One of the trends I come across frequently in my work is that of adding butter and other fats to your coffee. Some refer to this as being ‘bullet proof style coffee’ (although officially this is a trademark name and products). Put simply, it is a blend of coffee, butter and MCT oil. This beverage has taken off with such gusto that MCT oil as a supplement has grown tremendously in popularity for its purported benefits to support weight loss, improve focus and skyrocket energy levels. Is this all too good to be true? Does adding butter, coconut oil and/or MCT to coffee make it a health and weight loss elixir? Is MCT oil even good for you?
The first question to ask is what exactly are Medium-Chain Triglycerides? (MCTs)
Fats come in different shapes and sizes: short, medium and long. Each type of fat has its own unique properties and each is required for specific functions in your body. MCTs, which are also known as medium chain fatty acids, are naturally found in the following foods:
· Coconut oil
· Palm oil
· Full fat milk and yogurt
MCT’s are made up of 4 main types of fatty acids:
· Caproic Acid
· Caprylic Acid
· Capric Acid
· Lauric Acid
Medium chain fatty acids are digested differently from long-chain and short-chain triglycerides. They are absorbed more easily and immediately by the body, where they are used for energy as opposed to being stored as fat. What is not used right away is then utilized in the formation of ketone bodies. These are able to cross the blood-brain barrier, support brain fueling and functioning and thus enhance memory and cognitive function. This is why MCT oil and supplements are often promoted to enhance brain function and focus.
MCT oil is processed and separated from a source and is thus different from the natural medium-chain triglycerides found in whole foods. In the process of making MCT oil, specific MCTs are extracted from coconut or palm oil. The most common fatty acids extracted are typically the caprylic or capric acid (or both). These are the specific oils that are thought to help with energy, brain function and cognitive performance. This implies that the fatty acid composition of MCT oil is not the same as what you'd glean from food.
When it comes to MCT oil production, there are a few things to consider:
What happens to the integrity of the MCTs during the separation process? All fats are sensitive to heat, light and air. While saturated fats are more stable than the delicate omega-3s, it might be relevant to ponder what may be getting destroyed during extraction, not to mention the chemicals applied to the oils in order to glean the specific fatty acids that the manufacturer is wanting. When choosing to purchase an MCT oil, research the company and its practices to ensure you are getting what is listed on the bottle.
Many popular health foods can have a big environmental impact - and coconut oil and palm oil are two oils that have a large carbon footprint. Furthermore, palm oil is connected to a widespread amount of deforestation. One needs to question whether further extracting these oils to receive the health benefits from isolated fatty acids will only lead to more environmental damage (and what becomes of the remainder of the components not used in oil extraction?).
A good quality MCT oil is quite expensive. Although I am not averse to paying more for quality foods and products, having several tablespoons of MCT oil in your coffee every day can add up to way more than if you used coconut oil or made (or even purchased) your own ghee.
Health Benefits of MCTs
Medium chain fats are fantastic for our health. Here's why:
Studies show that supplementing with MCT oil can reduce body weight and change body composition. Other evidence indicates that MCTs can increase satiety, encourage a greater utilization of fat stores, and can boost energy levels.
Coconut oil is easy to digest and absorb, and studies indicate it can help enhance the good bacteria in the gut. Its anti-microbial properties and help in dealing with various bacteria, fungi, parasites and infections that can impact the digestive tract. Coconut oil also helps in absorption of other nutrients. These fats are also better tolerated by those challenged with gall bladder concerns as they require significantly less bile in order to be broken down and absorbed.
Fat has long been maligned due to the incorrect assumption it posed a risk factor for cardiovascular health. In reality, the opposite is true - good fats can benefit heart health. MCTs reduce cardiovascular risk factors, lower plasma triglycerides, and positively influence both blood sugar and insulin levels.
Brain health and cognitive function.
Coconut oil contains lauric acid, capric acid and caprylic acid, which have antifungal, antibacterial and antiviral properties. There is much evidence to indicate that all 3 can help boost the immune system and support in fighting infections.
Reaping the MCT benefits…
Some of my favourite ways to take advantage of the health benefits of MCTs are through using coconut oil and ghee. These are two of my favourite fats and they are easy to use in the kitchen!
If you have not tried either yet, I highly recommend you do. Some culinary ideas include:
· As a cooking oil for sauteeing
· In baking, like cookies, muffins, or crumble
· In chocolate and raw treats
· In smoothies
· Spread on toast or muffins
· In soups and stews
· To add flavour to cooked vegetables
Now back to the original question of whether Is butter and MCT oil in your coffee good for you…
Though I am a raving fan of butter and ghee and am a huge proponent of a fat-rich break-the-fast meal, I am not as supportive of the fat-filled coffee trend due to the possible negative benefits of coffee consumption that many of my clients experience. I also have a few concerns regarding MCT oil in general. Now, don’t get me wrong, having a butter-filled coffee every once in a while, is not going to hurt you, but I would encourage you to consider the impact of having this every single day. Often, along with the coffee, you are consuming a whole lot of energy with very little nutrition to go along with it – occasionally not a bad thing but consistently, I would wonder.
As with many things nutrition related, some supplements are best used therapeutically. MCT oil is basically a supplement - and while there are definitely instances where it is helpful on a short-term therapeutic basis, my goal is generally to support health with whole foods as much as possible and use supplements as they are needed, rather than on a constant ongoing basis.
Is butter and MCT Oil in coffee better than conventional cream and sugar? Absolutely! But, remember, if you need your morning coffee to simply function, it might be time to begin asking some difficult questions. As with any and all of recommendations I make, it is ultimately up to you to decide what works best for you, your body, your goals and your lifestyle.