What Is Bulletproof Coffee and Should You Be Drinking It?


Bulletproof coffee

Photo: Getty Images

If there’s one food that has long been associated with too many calories and clogged arteries, it would be butter. Sweet, delicious butter. So it should come as a great surprise that 2014 is the year of its big comeback. Butter is now being evangelized by many in the wellness space. But the most interesting use for the spread came not on toast, or on roasts, but in coffee. “Putting butter in hot drinks is a several thousand-year-old practice I learned while traveling at 16,000-foot elevation in Tibet,” explains Dave Asprey, who is credited with popularizing the drink known as Bulletproof coffee and recently authored the book The Bulletproof Diet.

“Bulletproof coffee takes this practice to a new level by blending together coffee made from low toxin coffee beans with grass-fed butter and Brain Octane, which is coconut oil extract 18 times stronger than coconut oil. By providing your body with satiating fat from butter, and a special kind of energy from fat that comes from Brain Octane instead of sugar and carbs, you are allowing your body to use ketones for energy throughout the day.”

What the Heck Are Ketones and Why Do They Matter?

When our bodies don’t have enough carbohydrates from food for our cells to burn for energy, they burn fat instead and, during this process, they make ketones. Ketogenic diets are part of many popular weight loss plans, including Paleo and Atkins (read more about this here). “It’s possible to enter ketosis by eating a diet that’s very low in carbohydrates with moderate protein and high healthy fats, but it’s hard to get there and stay there,” explains Asprey. “Bulletproof coffee hacks ketosis by using the shortest one of the four possible medium-chain triglyceride oils (C8), which makes it easier for your body to create ketones. In one study, simply adding two tablespoons of this oil to the diets of healthy young men resulted in nine percent of their brain metabolism being powered by ketones, even when the men were eating carbohydrates. Normally, you have zero brain metabolism powered by ketones after you’ve eaten carbohydrates.”

In other words, according to Asprey, Bulletproof coffee offers a much easier path to burning fat and creating energy. “It brings the benefits of mental focus and reduced food cravings. With plain coconut oil and a low-carb diet, you’d need to very carefully restrict carbs for at least three days to reach the same level of ketosis.”

1414606274497_Bulletproof Ground Coffee Product ImageHow Many Calories Are in This Drink?

A cup of Bulletproof coffee has about 440 calories — a far from negligible amount compared to standard black brew. While some detractors claim that these 440 calories are nothing but empty marketing fluff (we’ll get to that later), Asprey stresses that “Bulletproof coffee gives you a complete lack of hunger and food cravings for hours, all day energy and sharp focus, without the crash and jitters typically associated with a cheap cup of coffee.” The absence of jittery, cranky feelings, he claims, comes from the kind of coffee used as it does not contain the levels of mold toxins that “have been identified to impact human performance.”

An Unbiased Report from Someone Who Has Tried It

There have been a number of articles written by people who have tried working Bulletproof coffee into their diet, but few unbiased people with a strong background in health and wellness have gone into detail about their experience, so we turned to Colin Darretta, founder of WellPath, to get his take on this emerging trend. “There has been a significant shift toward recognizing that cholesterol and saturated fat, from the right sources and in moderation, can actually be quite helpful for the body — they help maintain a healthy hormonal system and, somewhat paradoxically, can actually help promote better body composition,” Darretta explained when asked what prompted him to give Bulletproof coffee a try.

“Personally, I’ve found Bulletproof coffee to perform largely as promised. Some of the hyperbolic statements you hear are overblown, it didn’t make me significantly more energetic or focused than regular coffee, but the effect does tend to last longer and there is no doubt that it leaves you feeling full and satiated (which makes sense when you consider how many calories from the butter and oil you’re actually consuming — well over 400 if you’re taking the suggested serving size and the fact that fat naturally promotes satiety more than proteins and carbs). I don’t seem to have any crash afterward, but then again I’ve never experienced bad crashes as I am genetically predisposed to metabolize caffeine very quickly. It’s delicious, I vastly prefer it over black coffee and most of the typical coffeehouse concoctions and it is clearly much better for you than the latte or cappuccino at your local coffee shop. I haven’t used it with the intent of aiding fat loss — however I believe that provided one used it as a means of increasing satiety and helped them maintain a caloric deficit that would work in theory. That being said, it needs to be in lieu of whatever other breakfast you might have eaten, not in addition to.”

Darretta does add a few caveats, however. He uses a much smaller than recommended serving size of both the grass-fed butter and the MCT/coconut oil. He also doesn’t drink the buttery coffee every day and on days that he does have it, he’s particularly mindful of his intake of other fatty foods (for instance, he won’t have red meat on a day he’s having Bulletproof coffee). He also cautions that while he eats a high protein diet rich in vegetables, “if you eat a diet already high in fats, this could be exacerbating an already too high saturated fat intake. And lastly, I get my lipids tested regularly (every three months), and anyone who is going to start taking Bulletproof coffee would be wise to do the same such that they are alerted to any alarming or dangerous changes in their physiology.”

What Do the Naysayers Claim?

Like with most dietary trends, this one has a list of detractors. Professional running coach and author of The Science of Running Steve Magness is one such detractor. He claims that the changes Asprey claims to have experienced are a result of testosterone, modafinil and thyroid medications, all of which Asprey acknowledges having taken on a regular basis and that the effects of Bulletproof coffee are vastly overblown. Others point to the fact that replacing a regular breakfast with Bulletproof coffee means that you’re forgoing essential nutrients and putting your cholesterol level at risk.

Darretta also points out that people may react very differently to Bulletproof coffee because the rate at which a person metabolizes caffeine (which you can find out with a test like 23andMe) will determine the impact caffeine has on your chances for heart disease. Your sensitivity to mold will have an impact on how much mycotoxins really adversely impact you, etc. Meaning that just because you read about someone else having an amazing experience drinking the coffee, it doesn’t mean that you will.

Curious to give Bulletproof coffee a try? Click here to watch a video on how to whip up your own cup.