Health

I Drank Butter Coffee For A Month And It Was More Magical Than I Expected

And also it wasn't gross.

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Hi, I'm Sally. For six weeks this summer I started my day with a frothy, oily mug of butter coffee.

Sally Tamarkin / BuzzFeed News

Butter coffee is made by combining brewed coffee, butter, and coconut oil (or a derivative of coconut oil) and blending it in a blender.

Let me explain why I did this.

When you look into butter coffee's benefits, you get a bunch of people who basically describe feeling like Bradley Cooper in Limitless.

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People drink butter coffee for lasting energy with no crash, accelerated calorie burning, and a mental boost.

And even though I'm not one of those people who's really into experimenting with tiny tweaks that might result in a few more minutes of sleep or a few more calories burned or a few more nutrients absorbed, I am one of those people who's persuaded (with a side of skepticism) by "this changed my entire life" testimonials.

Maybe you’ve heard of Bulletproof Coffee, which is a branded version of butter coffee created by a businessman named Dave Asprey.

Here's how I made it:

• Brew 16 ounces of coffee (I used a French press and this dark roast)

• Add brewed coffee to blender

• Add 1 tablespoon Kerrygold unsalted butter

• Add 1 tablespoon MCT oil (this is a kind of oil found in coconuts and some other foods)

•  Blend until the mixture is a beigeish color

•  Pour and drink!

Butter coffee also came highly recommended by fitness expert and registered dietitian Albert Matheny of Soho Strength Lab and ProMix Nutrition, especially after I told him that I experience insatiable mid-morning hunger and mid-afternoon fatigue.

Courtesy of Andrea Lynch

He said butter coffee tasted good, which I didn't believe. He also said: "I really love butter coffee because it is a more consistent/slower release of caffeine and it is super filling. After an early breakfast — at like 6:30 a.m. — I'm good until lunch at 12 p.m."

And that intrigued me enough to want to try it.

For context, here's how I incorporated butter coffee into my life:

• For six weeks I would replace my normal black coffee and breakfast routine with butter coffee. If I was still hungry after drinking it, I'd have something high in protein like Greek yogurt, per Matheny's suggestion.

• I'd use a tablespoon each of butter and MCT oil — because after reading up about other people's butter coffee experiences, it seemed like starting out with any more than that would be asking for trouble (gastrointestinally speaking).

• I would take notes throughout the day on the taste and experience, as well as my energy, mood, hunger levels, alertness, sleep schedule, etc.

• After six weeks, I'd check my cholesterol levels to see if adding two tablespoons of saturated fat to my daily diet had any impact on my cholesterol.

SO, here's what butter coffee did for me:

1. Wow, did it ever make me feel full.

Sally Tamarkin / BuzzFeed News

I was nervous to replace my usual hearty, high-fat, high-protein breakfast with basically a cup of liquid fat, especially because I think of a hearty breakfast as insurance against intense mid-morning hunger. But I found that even on days that I worked out (when I typically start getting hungrier earlier), the butter coffee invariably kept me mega full for four to six hours. This is unheard of for me — breakfast usually holds me over for maybe a couple hours tops. I never once had that just-in-case Greek yogurt.

I didn't end up eating less food than usual — whatever calories I would've normally had in the morning I basically just ate later on in the day — I just no longer had to stop my life every couple of hours because a gnawing hunger was distracting me. If you have the constant urge to snack or struggle with feeling really, truly full after a meal, I can definitely see butter coffee helping.

2. It kept my energy levels high and even.

Taylor Miller / BuzzFeed

Before butter coffee, I'd start to feel my energy dip around mid-morning, especially on days I worked out. And then again around 3 p.m., and then around 7 p.m. Most weekend afternoons I napped hard. I know, it's a lot of fatigue.

While I was drinking butter coffee, I simply felt consistently good and up with no major dips in my energy levels. I felt energetic and alert from the early morning (around 6 a.m. when I drank it) through the entire work day and up until I went to bed. I napped only once the entire time I was drinking butter coffee.

3. When I was sleep-deprived, it was basically a magical potion.

Sally Tamarkin / BuzzFeed News

Around the fourth week of my experiment, my schedule was really hectic for about five days — I was way busier than usual and had a few nights in a row when I got only about five hours of sleep. As someone who must must must have at least seven hours of sleep per night to function cognitively and feel okay physically, I was expecting to feel how I usually did when I was underslept and overworked, which is basically like I have a hangover — exhausted, jittery, sour stomach, and a general feeling of being "off."

But butter coffee made my sleep deprivation meaningfully less miserable. It gave me sweet jitter-free energy. And even though I wasn't so sure about pouring liquid fat into my slightly off stomach, it actually made my stomach feel better. I was pleasantly surprised by how well I felt and functioned that week.

4. As far as a mental boost: yeah, kinda!

Sally Tamarkin / BuzzFeed

During my time on butter coffee, I sadly didn't turn into a chess grandmaster. :( That said, having mid-morning hunger and mid-afternoon fatigue removed from my life really did make me feel better and more energetic overall.

And even though I wasn't automagically imbued with cognitive superpowers, I definitely felt like I was able to focus for longer and get more done. I feel 150% sure that I was more productive at work.

5. I actually liked the taste of it.

Sally Tamarkin / BuzzFeed

Before I drank it, I thought it sounded gross. The idea of butter in coffee was just really unappetizing (actually, when I think about it, it still kinda is). But I was surprised at how pleasant the flavor turned out to be. It was almost like drinking a foamy latte — sort of milky, slightly muted coffee flavor, and lotsa froth.

Fair warning: After you drink the froth, you notice an oil slick sheen on the surface. (I advise not looking too much at the surface.) But it didn't feel oily in my mouth and it didn't leave a greasy feeling on my lips, which I think has to do with the fact that I used 16 ounces of coffee. If you like drinking a regular mug of coffee, which is about 10 ounces, your butter coffee is going to be pretty g.d. greasy.

OK, but is this real? Or am I just super susceptible to placebos?

Is it all in my head that I am in fact functioning at a Bradley-Cooper-in-Limitless level?

I decided to run the apparent benefits by some experienced experts to see which ones (if any) were supported by science or their own clinical experience. Here's what they said about each of my takeaways:

• Lasting, level, jitter-free energy:

According to Matheny, "The caffeine is released more slowly because fat slows down digestion," says Matheny. So fatty coffee means a "slower release [of caffeine], less intense energy spike, and longer-duration energy."

• Satiety and a suppressed appetite:

"Taking in a fatty meal in the morning is definitely going to make you fuller quicker," says Dr. Lisa Ganjhu, D.O., associate professor of medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City. And because the fat slows down gastric motility (aka filling and, ahem, emptying of the digestive system), you feel fuller for longer.

That said, Brian St. Pierre, registered dietitian and director of performance nutrition at Precision Nutrition, points out that butter coffee's effect on satiety has yet to be proven: Only 1 in 14 studies on medium-chain triglycerides (aka MCT oil) found that it had a positive effect on satiety.

Alertness/mental boost:

St. Pierre and Ganjhu explained that the way MCT oil is processed by the body could make you feel an energy boost more quickly. Basically, it bypasses the normal multi-step digestion process and is transported directly to the liver, where it is converted into energy. So our body's response to MCT oil is closer (in how we feel its effects) to medication and alcohol than to other foods, says St. Pierre. Perhaps for some people (like me), the combination of quick-hitting caffeine and long-lasting energy translates to enhanced alertness and performance.

• I didn't track this, but I know people are interested: enhanced calorie-burning and weight loss:

If butter coffee is enhancing your satiety to the point that you're eating fewer calories overall, well, then you will lose weight.

But as far as MCT oil directly impacting weight loss, the effect may be minimal, says St. Pierre. He cited a 2012 review of the MCT oil literature which found six studies that showed weight loss in participants. However, the review concluded that further controlled studies with standardized amounts of MCT were needed before any legit claims could be made about its impact on weight loss.

So, should you try it?

Via instagram.com

Because butter coffee hasn't been thoroughly studied, it's tough to make any evidence-based claims that everyone should try it (or that no one should try it). Neither St. Pierre nor Ganjhu were about to recommend butter coffee to the people they treat and work with, but they also said it was neither harmful nor dangerous. "If someone is doing it, enjoys it, and finds benefits, I'm not going to talk them out of it," says St. Pierre.

But do keep in mind that adding butter coffee to your day means adding a not insignificant amount of fat to your diet. The butter coffee I made every morning contained 26g of fat (12g from the butter and 14g from the MCT oil), most of it saturated fat. However, St. Pierre says that in “reasonable amounts,” MCT oil does not seem to be terrible for cholesterol. In fact, it's thought to increase HDL (aka good cholesterol).

Before you take the butter coffee plunge, you should take a look at how much fat (and what kinds of fat) you're currently eating.

Instagram: @the_hungryyogi / Via instagram.com

St. Pierre told me that the most important thing about fat consumption is to get your fats from a variety of sources. A tablespoon each of butter and MCT oil is probably no big deal if your saturated fat intake is otherwise low or moderate, and as long as you're eating a diversity of fats overall, especially unsaturated fats like those found in avocados, nuts, and nut butters.

But if most of your fat comes from animal sources (red meat, cheese, milk), butter coffee might not be for you — unless you plan to tweak your diet to eat less saturated fat from animal sources and/or take in more heart-healthy fats. Even though saturated fat probably isn't quite as terrible for cholesterol and heart health as we used to think, experts do believe that having too much saturated fat from animal sources and not enough unsaturated fats from plant sources is bad for your health.

It's also a good idea to talk to your doctor and get your cholesterol checked before jumping in.

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And St. Pierre recommends continuing to get your cholesterol checked as you continue your butter coffee regimen just to make sure everything is A-OK.

Basically the deal is that some people's cholesterol levels are quite responsive to their diet and lifestyle, cardiologist Dr. Howard Weintraub of NYU Langone Medical Center tells BuzzFeed Health. If you're one of these people and you have high cholesterol, Weintraub would recommend changes like eating less saturated fat from animal sources, exercising, and maybe losing weight, if you want to drink butter coffee regularly.

Other people's cholesterol might not necessarily respond to diet and lifestyle changes — perhaps because they're genetically predisposed to having high cholesterol — and might need to take meds to bring it down. For those people, your doctor might suggest not drinking butter coffee, unless you're also taking steps to reduce your cholesterol.

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So, I got my own cholesterol checked after my sixth week of drinking butter coffee.

Sally Tamarkin / BuzzFeed News

(Granted, it wasn't a super reliable indicator of how the butter coffee alone affected my cholesterol, because the last time I'd had it checked was in 2013 when I was vegan and therefore not consuming any cholesterol-containing foods at all. But I still wanted to get a sense of where I was as I wrapped up my butter coffee experiment.)

The lab that analyzed my blood had marked "below average risk" on my results, but I wanted to understand each number — HDL (good cholesterol), LDL (bad cholesterol), and triglycerides (fats in your blood) — so I went over the 2013 numbers and the 2016 numbers with Weintraub.

And let me tell you, he was not pleased. For my 2016 numbers, my LDL — or, bad cholesterol — was 168, just above the 160 cutoff for what's considered an OK range (my HDL and triglycerides were fine). But he also wasn't that psyched about my 2013 numbers — they were in a healthy range but should've definitely been lower for someone on a vegan diet, he said.

After I told Weintraub about my diet and lifestyle — that pretty much the only saturated fat I eat is what's in butter coffee, plus low-fat Greek yogurt, and that I exercise regularly — he said that my numbers were most likely the result of having a "genetic predisposition toward cholesterol elevation." He explained that even though my cholesterol doesn't seem to be totally unresponsive to diet — my numbers have gone up since I stopped being vegan — it probably wasn't the most important factor in my cholesterol. "You may have this problem where your body will assemble cholesterol from even small amounts of saturated fat ingestion," he said.

So, in conclusion, will I stick with it?

Taylor Miller / BuzzFeed

You mean will I keep my new lifestyle of feeling full of energy and never hangry?

When I originally started writing this up, my response to the question above was: "Duh." But now that I know cholesterol levels, I'm not so sure. I'll need to go over my bloodwork thoroughly with my own doctor, who knows the rest of my medical history and all about my health and lifestyle generally, in order to figure out if butter coffee is a thing I can keep doing.

But if my doctor tells me it's OK, there's no doubt that I'll be starting each day with a mug of that sweet, sweet fatty coffee.

Sally Tamarkin is a health editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.

Contact Sally Tamarkin at sally.tamarkin@buzzfeed.com.

Contact Taylor Miller at taylor.miller@buzzfeed.com.

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