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What is Bulletproof Coffee?

Adding butter to coffee is the latest diet fad. Is this a healthy habit or simply hype? Nutrition Diva sorts through the claims.

By
Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS
June 18, 2013
Episode #240

What is Bulletproof Coffee?

Have you heard about the latest trend of adding butter to your morning coffee? Proponents are claiming that this odd combination provides lasting energy and fuels weight loss. But what’s the science behind this latest fad? Is this a healthy idea or just another hyped-up diet gimmick?

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I asked Ryanne Gallagher to help me research this topic. Lots of you have already met Ryanne on the Nutrition Diva Facebook page, but for those of you who haven’t, Ryanne is a nutrition intern at the Cleveland Clinic and she’s working with me this month as part of her training to become a Registered Dietitian this fall.

What is Bulletproof Coffee?

Nutrition Diva: So, Ryanne, what exactly do people mean by “bulletproof coffee” and where does the name come from?

Ryanne Gallagher: Bulletproof Coffee is the invention of Dave Asprey, an entrepreneur and health blogger. It fits into his Bulletproof Diet concept, which he describes as “Upgraded Paleo.” Monica, you’ve talked about the pros and cons of the Paleo Diet in a recent Nutrition Diva podcast. If any listeners missed that, they can find it in the show archives.

Related Content: Pros and Cons of the Paleo Diet

Dave Asprey got the idea for Bulletproof coffee on a hiking trip in Tibet, where he was served traditional yak butter tea. Native Tibetans drink this concoction throughout the day to stay hydrated and keep their energy up in the cold upper altitudes. Asprey found the stuff rejuvenating and decided to bring the idea home with him.

What’s in Bulletproof Coffee?

Nutrition Diva: So, where do we find yak butter here in the U.S., Ryanne?

Ryanne Gallagher: Fortunately, Dave’s recipe for Bulletproof Coffee doesn’t call for yak butter. Instead, he uses a combination of grass-fed butter, MCT oil, and hot coffee. From what I gather on the web, though, it seems like a lot of folks use just butter or a combination of butter and coconut oil. Whichever combination of fat you use, you end up with about 50 grams of fat, almost all of them saturated. And that’s all you’re supposed to have for breakfast.

What Does Bulletproof Coffee Do For You?

Nutrition Diva: So, it sounds like you’re getting about 400-500 calories, which is probably about right for breakfast. But, of course, you’re not getting any protein or fiber—two things that I usually recommend you try to include in your breakfast. No carbohydrates, at all, as a matter of fact. What’s supposed to be the advantage of having nothing but caffeine and fat for breakfast?

See also: What’s Wrong with this Breakfast?

 

Ryanne Gallagher: Caffeine is a stimulant, so it’s no surprise that Bulletproof Coffee makes you feel energized. Restricting carbohydrates is also supposed to force the body to burn fat for energy—the old Atkins Diet concept. But if you’re taking in calories from fat faster than your body is using them, it’s not going to reduce your body’s fat reserves. However, a big dose of fat is supposed to act as an appetite suppressant. If that helped you eat less throughout the day, it could certainly help with weight loss. But studies on the effect of fat on appetite and satiety have been mixed. And from what I read online, it sounds as if a lot of people find that they are hungry after a couple of hours.

See also: Benefits of Caffeine

Nutrition Diva: Well, even if it did keep you satisfied until lunch, I have to say that bulletproof coffee doesn’t sound very appetizing. If you just stir butter and/or oil into hot coffee, don’t you just you end up with an oil slick on the top of your cup? Yuck!

Ryanne Gallagher: Yes, that’s exactly what you’d get! But Asprey recommends using a handheld or countertop blender to blend everything together –which, believe it or not, turns it into something that looks a lot like coffee with cream.

Why Not Just Put Cream in Your Coffee?

Nutrition Diva: That brings up an interesting question. Butter, of course, is made from cream. Couldn’t we just add a bunch of heavy cream to our coffee and get more or less the same effect?

Ryanne Gallagher: Cream contains more water so you’d have to add about 2 tablespoons of cream for every 1 tablespoon of butter. But the result would be pretty similar in terms of calories, fat, and saturated fat. However, cream also contains small amounts of protein and carbohydrate that get separated out when you make butter. Also, remember that the official recipe calls for a combination of butter and MCT oil.

Nutrition Diva: Can you just remind everyone what MCT oil is and what it’s supposed to do for us?

Ryanne Gallagher: MCT oil is made by processing coconut and palm kernel oils to change the chemical structure, making them more easily digested and absorbed. Some people promote MCTs as a weight loss aid, but in your podcast on MCTs, you pointed out that studies testing the effect in humans have been disappointing so far.

See also: What are MCTS?

Is There Any Downside to Bulletproof Coffee?

Nutrition Diva: So it sounds as if some of the claims for Bulletproof Coffee might be a little exaggerated. But maybe some of our listeners are intrigued enough to try it for themselves. It’s always fun to try something new and—hey—there’s always the chance of a good placebo effect! But before people get online and start ordering yak butter, is there any potential downside we should consider?

Ryanne Gallagher: Asprey and others in the Paleo movement advocate a diet high in fat and saturated fat. Obviously, a lot of nutrition professionals (and cardiologists) would disagree with that advice. If your goal is to keep your fat intake within the generally recommended ranges, keep in mind that a batch of bulletproof coffee contains 2/3 of your total daily fat allowance and 200% of the recommended amount of saturated fat.

Nutrition Diva: Thanks, Ryanne, for the great work you did looking into this for us. I know all the Nutrition Diva listeners join me in wishing you all the very best in your nutrition career and we hope you won’t be a stranger!

I’ve posted some of the sources that Ryanne turned up in her research below if you’d like to investigate further.

What do you think of this new diet fad? Please weigh in with your comments and questions, either below or on the Nutrition Diva Facebook page.

Resources:

Bulletproof Executive (Dave Asprey’s website)
Fats and Satiety (Available from National Library of Medicine)

Mug and Cream images from Shutterstock

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