Is bulletproof coffee bullshit proof?

bullet proofBulletproof coffee is a big hype among many paleo folks. And also outside the paleo community, people are attracted to this drink that essentially is black coffee blended with a rather generous amount of butter and medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) oil. Its popularity among some propagators of whole foods is still a bit of a mystery to me, because a) it often replaces a nutritious whole food breakfast and b) MCT oil is a processed food. Probably it has to do with the revival of saturated fat, that has unfairly been demonized for decades. The truth is that Dave Asprey, founder of ‘The Bulletproof Executive’, and ‘inventor’ of the formula, did a good job promoting the product. His website suggests that Bulletproof coffee is best made with expensive superior coffee and MCT oil, which can be bought at his website. According to this website, bulletproof coffee does a lot for you: it helps you lose weight, it increases your IQ and it improves focus. So, let’s see what makes Bulletproof coffee so special.

The main difference between ordinary coffee and the Bulletproof variety, is that the latter is supposedly free of so called mycotoxins, which are dangerous when consumed in large amounts. The reality is however, that plain  ordinary coffee contains very low and harmless amounts of these toxins. In fact, coffee manufacturers are well aware of the existence of  mycotoxins in coffee, and have effective ways of getting rid of them. From a health perspective there seems to be no valid reason to ditch your normal coffee, and buy the super expensive bulletproof coffee instead.

The Bulletproof MCT oil is called ‘Brain Octane’ and is derived from coconut oil and/ or palm kernel, but doesn’t contain the full spectrum of beneficial medium chain fatty acids found in coconut oil. Lauric acid for instance, an important fatty acid that is also present in breast milk and which may have a more favorable effect on total HDL cholesterol than any other fatty acid, is not in it. Yet, the website claims that Brain Octane is more effective than normal MCT oil and is 18x stronger than coconut oil. Eighteen times stronger….I’m not sure what this actually means. It most likely means that Dave Asprey hopes that you don’t ask yourself these kind of questions, and buy his expensive product.

So, what we have is a super expensive coffee, some grass fed butter and a processed oil that is supposed to be a super fuel for the brain. You might think: if people want to believe it and spend their money on it, what’s the problem? Although I cannot prove that bulletproof coffee is unhealthy, my common sense says it very well could be. And maybe consumers should consider this, before implementing it into their daily diet.

My first concern is that pure MCT oil is more processed than coconut oil. And although there are some studies that show that MCT oil can have beneficial health effects, I always keep in mind that most health research findings are wrong, and one should be particularly cautious when the health claims being made are too good to be true. I do believe that products like MCT oil and coffee are easy victims of sloppy science. Long term effects of consuming large amounts of MCT oil on a daily basis are unknown. We are just starting to understand the detrimental effects of long term consumption of other processed foods. Extra virgin coconut oil seems to be safe, at least when consumed in moderation. It has been used for thousands of years by different cultures. But should I stuff my daily coffee with coconut oil instead? I don’t think so. I believe that a well balanced whole food approach is the best. It’s what thousands of generations of our ancestors thrived on. A safe strategy.

My second concern about bulletproof coffee is that it is a bad substitute for a nutrient dense breakfast. Replacing a whole food breakfast with bullet proof coffee, which is pretty low on nutrients, essentially means cutting out a great portion of your daily nutrient intake. Nutrient deficiencies are very common these days, and skipping a healthy breakfast certainly doesn’t help.

So, is bulletproof coffee also bullshit proof? I’m afraid not. It is an easy and quick way to load up plenty of calories. Another too-good-to-be-true solution for a lot of things. You feel more energetic drinking it? Very well possible:  it doesn’t raise your insulin like a bowl of cornflakes or another fast carb meal would. Have you tried a whole food breakfast with no fast carbs or added sugars, combined with a regular cup of coffee? It might do the same to you, and provide you with important nutrients on top of that. In my eyes, the daily consumption of bullet proof coffee is a risky experiment with unknown consequences. Feel free to comment if you do or do not agree.

Categories: Food, Health, Recipes

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