Bulletproof Coffee is all the rage. It’s hugely popular around the world, with a cult-like following of greasy-lipped devotees.
So what’s all the fuss about? Can Bulletproof Coffee really supercharge your health?
I must admit, it has taken me a while to write this article. I love the fact that people are focusing on their health, trying something new and pushing the boundaries. I also hate “following the norm” when it comes to nutrition. I do, however, think we need to consider a number of factors before we undergo extremes with our diet. I also think you have to know the rules (of nutrition) before you start breaking them.
What is it?
Bulletproof coffee is essentially a recipe, created by a guy called Dave Asprey, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, self-proclaimed “bio-hacker” and founder of the The Bulletproof Executive.
It is a combination of coffee, grass-fed butter and medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) oil.
This is the recipe:
· 2 cups (500 ml) of black Upgraded™ Coffee
· 2 tablespoons (30 ml) of unsalted grass-fed butter (can be up to 80 grams of butter)
· 1-2 tablespoons (30 ml) of MCT oil
· Blend until the oil emulsifies and it looks like a latte
Given this is just a recipe, Asprey has to make his money somehow, so Bulletproof can’t be made with just any old ingredients. It should be made with his (very expensive) Upgraded coffee beans and high grade MCT oil, called Brain Octane. Asprey’s main reason for not advocating using your standard coffee is that it contains something called mycotoxins (essentially mold). That is a story for another day but buying good quality, organic coffee beans should cover your bases there.
Bulletproof Coffee claims to:
· kill your appetite for up to 6 hours
· improves focus, concentration and keeps you alert
· provides clean burning energy
· no caffeine spikes and crashes
· weight loss/fat burning
Mostly, Bulletproof Coffee is recommended to replace breakfast. This means it is a way of intermittent fasting, starting after dinner and ending at lunch the next day. It is also used as part of a Ketogenic diet (a high fat, very low carb diet in which your body uses ketones for fuel). For the sake of this article, lets just focus on the aspect of replacing breakfast with Bulletproof Coffee (BPC), NOT Ketogenic diets or intermittent fasting (which I am both a fan of for certain people!).
Is a whole lot of fat in our coffee good?
I have no doubt BPC makes you feel alert, energized, increases mental clarity and kills hunger. Dietary fat is extremely satiating and caffeine clearly provides the buzz factor. I can also appreciate that adding fats to coffee may slow the absorption of caffeine into the bloodstream, providing a more sustained and even energy boost. When it comes to dumping huge amounts of fat into our daily brew for breakfast though, there are a few points to consider.
Breakfast is an opportunity to feed your body an abundance of nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fibre. I am a BIG fan of veggies at breakfast! If you decide to ditch a well-balanced meal for pure fat, you could be missing out on a number of vital nutrients if you don’t make it up later in the day. What you might save in time by skipping breakfast, you may lose elsewhere by having to carefully prep and plan nutritionally adequate meals for the rest of the day! If you are doing this, awesome work!
Yes, grass fed butter contains small amounts of Vitamin A and K2, CLA and butyrate, all of which are amazing nutrients for health. I highly recommend incorporating it into a well-balanced diet. On the other hand, MCT oil is actually a highly refined and processed form of coconut oil, devoid of all nutrients. The lauric acid has been completely removed (one of the most beneficial parts of coconut oil) and you're left with just pure energy.
If you are used to eating 3 meals per day, then replace breakfast with BPC, you will be reducing your overall nutrient intake for the day by a third. For many people, getting the required serves of veggies and good quality protein is a struggle, so this is certainly not a good thing. Especially if you are training every day and your nutrient requirements are much higher than the average person! Although the daily recommendation for veggies is currently 5 serves, it is now thought that we need closer to 9 SERVES OF VEGETABLES per day due to the depletion of nutrients in our food supply.
Ensure you are making up the nutrients you are losing from having only fats for brekky. Add in an extra nutrient dense meal after your fasting period, with plenty of leafy greens and other colourful veggies as well as protein from eggs, chicken, fish, meat or vegetarian sources such as legumes.
Use organic coconut oil instead of MCT oil. The less human intervention with our food the better.
Whilst drinking BPC can be seen as a form of intermittent fasting, this needs to be done correctly. As I mentioned earlier, you have to know all the rules before you start breaking them, so make sure you are doing it properly! Otherwise the overall nutrient content of your diet will be significantly reduced.
I am a big fan of intermittent fasting. It is backed by research to show that it can improve fat loss, gut health, cell regeneration and recovery, anti-aging and longevity.
Although, it isn’t for everyone. It seems to be great for men but not so good for some groups of women (or if you are overly stressed out human!). In women, it can contribute to endocrine disruption, particularly thyroid hormone imbalance and even infertility so it must be used carefully.
If you like the idea of Intermittent fasting for fat loss, overall health and longevity but don’t think BPC is for you (or would like an alternative to your daily BPC), trial having nutrient-dense bone broth. It’s loaded with minerals such as magnesium and calcium, easily digested protein, some fats and collagen.
DOSAGE IS EVERYTHING
I love coffee. Grass-fed butter is great. Saturated fat is also awesome. I love all three, separately, in normal amounts. It may be a concern though for some people when adding unnaturally large amounts to the diet in one serving.
Saturated fat has certainly been unfairly demonized and blamed for illnesses such as heart disease. Thankfully, saturated fat is now off the hook and is once more being incorporated into a healthy diet. A huge meta-analysis study in 2010, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found there was “no significant evidence for concluding that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of Cardiovascular Disease”.
When it comes to nutrition though, DOSAGE means everything. Somehow we have the mentality that a little bit is good, so A LOT must be EVEN BETTER! Foods and nutrients generally operate on a bell curve – there is a sweet spot at the top of the curve but have too little or too much and it becomes detrimental to health.
Caffeine has been shown to be good for you in small doses but have too much and you can go into cardiac arrest. Same with water, drink too little or have an excessive amount and you’re in big trouble. Even eating too much kale can interfere with thyroid function and cause metabolic disturbances! You get my drift.
There is up to 58 grams of saturated fat in a Bulletproof coffee. That is the equivalent to 12 eggs in one serve. That’s just at breakfast. Whilst we know that saturated fat is healthful in moderate amounts, we have no idea what it might do in such large quantities, as it’s never been studied. Whilst it may be absolutely fine for some people, even beneficial, it may be very detrimental for others.
Studies show 30% of the population are “hyper-responders” to dietary cholesterol and saturated fat. This means that blood cholesterol levels are significantly increased when consuming foods high in saturated fat.
For some, it does seem to increase both LDL and HDL cholesterol, meaning the ratio is still ok. More concerning are those that seem to react to extremely high intakes of saturated fat with skyrocketing LDL cholesterol, without an increase in HDL. Dr. Peter Attia, M.D found that a number of his patients with a high saturated fat intake from ketogenic diets, not only had ridiculously high levels of LDL cholesterol but also had a significant increase in inflammation (measured by C-Reactive Protein). Not what we want! You can read about it here.
Whilst this won’t be the case for everyone, it’s important to know that it CAN happen.
Do This: If you do drink BPC daily, be smart about it and get your bloods done regularly through your GP!
As mentioned above, saturated fat has been let off the hook when it comes to heart disease risk. There is a group of the population (about 20%) where saturated fat intake really must be limited though for the sake of heart health. That is ApoE4 carriers.
Without getting too technical, the ApoE4 lipoprotein plays a role in metabolizing and transporting cholesterol and saturated fat. All of us have two copies of the ApoE gene, which can be a combination of any of three variations: ApoE2, ApoE3, or ApoE4. ApoE2 and ApoE3 carriers generally don’t respond to eating saturated fat but ApoE4 carriers are a different kettle of fish! This group of people see a huge spike in LDL cholesterol, without an increase in HDL. They are also at a much higher risk of heart disease so they must monitor their diet more closely than others. Reducing saturated fat intake actually improves their LDL levels dramatically as well as improves their cholesterol ratio.
Do This: Genetic testing can be done to find other whether you carry this gene. Again, something to think about if you are living the Bulletproof lifestyle!
One of the lesser-known effects of a high saturated fat intake is the potential impact it has on gut health (which we now know is the cornerstone to our overall health and wellbeing!).
Studies are emerging showing ways that saturated fat intake can interact with our gut bacteria. In a study done in mice, diets containing high amounts of saturated fat (from palm oil) resulted in an increase in the Firmicutes-to-Bacteroidetes ratio (which is associated with obesity). Yes, this was in mice and we need more human studies but a similar effect is likely to occur in humans.
Another rodent study has shown a diet high in saturated fat (from lard) compared to a diet high in omega-3 fat (from fish) significantly increased inflammation and developed metabolic diseases.
A WORD ON COFFEE
I do love coffee and the majority of studies show that coffee is good for you. Unless its not. A whopping 50% of the population are poor metabolisers of caffeine. In this group of people caffeine actually increases inflammation, blood pressure, heart disease risk, anxiety and insomnia. Again, listen to your body and do what is best for you as an individual. Deep down you know..
If you love your Bulletproof coffee and you’re feeling great, losing weight or would like to start experimenting with it…
· Make sure it is part of a carefully planned, nutritionally adequate diet - ensure you are meeting your overall protein requirements as well as getting in seven serves of vegetables per day
· Get a blood test to check inflammatory markers and cholesterol
· Look into genetic testing for ApoE4 carriers as BPC is not recommended for this group of people
· If you love the intermittent fasting side of things but don’t think BCP is for you, try using bone broth instead
The thing I love the most about BPC is the ritual it creates for people. The whole preparation of BPC can really be an art form! Of course, this can be done with coffee without the butter and oil but it certainly has got people focusing on their health and having a morning ritual – something I think is key to our wellbeing.
I think when it comes to nutrition and things like Bulletproof Coffee, we need to stop asking ourselves the question whether it is “healthy”, but rather ask ourselves“is this healthy for me? ”. Don’t just follow trends but listen to your body and work out whether it is the best choice for you.