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MCT Oil In Coffee: What’s The Point?
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.
It’s no secret. In fact, you’ve heard it for most of your life: greasy and oily food “isn’t good for you.”
Stomach aches, nausea, bloating and diarrhea are the obvious penalties you may suffer after eating a delicious, greasy burger, or dining on pizza dripping so much oil that you have to hold a napkin under the slice as you eat it.
And consuming too much oil or grease can lead to more serious, long-term issues like acne, an imbalance in the gut microbiome, or even a higher risk for diabetes and heart disease.
Then why in the world would you want to add oil to every cup of coffee you drink?
That’s a good question – but there’s a sensible answer. The oil that keto dieters put into their coffee is known as MCT oil. And it isn’t anything like vegetable oil, or even olive oil.
We’ll get into some of the details shortly (not too much, though – we want to help you understand, not put you to sleep).
But here are the key differences to know:
- Oils like vegetable and olive oil take the body longer to digest than MCT oil, so their fatty acids sit in the digestive system – where they can cause problems – for much longer.
- MCT oil, by contrast, goes straight to the liver. That’s where it’s used to produce the ketones so critical to the keto diet.
- MCT oil is believed to provide many more health benefits than other types of oil.
That all sounds great – but exactly what is MCT oil? And why would you put it into coffee?
MCT Oil for Dummies
Hopefully, the title of this section isn’t a trademark infringement. We just wanted to convey the fact that this explanation won’t be overly scientific.
- Fact 1: Every object, whether it’s wood, fabric or oil, is really just a series of molecules bonded together. Those molecules, and the way they’re connected, determine the object’s properties.
- Fact 2: Fat molecules are found in oil, and the main components of those molecules are fatty acids. Each fatty acid is a chain of hydrogen and carbon atoms.
- Fact 3: Fatty acids naturally join together in groups of three, forming larger molecules known as triglycerides. We often think of triglycerides as “fat”, and when they’re consumed, they’re either turned into energy or stored in the body.
- Fact 4: That means there are fatty acids in oil, in the form of triglycerides.
- Fact 5: The properties of those fatty acids largely determine the way triglycerides (that is, fat) act once they’re in the body. We’re specifically concerned here with the number of carbon atoms in each fatty acid.
- Fact 6: Carbon atoms bond together in chains of different length. Some triglycerides consist of fatty acids with short chains of carbon, some are composed of fatty acids with medium-length carbon chains (6-12 atoms), and still others contain fatty acids with large carbon chains (13-21 atoms).
- Fact 7: All triglycerides perform the same basic functions – but their medical, health and wellness benefits depend largely on whether the fatty acids’ carbon atoms are in short, medium or large chains. Those three configurations are identified as short-chain triglycerides (SCT), medium-chain triglycerides (MCT) or long-chain triglycerides (LCT).
- Fact 8: We’ve already learned that fat is contained in oil. And one way to describe any oil is by the type of fat it contains. MCT oil is simply oil that contains medium-chain triglycerides. By contrast, vegetable and olive oil contain long-chain triglycerides, or LCTs.
- Fact 9: That’s why MCT oil isn’t like most other oils. The structure of atoms and molecules in MCT oil provides more benefits – and might be considered “healthier.”
- (If you’re wondering, MCT oil is saturated fat.)
Give yourself a pat on the back. Now that you know that MCT oil is “built differently” than other common oils, the confusing part is over.
MCTs are naturally present in dairy products, but MCT oil is extracted and refined from either coconut oil or palm oil. Once it’s been processed, MCT oil contains nothing but healthy fats. Coconuts are notably high in MCTs, so some people (and manufacturers) use coconut oil instead of MCT oil. However, coconut oil isn’t as potent when it comes to health benefits, and it doesn’t make its users feel “as full” as they do after consuming MCT oil.
But what exactly is MCT oil used for? Read on.
Keto and MCT Oil
MCT oil is used most often to support a ketogenic diet. The reasons it’s so helpful require another quick scientific discussion, but we’ll keep it short.
- Fact 1: When we eat carbohydrates, the body turns them into glucose (blood sugar) and uses the glucose as an energy source.
- Fact 2: The keto diet is designed to starve the body of carbs, by prohibiting dieters from eating and drinking sugary and starchy foods like cake and cookies, soda and fruit juice, potatoes and pasta.
- Fact 3: When the body doesn’t get enough carbs, it needs another energy source. Here’s what happens: it enters a metabolic state called ketosis, in which it burns stored fat that the liver uses to produce molecules called ketones. Ketones are an excellent alternate fuel source when glucose isn’t available – and fat burning leads to weight loss.
- Fact 4: That’s the keto diet in a nutshell. It puts the body into ketosis, and keeps it there so the body can burn fat.
- Fact 5: MCTs don’t have to be digested, and they’re not stored as fat. They go straight to the liver, where they provide extra fat that can be turned into ketones.
In short, MCT oil helps the body stay in ketosis, boosts energy levels and encourages more efficient fat-burning.
It does a few other things as well. MCTs have been shown to reduce appetite and make people feel fuller – both are good things, obviously, when you’re trying to eat less and lose weight. Studies also suggest that these easily-digestible fats have a wealth of health benefits. They have anti-microbial properties, may improve liver health and fight heart disease, could be an effective treatment for insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes, and promote mental clarity while improving brain function and health. LCTs aren’t anywhere near as effective.
So that’s why. The next question is how.
Using MCT Oil
The easiest approach is to simply drink it. The suggested amount of MCT oil a person should consume daily is 1-2 tablespoons. It does initially cause stomach issues for some people, though, so it’s best to start slowly with a teaspoon on a full stomach and increase gradually. More than four tablespoons a day may cause side effects like stomach pain, gas and cramps, diarrhea and vomiting.
MCT oil can also be added to food or beverages. It’s commonly added to keto smoothies, mixed into salad dressings or sauces, or used to make keto-friendly low-carb, high-fat snacks known as “fat bombs.” However, it’s a bad idea to substitute it for your usual cooking oil, because MCT oil has a low smoke point.
And then, there’s the most popular way to use MCT oil.
Putting MCT Oil in Coffee
When you start reading about the keto diet, one of the first terms you’re likely to run across is “Bulletproof Coffee.” Also known as keto coffee or butter coffee, it’s a way to make black coffee taste better and richer – and support a ketogenic lifestyle at the same time.
Let’s start with the name Bulletproof Coffee. It’s commonly used whenever keto coffee is discussed, but it’s actually a trademarked name for the recipe.
A tech guy named Dave Asprey says he came up with the idea to combine black coffee, MCT oil and healthy fat while he was hiking in Tibet. He formed a company to sell products associated with his Bulletproof coffee recipe in 2013, and it became a sensation. He now sells cookbooks, ground coffee and coffee beans, coffee ingredients, supplements like collagen powder, and several versions of MCT oil including the one called Brain Octane.
Bulletproof coffee is undoubtedly popular. But what’s the reasoning behind butter coffee?
One of the goals is to get MCT oil into keto diets, of course, both for the ketones and the additional health benefits – and coffee is an ideal transport mechanism. However, the other ingredient mixed into keto coffee is just as important: either unsalted grass-fed butter, or grass-fed ghee.
Why grass-fed dairy? It contains more omega-3 fatty acids, and more vitamins A and K, than dairy products from cows that have been fed conventionally. And what is ghee, anyway? It’s a form of strong, clarified butter that has had the milk solids removed, so it has less lactose than regular butter.
One more question: MCT oil makes sense, but why would you put butter or ghee into coffee as well? The primary motivation is to add fat. Keto isn’t just a low-carb diet; the carbs are replaced by fats. That means it’s crucial to consume lots of high-quality fat when you’re on a ketogenic eating plan. Putting butter or ghee into coffee is an easy way to do just that, since they each contain around 12 grams of fat.
The beverage is also very filling, which is why many on keto simply have a cup of coffee – bulletproof coffee – for breakfast each morning. We’ll have more to say about that shortly.
There’s one more thing to keep in mind when making keto coffee. Coffee is basically flavored water, and as you might recall from high school science, water and oil don’t mix. That means that a proper cup of butter coffee has to go into the blender. Blending the ingredients will “force” them to combine into a drinkable cup of coffee, and it will create a final product that looks something like a latte.
Having said all of that, there’s no reason you can’t simply add MCT oil to coffee, without worrying about butter (or ghee) and blenders. Many people do just that, since it still lets them enjoy the benefits of MCTs. And as we’ll explain next, there are very good arguments for skipping the butter.
The Risks of Drinking Keto Coffee
We’ll skip the clichés about getting too much of a good thing, and simply say that drinking too much bulletproof coffee can be bad for you.
You already know that butter adds lots of fat to keto coffee. So does MCT oil. In fact, a cup of butter coffee contains at least 20 grams of saturated fat, and as many as 50 grams if you use the Bulletproof recipe calling for two tablespoons of butter and two tablespoons of MCT oil. To put that in perspective, USDA Dietary Guidelines recommend no more than 22 grams of fat per day for most adults.
Then, there are calories. Asprey’s recipe, if followed religiously, creates a cup of coffee that contains nearly 500 calories. (By contrast, black coffee by itself has zero calories.) That’s between one-fifth and one-quarter of the amount of daily calories recommended by the government.
Those numbers wouldn’t be horrendous, if a dieter had just one cup of keto coffee in the morning and was careful for the rest of the day. Many people, however, grow accustomed to the taste, and substitute butter coffee for the 3, 4 or more cups of regular coffee they’d normally have each day. That much fat and calories simply isn’t healthy, even though keto guidelines encourage lots of fat consumption. It will also sabotage attempts to lose weight on the keto diet.
There’s a second problem lurking as well. We mentioned that many give into the temptation to substitute bulletproof coffee for a regular cup of morning coffee – and skip breakfast, since the coffee is so filling. However, the keto diet is based on carbs, fat, and good nutrition, and the nutrients in a healthy breakfast are essential to good health and effective weight loss. Keto coffee shouldn’t be “breakfast” by itself.
Finally, there’s some evidence (not conclusive just yet, though) that the high levels of saturated fat in keto coffee can result in increased cholesterol levels.
That makes it easier to understand why just adding MCT oil to black coffee can be a smarter approach than filling up on butter coffee.
Simply adding MCT oil to coffee won’t create the same rich taste, though. Can you do anything about that?
Adding Other Ingredients to Coffee and MCT Oil
About 35% of American coffee drinkers take their coffee black. The rest of us drink coffee with added sugar or sweeteners, milk or creamers, or both.
Most of those add-ins don’t fit the guidelines for keto or other low-carb diets like paleo, though. Sugar is definitely out, as are the many artificial sweeteners that contain high amounts of carbohydrates. Thankfully, there are good keto alternatives. Natural, non-nutritive sweeteners like monk fruit extract or stevia, or low-carb sugar alcohols like erythritol, can make coffee with MCT oil seem more like the real thing.
What about cream? You probably know that milk is a no-go on keto, because its lactose is really nothing more than “milk sugar.” Fat-laden heavy cream is fine and often encouraged on keto, but it does contain carbs that can add up quickly if you’re one of the people who “survives” on coffee each day.
Most commercial creamers aren’t good choices either, since they contain lots of net carbs. The much better choices are sugar-free, gluten-free non-dairy milk substitutes like almond milk or coconut milk. Just as good: more and more companies are now selling keto coffee creamers which are designed to be low-carb. Some even contain MCT oil as a time- and money-saving bonus; one to check out is SuperCreamer from Super Coffee, which contains both MCT oil and grass-fed butter.
Many people also mix health supplement powders into their hot coffee-and-MCT oil as part of their morning routine; protein powders and the collagen powder we’ve already mentioned are two popular choices. Some also make a DIY keto-friendly latte, by using a milk frother to create delicious almond milk foam to top their coffee.
An Easy Keto Coffee Recipe
There are many keto coffee recipes floating around online. Here’s the granddaddy of them all, the original Bulletproof Coffee recipe. Total time for preparation is less than five minutes.
- Brew a cup (8-12 ounces) of coffee. Using fresh coffee beans is best.
- Add the coffee, 1 tsp. to 2 tbsp. of MCT oil, and 1-2 tbsp. of grass-fed butter (or 1-2 tsp. of grass-fed ghee) to a blender.
- Blend for 20-30 seconds until the coffee is fully mixed and thick.