Coffee? Yes please.
Grass-fed butter? Don’t mind if I do.
Saturated fats? Our pals.
These are three items that are always in the hot seat in the world of nutrition, but the truth is that all three have their place in a healthy diet, if of course, consumed in moderation and if they work for you. [Coffee doesn’t sit well with everyone. Butter isn’t so hot for those with dairy allergies. But if you can tolerate them, then there’s a lot of beneficial properties in both!] But what’s the point? Why are we talking about these three randoms? Blend these three up and you’ve got yourself the most popular beverage trend in town – Bulletproof coffee. This frothy beverage has become an international sensation. Here’s the recipe for the drink itself:
- 2 cups of toxin-free ‘upgraded’ coffee
- 2 tablespoons of grass-fed, unsalted butter
- 1-2 tablespoons of medium-chain triglyceride [‘Brain Octane‘] oil
You take these three, throw them in a blender and result a hot, frothy, creamy dream. So why are we talking about it? Well as with all nutrition trends, sometimes it’s important to take a step back from the hype and ask, is this really something that could improve my health? According to Dave Asprey, the man behind Bulletproof, it’s health promises are multitude, including: weight loss [by way of ketosis, triggered by a lack of carbs], kills cravings; boosts cognitive function, and increases energy. Oh and one key point: this roughly 450 calorie + 50 grams of fat coffee drink becomes your breakfast – this is a meal replacement.
It’s also important to note, though we won’t dive into it too much, how hard the sell is on this ‘mycotoxin-free’ coffee. Asprey claims what the general public is drinking [yes even the high-end stuff] is laced with toxins. This just isn’t true. It kind of feels like there’s a really tough sell coming from Bulletproof and that always makes us feel like the whole thing has a touch of BS going on. To buy the coffee + ‘Brain Octane’ MCT oil starter kit you shell out $38. Not including butter. It just seems…suspect…when you can easily get your medium-chain triglycerides rich coconut oil and organic coffee at Trader Joe’s for a cool $14. If you’re interested in the claims on mycotoxins, check out the video with Joe Rogan expressing his disdain [warning, he swears]. But moving on…
Many bulletproof coffee drinkers are experiencing those awesome health benefits. How? According to Authority Nutrition, “Large amounts of fat should effectively kill the appetite for many hours, especially for people who are “ketoadapted” and used to eating a low-carb, high fat diet. This could also provide plenty of energy by elevating ketone levels in the blood, which then become available as fuel for the brain.” So weight loss, energy, clear thinking…yep all these things could happen.
But is it smart to be replacing a meal with coffee + healthy saturated fats? Technically, not really. We’re not big calorie counters at PN, but for the sake of explaining our thoughts on this, we will. Let’s say you have a lovely veggie scramble for breakfast totaling around the same amount of calories – in that meal you’re ingesting plenty of protein form the eggs and fiber from the veggies. What else? You’re also getting a ton of micronutrients – selenium, omega-3 fatty acids, choline, and many B vitamins to name just a handful. What about the coffee? Well you’re getting about 1 gram of protein, and a very small amount of vitamin A, B2, B5 . Bottom line: replacing your meal with a supercharged coffee means you’re missing out on a TON of micronutrients that do everything from supporting your thyroid to helping your vision – and everything in between.
This is not to say we don’t love saturated fats. We do. These fats belong in our life – in our recipes, in our cooking and in the whole food we eat. We simply think that drinking ~50 grams of it without the presence of nutrients is not following the cardinal rule of nutrition: all things in moderation. We evolved eating saturated fats but in the form of whole foods. We also evolved doing far more movement in our daily lives, which let us use these fats in part as fuel.
And what about these MCT oil claims? Well some foods naturally contain medium-chain triglycerides – like coconut oil. Medium-chain triglycerides get used immediately as fuel, which is awesome. They can also boost metabolism. Cool beans, we’ll take it. MCT oil is different. Instead of containing all four MCT fatty acids [lauric, capric, caprylic and caproic acid] that are found in whole foods like coconut oil or goat’s milk, MCT oil generally doesn’t have any lauric acid, which is actually the most valuable of the 4. MCT oil is manufactured and not found in nature. We’re not saying that MCT oil is bad, we just think the hype saying it is better than whole food sources like coconut oil just doesn’t hold water. It suggests some good marketing though.
What about potential health problems? We know today that healthy saturated fats play a far smaller role in unhealthy cholesterols levels than we’ve been told over the past 60 years. In fact, many saturated fats can even improve some people’s HDL [the good kind] levels. With that said, evaluating cholesterol levels is a constellation of risk factors such as ApoB, triglycerides and LDL particle numbers. There is no study on bulletproof coffee and cholesterol levels yet, but doctors are seeing elevated cholesterol levels in some bulletproof coffee drinkers, one story is here.
Still interested? Check out the article “What it’s Like to Drink Bulletproof Coffee Every Morning for Two Weeks,” in Fast Company. One quote from the article worth pointing out: “I would most certainly not recommend it,” says Christopher Ochner, a nutrition expert at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital. “Now there is a little bit of data on the use of medium-chain triglycerides for weight loss and regulating cholesterol. But the effect is very, very small.”
So what’s the bottom line?
It’s not black or white. If you’re feeling awesome from your bulletproof coffee, your cholesterol is in check and you eat a really well rounded, vitamin and mineral dense diet at the other two meals, well hey, maybe this is an awesome fit for you. Maybe you’re getting what you need from the other two meals. Maybe coffee milkshakes are your little slice of heaven.
If you’re new to it and want to give it a go, we’d recommend cutting those Bulletproof recommendations of fats down, particularly the MCT oil – it’s not talked about often but too much of that stuff will have many rushing to the bathroom, and we mean rushing. Also, 2 cups of coffee? Let’s just slow down here…
If you are someone who eats higher level of carbs throughout the day – whether it’s nutrient dense whole grains or lots of bread – we’d strongly recommend avoiding this coffee concoction. High fat + moderate/high carb diets is a recipe for weight gain.
At the end of the day only you can know if this is a good fit for you.
What’s PN do? We actually love mixing in a little ghee [clarified butter] or pure, unrefined coconut oil in our coffee. It’s hard to pass up that blended, frothy goodness, and we love ourselves some omega-3 fatty acids and/or medium-chain triglycerides. But we stick to 1-2 teaspoons and eat breakfast alongside with it. We consider this balanced.
Oh coffee, you’re just one topic we’ll never get sick of.