can reap its benefits, including caffeine — a natural stimulant that increases mental alertness, revs up metabolism and can reduce the perception of pain. Quality coffee is also a rich source of antioxidants — known as polyphenols — that contribute to its bitter flavor and beneficial health properties, from better memory recall and improved exercise performance to potentially lowering risk of type 2 diabetes and Parkinson’s disease.

Adding butter to coffee refers specifically to grass-fed, unsalted butter — like Irish Kerrygold butter or New Zealand’s Anchor butter — which is an excellent source of cancer-fighting and immune-boosting conjugated linoleic acid (C.L.A.), a naturally occurring “good” trans fatty acid, as well as vitamin K2, essential for strong bones and heart health. Happily, the latest research on saturated fat shows that it does not cause heart disease — there’s no need to avoid quality sources of saturated fat, like grass-fed butter.

Why combine butter and coffee?

Drinking a black coffee (sweetened or not) is similar to drinking a green juice. Both hit the bloodstream immediately. A green juice that includes high-sugar vegetables (like carrots or beets) — no fat or fiber — delivers an infusion of rapidly absorbed sugars into your bloodstream, spiking insulin levels.

Drinking coffee on an empty stomach delivers caffeine directly into your system, setting you up for a rollercoaster day of energy highs (with caffeine) and lows (without caffeine). On the other hand, a green smoothie, usually made with fat, fiber and protein, slows the absorption of sugars into the bloodstream — you’ll feel full longer. The same idea applies to coffee: The addition of a healthy fat, like grass-fed butter, slows the absorption of caffeine, enabling you to experience the benefits of caffeine — such as more energy and focus — in a sustained, “slow-release” way over a longer period of time.

Originator of butter coffee, a.k.a. “Bulletproof Coffee”

Combining butter with coffee was popularized by Dave Asprey, a Silicon Valley tech entrepreneur and self-proclaimed “bio-hacker.” After a cup of creamy yak butter tea at 18,000 feet elevation near Mount Kailash in Tibet, Asprey was inspired to make his version of this rejuvenating elixir — with coffee. Asprey went so far as to source and roast his own beans, which he now sells as “Upgraded Coffee.” The result? A high-performance potion that he dubs “Bulletproof Coffee.”

Asprey’s original Bulletproof Coffee recipe combines two sources of saturated fat — grass-fed unsalted butter and M.C.T. oil (medium-chain triglycerides from coconut or palm kernel) — with brewed coffee (made with his coffee beans), mixed in a blender until frothy. Variations of Bulletproof Coffee have popped up since.

Butter is a key ingredient because it has, according to Asprey, “all the benefits of healthy milk fat with none of the damaging denatured casein proteins found in cream.” He is adamant, too, about using only grass-fed butter, because cows fed corn and soy don’t make the same (healthy) fats that grass-fed cows do.

Why quality (organic, low toxin) coffee beans matter

Asprey’s belief — drinking the best coffee contributes to high performance — jump started the butter coffee trend. But, it all starts with quality coffee beans.

Coffee lovers may not realize that conventional coffee crops are sprayed heavily with pesticides. In Latin America, conventional farms apply as much as 250 pounds of chemical fertilizer per acre, as reported by The Christian Science Monitor.

In addition to pesticides, coffee can be a carrier source of mycotoxins, toxins produced by some species of mold (“myco” means “fungal”). For example, ochratoxin A (OTA) is produced by two molds, Aspergillus and Penicillium. It is often found in stored grain as well as cereals, dried fruit, wine, coffee, beer, spices, pork, poultry and dairy products. Mycotoxins latch onto dried coffee beans during storage, especially if the beans aren’t adequately dried or if they are stored under conditions that attract insects or pests. Asprey points out that while roasting kills the mold, it doesn’t destroy mold toxins already present in the beans, and they eventually end up in the coffee beans or cup of coffee that you buy.

Asprey’s quest for the best “lowest toxin, highest performance” coffee beans took him to Central America where coffee bean varieties are grown at higher elevations, where mold is scarce.

His tips for finding mycotoxin-free coffee include:

  • Drink coffee made via wet processing — wet beans are less likely to harbor mold than dried beans.
  • Avoid decaffeinated coffee: No caffeine means more mold. Caffeine actually protects coffee beans from mold.
  • Choose arabica beans, which contain less mycotoxins than robusta beans.
  • Beans grown at higher elevations (like the mountains of Central America) will naturally have less mold.
  • Buy single estate coffees — avoid blends.

More on nutrition

The skinny on saturated fats
Health benefits of the unrecognized vitamin K2
Can we have a “come to Jesus” about coffee?