Does this high-octane “breakfast” have legitimate health benefits, or is it just another fad?
Seems like every other month there’s a new report out about the virtues or drawbacks of drinking coffee. A report on dietary guideline recommendations indicates there’s no adverse health effect of moderate coffee consumption, and there may even be benefits.
This may have some people wondering about the latest darling of caffeine worshipers and cross fit enthusiasts — Bulletproof coffee.
Developed as a life hack — a shortcut to increasing mental focus, energy, and productivity — by Dave Asprey, a self-described Silicon Valley investor and technology entrepreneur, Bulletproof coffee is intended to take the place of your breakfast, “providing boundless energy and focus.” You’ll also want to make sure you’re getting adequate nutrition from your other meals.
Bulletproof coffee is made with high-quality coffee beans, unsalted butter or ghee from grass-fed cows, and some form of MCT (medium chain triglyceride) oil, available at most health food stores.
If you want to be totally authentic and get the full range of benefits, as reported by Asprey, you can order his Upgraded Coffee beans and special blend of oil — Brain Octane.
Asprey says typical grocery store coffee can be contaminated with a mold that may be toxic and makes the coffee taste bad. There is some evidence to support his claim about the mold, and, although some of it is killed during the roasting process, some remains along with the toxin, called ochratoxin-A.
To make Bulletproof coffee, brew your high-quality beans, and pour the coffee into a blender. Add the butter and MCT oil, and blend until the liquid becomes frothy. The resulting creamy concoction is intended to take the place of your morning meal and is said to keep you feeling full and focused for hours.
The drink is also reported to result in weight loss — a combined effect of how our bodies process MCTs and eating one less meal.
“I love it,” says Dani Abrahams, who has been drinking a single cup of Bulletproof coffee each morning for the past year. Abrahams is a research assistant at the Winchester Chiropractic and Wellness Center in Centennial, Colo. She has her master’s degree in biochemistry and is studying to get her PhD in clinical nutrition.
After being on an extremely restricted diet, Abrahams was left with low levels of good cholesterol (HDL), although her LDL (bad cholesterol) was within normal range. Contrary to popular opinion, we actually need cholesterol for our bodies to function properly. Abrahams was looking for a way to rebuild hers when she found Bulletproof coffee.
Although the idea of drinking all that fat sounds pretty radical, there’s actually sound research about the benefits of MCTs, which are found in coconut and palm oil. Because of their chemical construction, your body processes MCTs differently. They actually help you suppress hunger.
While advice to avoid saturated fat still has scientific basis, it's important that whatever amount you do get comes from a good source. It turns out that cows are designed to eat grass, not corn, or soy, or other questionable feed most factory-raised cattle eat. Meat, milk, and butter fat from cows that eat only grass may contain a healthier mix of nutrients. More research is needed to understand to what extent these nutritional properties affect our overall health.
“More and more science is coming out that we need the fats. If you focus on how cells are made, every single cell in our body is composed of fat. [But] it’s the right fat that your body needs, and everybody needs more of it. A low-fat diet is just not a healthy diet,” Abrahams said.
After just three months, her LDL, HDL, and triglycerides were all at healthy levels — and she was losing weight.
“It makes a lot of sense. From the good fats I had definitely lost weight, and I’ve been able to maintain it, which is even better.”
Although not everyone’s looking for a way to rebuild their cholesterol levels, it seems there may be both healthful benefits and unhealthful disadvantages to the Bulletproof trend. Skipping breakfast for a Bulletproof cup of coffee may help you lose weight. On the other hand, your body really could use a healthy, nutritious breakfast after fasting all night. It probably won’t harm you unless you’re adding it to that breakfast. In that case, it may end up just being a whole lot of extra calories.
If you decide to give Bulletproof coffee a try it’s recommended that you start out slow, “so you’re not using a full 2 tablespoons of butter in a single cup of coffee. It’s a lot to get used to,” Abrahams said.
Asprey also recommends that you start out with a smaller amount of butter and just a teaspoon of MCT oil and work your way up. A digestive enzyme is also encouraged if you have trouble digesting the butter. But don't try this at home if you have liver disease, such as cirrhosis.
March 20, 2015
Christopher Nystuen, MD, MBA