Butter…and oil…in my coffee?
The first time I heard the idea, I was disgusted. Who would do such a thing? As a low-key coffee snob (I worked at a small-batch coffee roaster for a few years in college, where I learned to love my coffee black and admonish anyone who thinks Starbucks’ caramel macchiato is a real macchiato), the concoction seemed sinful.
But when you think about it, of course butter in your coffee would taste delicious! The majority of people put milk or cream in their coffee, and what is butter if not just a more concentrated form of cream? I was still hesitant about the oil. But slightly less horrified by the idea, I decided to do some research.
Bulletproof Coffee has skyrocketed to popularity since self-proclaimed “biohacker” Dave Asprey, founder and CEO of the Bulletproof company, published the recipe on his blog back in 2009.
What Is It?
If you’ve never heard of it, Bulletproof Coffee is branded as a superpower breakfast replacement that will boost brain function, give you extra energy without the usual caffeine crash, keep you full until lunch and even help you lose weight.
You make this miracle elixir by blending a cup of freshly brewed coffee with 1-2 tablespoons of unsalted, grass-fed butter (or ghee) and up to 2 tablespoons of MCT oil.
MCT oil is full of…you guessed it…MCTs, which stands for medium chain triglycerides and is a type of fat processed from coconut and palm oil into a tasteless, odorless, colorless oil. The idea is that MCTs are more easily converted into energy by the body (and therefore more useful) than long chain triglycerides, which make up most of the rest of the fat we consume. Bulletproof calls its proprietary oil blend Brain Octane Oil.
Bulletproof, of course, highly recommends using their “upgraded” products and claims that “to get the real benefits of Bulletproof Coffee you have to use Bulletproof ingredients. There’s no decent substitute for mold-free coffee or Brain Octane Oil. Using instant coffee and coconut oil won’t cut it.”
I will openly admit that I have never used official Bulletproof products, but I have indeed tried “off-brand” Bulletproof Coffee. And in doing a good deal of research on the beverage, I have mixed feelings. Let me explain…
Bulletproof outlines dozens of health benefits obtainable by drinking Bulletproof Coffee in their beginner’s guide to BPC. While there are certainly some pieces of information that are true, and a number of things that I can’t begin to dive into in this article, there are a couple claims that I feel the need to address.
Claim: Bulletproof coffee beans are superior because they are free from the mold and mycotoxins that exist in most other types of coffee
Mycotoxins are toxic chemicals produced from mold that can grow in edible crops – coffee included. In large amounts, these toxins are known carcinogens that can cause chronic health problems. Bulletproof asserts that other coffee brands full of these mycotoxins “can sap you of your energy and actually make your brain slower.”
According to Asprey, the top-secret way that Bulletproof’s “Certified Clean Coffee Beans” are sourced and processed means the beans are “held to stringent quality standards with special sourcing and processing methods that minimize mold and other toxin contamination.”
My issue with this statement, an issue that has been voiced similarly by others after their own experiences with Asprey and Bulletproof Coffee, is that it gives the false impression that Bulletproof is the only company taking these precautions, and that others do not.
Mycotoxins are a well-known issue in the world of coffee. Yes, it is possible for mold to grow in coffee crops and yes, it is possible for said mold to produce mycotoxins within the coffee beans. However, there is also a well-established method – called wet processing – that the overwhelming majority of coffee producers use to remove these threats down to completely safe levels.
This article by Kris Gunnars of Authority Nutrition does a great job of thoroughly outlining the science behind mycotoxins and how the coffee industry handles them.
One of the well-known voices to chime in on this issue is Joe Rogan, comedian and host of the incredibly popular podcast The Joe Rogan Experience. Rogan hosted Asprey on his podcast multiple times in 2013 (#361 and #411), where they discussed all things Bulletproof and Rogan retrospectively admits he took most of Asprey’s claims at face value.
Soon after, however, Rogan did some research of his own, and did not like what he found when it came to data on mycotoxins in coffee. You can watch him address the issue here – he’s not a happy camper.
As Rogan also acknowledges, Bulletproof Coffee beans are high quality coffee beans. They’re single origin, Rainforest Alliance Certified beans, meaning they are sustainably sourced and undoubtedly make a tasty cup of coffee.
They’re just not the miracle beans they claim to be.
Claim: Bulletproof Coffee is the perfect breakfast replacement
Asprey explains in the beginner’s guide to BPC that the high-fat, carb-free, sugar-free beverage will provide a number of benefits to its consumers. According to them, in addition to the energy provided by the caffeine in coffee, Brain Octane Oil and grass-fed butter deliver:
- Suppression of hunger hormones to help you feel full longer
- Mental clarity and quicker thinking
- Weight loss, by way of boosting your metabolism
While fat as a nutrient overall has been through the ringer and unfairly bullied for decades, it has lived to tell the tale and most doctors and nutrition experts now recommend a moderate amount of healthy fat as part of a balanced diet.
Specifically, they recommend 400-700 calories worth of fat within a 2,000 calorie diet – that’s roughly 20-35% of your daily calories – which equates to about 44-78 grams. Of that, they recommend that no more than 7%, or 16 grams/140 calories, be made up of saturated fat.
One Bulletproof Coffee happens to have about 460 calories and 50 grams of fat. So one of these drinks alone satisfies 23% of your daily caloric intake! Hold on to your hats though, because here’s the kicker – the saturated fat content? 42 grams. That’s more than 2 ½ times worth of your maximum daily saturated fat limit. 262%.
So if you were to drink one Bulletproof Coffee every morning for 12 days, you would simultaneously be drinking the equivalent of an entire month’s worth of saturated fat. Oops.
And at this point in your day, you still haven’t even eaten any solid, nutrient dense foods.
“By drinking Bulletproof Coffee, you are effectively replacing 1 of 3 nutritious meals with something that is low in essential nutrients. Yes, grass-fed butter contains some fat-soluble vitamins…It’s good stuff. But MCT oil is 100% empty calories. It is a refined and processed fat with no essential nutrients,” says Gunnar.
Asprey says he came up with the idea for Bulletproof Coffee after he was trekking in Tibet and, exhausted, tried a cup of local yak butter tea – a drink that he says immediately rejuvenated him and “flipped a switch” in his body and brain.
In essence, Bulletproof Coffee is an energy drink. It provides easily accessible energy through caffeine and MCTs. Does it do its job? Yes! But is it a miracle breakfast replacement that will keep you full until lunch? If you’re following a ketogenic diet – a high fat, low carb diet that forces your body into ketosis, a state where it burns fat for energy rather than carbohydrates – then maybe.
But if you follow a traditional carbohydrate, fat and protein balanced diet? Not likely.
All in all, there’s nothing wrong with Bulletproof Coffee as a beverage. It’s tasty and it’s great for a quick energy boost.
My problems stem from 1) the way Bulletproof brand products are marketed, and 2) the way Bulletproof Coffee is advertised as a daily meal replacement.
If you’d like to try Bulletproof Coffee, by all means go for it. I enjoy it myself on occasion, especially when I have a long day of writing ahead of me and I feel like I need an energetic kick in the butt. I’ll leave you with two recommendations:
- Don’t feel pressured to buy into expensive branded products to make Bulletproof Coffee “properly” – any high quality coffee beans, MCT oil and grass-fed butter will do nicely
- Seek professional guidance before adding Bulletproof Coffee to your daily regimen or making any other significant diet changes – something that works well in one body may have the opposite effect in another!
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