Would You Like Butter In Your Coffee?

April 14, 2019

By Registered Dietitian, Carla Yaldezian-Estrada, MS, RD
– CareerSmart® Learning Contributor


If you were asked this question a couple of years ago you may have thought “Butter…in your coffee?” However, today, putting butter or oil in your coffee is not uncommon or surprising. In fact, it has become a very popular trend. Putting butter and oil in your coffee stemmed from studies that compared a high-fat, low carbohydrate diet and rate of weight loss. Findings suggested that a high-fat, low carbohydrate diet yielded in weight loss, regardless of the high-fat food source (i.e. high-fat foods like butter). This helped to kick off the craze wave of the high fat, low carbohydrate diets and new diet recommendation that butter isn’t as bad as we thought – basically telling people “Hey, don’t worry about saturated fat anymore.” Additional studies began to surface comparing the effects of fats like medium-chain triglycerides (more commonly known as MCTs) and weight loss. MCTs are commonly found in saturated fats like coconut oil, palm kernel oil, and dairy products, with coconut oil providing the highest percentage comparatively. MCTs contain shorter-chain saturated fats that aren’t as bad as the longer-chain saturated fats in meat and dairy and are more rapidly broken down. Due to this property, the absorption is different from long-chain fatty acids. MCTs go straight to the liver and are thought to more efficiently turn into energy, so less is stored in your body. So, to get this supposed benefit of MCTs, people switched from butter to coconut oil and started adding spoons full of coconut oil in their coffee or even swallowing a spoonful of coconut oil straight. Coconut oil has now become a go-to superfood. The concern with this is that people start applying the MCT research to coconut oil.  “MCT oil is composed of the medium chain fats, caprylic and capric acid, about 50% of each, whereas those MCTs make up only like 10% of coconut oil” (3) and  most of the cholesterol from coconut oil is the LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol)-raising longer-chain saturated fats, lauric and myristic (1). Therefore, while MCTs are found in coconut oil, it’s only a very small percentage. Supplements that are comprised of MCT oil may be the better route to go since MCT oil is man-made with either 100% caprylic acid or capric acid or a 50/50 mixture of both (1,3). However, the verdict is still out on if MCT oil directly causes weight loss. Remember, association does not mean causation—meaning that just because two things are tightly linked, doesn’t mean one causes the other. So, let’s compare the research.

Some studies have found when subjects used MCT oil they reported increased fullness and therefore a decrease in calorie intake (2). Another study found that an MCT-rich diet caused greater fat burning and fat loss than a diet higher in long-chain fatty acids (2). However, these effects disappeared after 2–3 weeks once the body had adapted (2). A review of 13 studies found that on average the amount of weight lost on a diet high in MCTs was only 1.1 pounds over 3 weeks when compared to a diet high in long-chain fatty acids (2). Another study found that a diet rich in MCTs resulted in a 2-pound greater weight loss than a diet rich in long-chain fatty acids over a 12-week period (2). Other studies found increased fatty liver over a 12-week period (1,2). So, even though subjects experienced weight loss, it was very modest and some experienced fatty livers. More research is needed to decipher if long-term use of MCT oil is healthy and beneficial. What has been proven time and time again for weight loss are to increase fiber intake by including at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables daily, choose more whole-grain carbohydrates, and limit or avoid saturated fatty foods and refined or processed foods. Optimal health isn’t necessarily defined by how much you weigh but rather how healthy you are inside and out.

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  1. Eyres L, Eyres MF, Chisholm A, Brown RC. Coconut oil consumption and cardiovascular risk factors in humans. Nutr Rev. 2016 Apr;7Ω(4):267-80.
  2. Jane, M. (2016, May 21). MCT Oil 101 – A Review of Medium-Chain Triglycerides. Retrieved March 29, 2019, from Healthline.com: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/mct-oil-101
  3. Nutritionfacts.org. (2017, August 21). What About Coconuts, Coconut Milk, & Coconut Oil MCTs? Retrieved March 29, 2019, from www.nutritionfacts.org: https://nutritionfacts.org/video/what-about-coconuts-coconut-milk-and-coconut-oil-mcts/
April 12, 2019

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