Keto and coffee now seem to share an intimate relationship. In previous times, we were told that coffee was responsible for all manner of ills. This was mainly due to the excitatory effects of caffeine. It was also felt to be pretty addictive, which may well be true. In more recent times though, coffee has been demonstrated to have a range of beneficial effects. Keto and coffee in particular seem to be well matched. Coffee seems to have certain properties that actually assist in the production of ketones in the body. Keto coffee itself takes this a step further.
All about Coffee
The coffee that all of us know, and many of us love, is a brew concocted from the seeds of the Coffea plant. This, as you will no doubt recall, is a genus of flowering plants from the Rubiaceae family. The beans themselves are the processed and roasted seeds from the fruit of this tree. The fruit itself is known as a coffee cherry.
As far as the readily available coffees are concerned, they come in two main varieties: Arabica and Robusta. Arabica, a milder and more aromatic coffee, is the more commonly available, accounting for around 70% of the World’s consumption. Robusta accounts for the remaining 30% but is considered to be not as refined, though much used in blends and for instant coffees.
The critical constituent of coffee, and the reason for its energizing properties, is caffeine. This is a natural stimulant that is found in many teas, all non-decaffeinated coffee, and chocolate. With the latter, the rule is the darker the better. I sometimes wonder if ‘milk chocolate’ should be classified as chocolate at all, coming as it does with so many milk solids and sugar. Maybe I am something of a chocolate snob, but I don’t consider a bar to be real chocolate unless it is at least 70% cocao.
On consumption, the caffeine is readily absorbed into the bloodstream, and thence to the liver. There it is broken down into compounds, some of which have a psychoactive effect on the brain. It achieves this by partially blocking the receptors for adenosine. This is a neurotransmitter that helps to relax the brain and make you feel tired, hence coffees popularity as a mid-morning pick-me-up, or indeed anytime when you are feeling a little jaded. Caffeine can also increase adrenaline levels, further aiding its stimulating effect.
Benefits of Coffee
There are almost innumerable benefits to consuming coffee, so I will simply list the most commonly cited:
- Coffee brightens mood and helps cheer you up, It does this by stimulating the nervous system and increasing the production of key neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, and noradrenaline. The result of all this stimulation is a cheerier disposition.
- Coffee can boost physical performance. Drinking coffee before working out can result in a chunky increase in adrenaline levels. This will help you prepare for physical challenges such as an exercise session, run or cycle ride.
- Coffee helps you stay awake and stay alert. This is perhaps noticed by more or less everyone on coffee. Great in the morning, great in the afternoon. Personally, though, I would not recommend it later in the evening!
- Coffee contains antioxidants, such as polyphenols and hydrocinnamic acids. These provide some measure of defence against free radical activity in your body and brain.
- Caffeine can help to break down and convert it to ketones, hence it is great on a ketogenic diet.
- Coffee has the essential nutrients magnesium and potassium, elements so often in deficit on standard American or Western diets.
- Coffee can help you lose weight. This is true on many levels: it can help to regulate blood sugar levels, stimulate ketone production and reduce your desires to consume sugary, unhealthy snacks.
- There are studies linking the consumption of coffee with a range of protective effects against neurological problems such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer‘s and dementia.
- There is even some evidence that consumption of coffee may reduce the risk of some cancers. One of these is the all-too-common prostate cancer in men, especially those over 50.
Many other benefits are often cited beyond this relatively short list, some more apocryphal than offers. Suffice it to say though, that coffee can be a useful practical tool for those of us on a ketogenic diet and, beyond that, may have considerable health benefits in its own right.
Drawbacks of Coffee
I almost hate to mention this, but there are also some downsides to the consumption of coffee. Here is a reluctantly yielded list of some of the more common problems:
- There is such a thing as too much coffee, surprising as that might sound. Up to 4 cups a day seems to be perfectly fine for most people, beyond that though, there is some evidence of harmful effects.
- Coffee can negatively affect your sleep. This comes as no surprise to anyone, I guess, but good sleep is a vital part of a healthy lifestyle. This goes as much for the ketogenic lifestyle as any other. Personally, I will drink coffee no later than around 5 pm, even though my tolerance is by now pretty good.
- Excess consumption of coffee can lead to high blood pressure. For those of us habituated to coffee, this tends not to be much of a problem. For those who don’t normally drink coffee, however, it can be a serious challenge. The effects may last up to three hours after consuming the coffee.
- Excess coffee consumption can cause stomach problems and incontinence. These are fairly commonly reported problems and are particularly the case if the coffee is consumed on an empty stomach.
- For some, drinking a strong brew of coffee can cause anxiety and nervousness. This is the flip side of the alertness and energetic benefit of coffee. Taken to excess, such an effect can result in people feeling anxious or nervous. Even long term coffee lovers, like myself, can be affected if too much is drunk too quickly.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but creating one, as with the benefits, could entail writing a small book. No doubt, someone has already done that, but I feel that is beyond the scope of this relatively straightforward blog. Suffice it to say though, given the above, that I feel that the numerous benefits of coffee consumption outweigh the downsides. This may be particularly the case for those of us who combine coffee consumption with a ketogenic diet.
Coffee on a Keto Diet
Coffee, beneficent as it is in most cases anyway, is particularly good for those of us who wish to follow a ketogenic lifestyle. According to one study, coffee consumed at breakfast leads to a significant increase in ketone production. Also, the effect was dose dependent, the larger the amount, the greater the effect. Increases in the ketones found in the blood doubled over what would normally be the case following an overnight fast. This study was actually done with people eating a high carb breakfast. It may well be that the effect would be even more pronounced for those on a low carb or ketogenic diet.
Many embarking on a ketogenic diet do so in order to lose weight. Coffee, with its metabolism boosting properties, is an ideal fit for keto in this regard. Obviously, the coffee needs to be consumed without sugar (that should go without saying by now … ), but we also need to be careful with milky coffees too, because of the lactose that comes along with it. Obviously, a latte is probably not a very good idea …
Keto Coffee itself
Keto Coffee, aka bulletproof coffee, has become a matter of some controversy in its own right in recent years. First of all, let us address what keto coffee actually is.
Keto Coffee is a black coffee mixed with a generous dollop of butter or ghee and some MCT oil (Medium Chain Triglycerides). The MCT oil provides what are known as exogenous ketones. The word ‘exogenous’ simply means from the outside, as opposed to ‘endogenous’ from within the body. The medical community, like many other closed shops, loves to use such arcane jargon I’m afraid.
A slightly cheaper version of keto coffee replaces the very expensive MCT oil with coconut oil. The latter is not such a pure form of medium chain triglycerides, but still quite rich enough (and a whole lot cheaper!).
This introduction of exogenous ketones can be thought of as problematic for those who wish to lose weight on a ketogenic diet. The problem being that your body will readily use the more available ketones provided by the MCT than your own fat reserves, which rather defeats the purpose. If, however, like myself you wish to enjoy the mental and physical benefits of ketones in their own right, without being too concerned about weight loss, then it is not a problem.
Those traditional bodies, such as the American Heart Association (AHA), that are still somewhat obsessed with cholesterol levels, warn against consumption of excessive amounts of saturated fats. Keto coffee flies directly in the face of these warnings. It blatantly glorifies in the intake of large amounts of such fats. As the old British saying has it: ‘you pays your money and takes your choice’. To be honest, the keto lifestyle itself, with its emphasis on a low carb high fat diet (LCHF), is probably not the most comfortable place for those who believe in the AHA narrative.
On a personal level, I occasionally enjoy a keto coffee but don’t like to make it a regular event. Imbibing such high levels of liquid fat slightly concerns me, though it has to be admitted that it is a very tasty brew. Real advocates like to use it as a replacement for breakfast, but I, for one, enjoy the consumption of keto style foods too much to wish to replace meals in this way.
Coffee and keto are, to a certain extent at least, admirably suited to each other. The many benefits of coffee are, if anything, further amplified by the ketogenic diet. Caffeine’s effect on the production of ketones makes it a very worthy inclusion for people on keto. Coffee, in my opinion, is one of the healthier ways of getting caffeine into the system. As ever though, these things are really quite personal. Where many people will benefit, some may still struggle. This is perhaps especially true for those who suffer from excessive anxiety or nervousness. For such folks coffee, and caffeine beverages in general, are probably best avoided.
For the rest, however, indulge and enjoy indulging! You can even go the whole hog, if you so desire, and embrace the charms of fat-saturated, very filling and very tasty bulletproof coffee.