Bulletproof Coffee: Don’t Believe the Hype
Updated: Nov 12, 2020
Have you contemplated jumping on the butter coffee bandwagon? The original Bulletproof Coffee™ is a delicious concoction whipped up by biohacker and all-around master marketer Dave Asprey. Actually, he co-opted the idea from the traditional Tibetan yak butter tea. Bulletproof Coffee™ has been a trend for several years now, gaining fast traction all over the U.S. and beyond. In fact, Asprey has licensed his brand and is busy selling his own blend of coffee while also hawking a personal line of supplements, including something called ‘Fat Water’ and a $7000 ‘NeuroOptimal Personal Trainer’. He will tell you his supplements and coffee are much better quality than what you can buy elsewhere. So what exactly is Bulletproof Coffee™? According to his alternative health website, Bulletproof.com, it is specialized coffee made precisely in the manner outlined below:
It all starts with the beans. Brew 1 cup (8-12 ounces) of coffee using filtered water with 2 ½ heaping tablespoons of freshly ground Bulletproof Coffee Beans. Use a French Press for ease of use and to preserve beneficial coffee oils that paper filters keep out.
Add 1 teaspoon to 2 tablespoons of Brain Octane Oil (MCT Oil). You’ll learn much more about Brain Octane Oil below, but keep in mind that this stuff is powerful. Start with 1 teaspoon per cup and work your way up to 1-2 tablespoons over several days.
Add 1-2 tablespoons of grass-fed, unsalted butter or grass-fed ghee. You read that right. It says butter. Don’t worry. This mixture also makes the creamiest, most delicious cup of coffee you’ve ever had. Oh, and make sure your butter is unsalted. Salty coffee is gross.
Mix it all in a blender for 20-30 seconds until it looks like a foamy latte.
Asprey’s recipe might sound gross at first but I assure you it is yummy. How could it not be? It has up to four tablespoons of saturated fat and a coffee base. I love coffee and I love fat, what’s not to like? About 4 years ago I started experimenting with intermittent fasting (I’m still doing it) and came across Asprey’s website and coffee concoction. He claimed it did not interrupt the fast and would suppress hunger, increase energy and improve mental clarity. By the way, caffeine itself, without the fat, is known to do all these things. Asprey goes on to state his magical coffee will help me lose weight, burn fat and provide me with steady energy all morning. A quick Google search reveals these claims, replete with lots of anecdotal evidence, enthusiastic promotion, and the perfunctory celebrity endorsements. There are now many coffee shops selling their own version of the drink, calling it “Butter Coffee”, “Fat Coffee” or “Keto Coffee”. Bulletproof Coffee™ is, of course, trademarked.
Regular black coffee has zero calories, no fat and no carbs. Next to water and tea, it is the most widely consumed beverage worldwide. Although it is calorie-free (to be completely transparent some beans have up to 4 calories) it’s packed with nutrients. It is the number one source of antioxidants in the American diet, containing 3000% more antioxidants than an apple. Most of the systemic peer-reviewed research (albeit the bulk from correlational data) shows regular coffee drinking is associated with better health outcomes and longer life. However, once you add whipped cream, sugar, simple syrup, etc. to your coffee all bets are off.
Daily coffee drinkers typically have a lower risk of:
Fun Fact: Coffee’s LD50 is 75-100 cups in a day. This refers to the amount of a substance that would kill at least 50% of the test population in a certain amount of time.
A typical Bulletproof Coffee™ (BPC) contains 400-500 calories and 50 grams of fat. For most people, this is almost 30% more fat than is recommended as a daily allowance. This is simply a caffeinated high-fat liquid breakfast bomb. Don’t be fooled, these calories count. And for many people, including me, eating (or drinking calories) makes me hungry. Asprey claims that his coffee can satiate hunger for hours thereafter. “You won’t feel the need to eat anything until 1 or 2 PM!” This is not backed by any scientific evidence. In fact, most reliable data shows liquid calories do not quell hunger. Normally your body will increase its metabolic rate and activity level in accordance with excess energy consumed from whole food sources. However, drinking calories (unlike eating whole foods) will leave you feeling hungry and have little effect on your physical activity levels. It wasn’t uncommon for me to feel ravenous an hour or so after drinking BPC. For this reason and the 500 calories per serving, if you are looking to lose weight, I strongly recommend you think twice before adding BPC to your morning regime.
BPC coffee adds 2 different types of saturated fat:
MCT (medium-chain triglycerides)
Saturated fats are not the boogeyman they were once believed to be. On the other hand, they aren’t the Messiah nutrient that Paleo, Ketogenic, and Bulletproof diet advocates would have you believe. The truth is somewhere in the middle. Diets high in saturated fat don’t seem to cause heart disease in most people. That being said, it does not mean saturated fats are healthy either. The deconstructionist view of nutrition, where we blame or condemn isolated micro/macronutrients for our health, doesn’t seem to help either. We need to start looking at our diets in a more global, holistic manner. Micro/Macronutrient efficacy is dependent on too many factors and is highly individualistic. For some, diets high in saturated fats can be unhealthy, as is the case with me. For others, adding more fat may be advantageous. I suspect the key benefit of a higher fat diet may have more to do with the substitution of fat for sugar in one’s meal choices. Fat is satiating whereas high carb/sugar foods tend to increase hunger. The current scientific evidence clearly points to sugar as the new dietary boogeyman.
The ‘Brain Octane Oil’ Asprey sells is basically hyped up MCT oil for double the price. The is no good evidence his oil is better than what you can buy at your local health food store. While it may be true that MCTs (medium-chain triglycerides) found in coconut oil may promote fat loss, you’ll still need to put yourself in a caloric deficit overall in order to lose weight. It is not magic. There is some evidence MCTs may also give you a slight boost in energy but this is far from proven. The one major drawback and I can’t stress this enough, is that MCT oil may cause explosive diarrhea and GI distress in high doses. So, start with less and if you decide you like BPC, add incremental amounts over time. You don’t want to get stuck in morning rush hour traffic with a sudden case of the runs.
NOTE: Dave Asprey, the creator of the BulletProof™ brand, is a self-proclaimed biohacker, which means he experiments on himself in the pursuit of better health, increased physical/mental performance and enhanced longevity. The thing is, what works for one person may not for another. Asprey is a successful entrepreneur and self-help author but he is not a scientist or health professional. His podcast and newsletters are constantly selling overhyped unscientific health advice and products. It would be wise to exercise skepticism when learning about his products and claims.
Coffee used to be considered an unhealthy habit but times have changed. The 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, a group of experts in nutrition and health appointed by the Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture modified their position statement on coffee to read: “Strong evidence shows that consumption of coffee within the moderate range (3 to 5 cups per day or up to 400 milligrams per day caffeine) is not associated with increased long-term health risks among healthy individuals.” The USDA now recommends 3-5 cups of coffee per day for most adults: “Moderate coffee consumption (three to five 8-oz cups/day or providing up to 400 mg/day of caffeine) can be incorporated into healthy eating patterns.” Just keep in mind, much of the research upon which the government bases their recommendations come from observational studies (correlational not causative research). If you are not a coffee drinker I would not recommend you start. No need to get hooked on caffeine if you’ve been trucking along just fine until now. If you are pregnant, a child or have issues sleeping I would also advise you to abstain. Like most things in life, moderation is key. If BPC works for you and you haven’t noticed adverse health outcomes, by all means, continue. Do keep an eye on your blood lipid numbers and weight. Although my weight remained steady, my lipid levels and overall cardiovascular disease factor shot through the roof while I was on Bullet Proof Coffee™. As soon as I cut it from my diet, the numbers came back to normal. If it sounds too good to be true…..