Is Bulletproof Coffee Healthy?

There was once a time when food was all we could eat.  Today, the consumer is faced with a huge range of products customised to improve health.

Discover in this article my views on the frequently asked question “Is Bulletproof Coffee Healthy?”

What is Bulletproof coffee

Created and marketed by Dave Asprey, Bulletproof Coffee claims to be a potent health and energy food making you

‘feel lean, focused and energised.’ 

Bulletproof Coffee promises rapid weight loss without the energy dip and is designed to be part of an intermittent fasting (paleo) diet plan.  It uses a high fat content to satiate hunger and shift your body into fat burn and uses low-toxin coffee to ease the jitters.

I’m a fan of coffee.  It has bioactive properties including antioxidants, is a proven ergogenic aid in doses up to 6mg/kg for athletes, and it is not the diuretic it has been made out to be.

I am also a fan of butter.  Tibetans put yak butter in their tea for nutrition and insulation against sub-zero temperatures.  The Ethiopians originally mixed ground coffee and clarified butter to be consumed for energy on long journeys.  So the idea of fat in coffee makes sense to me. 

Yet jump-starting your day with 2Tb of butter, 2Tb of MCT oil and a refined form of caffeine is an idea not backed up by science or tradition.  It is based on a very simplistic scientific understanding of nutrients and their ability to reconfigure our natural biology.  Is purified coffee really warranted because of its inherent toxins?   

Mycotoxins in coffee

Coffee beans contain mycotoxins, a naturally occurring group of chemicals produced by certain moulds and found in a variety of food crops globally, including cereal grains, spices, nuts and wine.  Which means, they’re everywhere.  The primary mycotoxins in coffee are Ochratoxin-A (OTA) and Aflatoxin B1.  It is OTA that is the most studied, with cereals and wines being the major contributor in the European diet.  OTA is a carcinogen and with sufficient doses over time can damage your kidneys and DNA, which is why it is monitored globally.  Over 100 countries regulate these chemicals in the public food supply and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has set a tolerable weekly limit (TWI) of 120ng/kg body weight for OTA.

When European coffee was sampled, researchers found OTA levels were well below safety limits.  This means that four cups of non-instant coffee equate to 19ng of OTA.   BPC first appeared in 2009 by which time we already knew that to reduce OTA in coffee we had to roast it, wash it or pressure brew it, a method used in Europe.

For the record: there are no documented cases of acute OTA toxicity in humans.  Ever.

A serving of BPC packs a punch at 52 grams of saturated fat.  To put that in context, your total fat intake is recommended at 25-35% of your total calories, which for a 2,000 calorie/day diet is between 56 and 77 grams of total fat.

The word on fat

Fat has gotten a bad rap and saturated fat is not the demon it is made out to be.  We need it to build cell membranes, produce hormones and for cellular communications.  Too little and this process breaks down, too much and you get sticky platelet deposits in your arteries.  We also need its dense energy source at 9cal/g.  BPC raises the stakes on fat.

Grass fed butter delivers nutrients and two of the essential fatty acids, omega 3 and omega 6.  These fats can only be obtained from the diet and are an absolute requirement for life, like oxygen and water.  Grass fed butter is two thirds saturated.  However, used sparingly, it’s a good fat.

What is MCT Oil

MCT oil is different.  Extracted from coconut and palm through an industrial process called fractionation, the medium chain triglycerides are separated out from the rest of the oil.  Being more water-soluble than long chain fatty acids, MCTs are accelerated into the system for ketone production, the alternative fuel to glucose.  Once in the blood, MCTs are transported on albumin proteins to our cells to create energy.  Keto-adaptation by comparison can take 2-4 weeks of uncomfortable and consistent adherence to carbohydrate restriction.  This makes MCTs highly desirable for athletes and those seeking weight loss.  Yet this magic bullet comes at a price.

Asprey’s XCT and Brain Octane oils are a potent extraction of just 2 of the 5 original fatty acids found in a coconut.  It takes 18Tb of coconut oil to deliver the caprylic acid content in 1Tb Brain Octane Oil. 

Concentrated, like refined and processed, has no place in health.  We simply do not know enough about food compounds let alone our bodies to know how such a reduction influences our biology.  We do know that the antioxidant potency of the whole apple is 263 x more than a sampled 100 grams of the same apple.  From this we can reason that health cannot be reduced.

MCTs are 100% empty calories, two thirds saturated, and contain no fibre, protein or nutrients.  Nor are they paleo.  We do not know what our ancestors ate but we can guess that it was nutrient dense and not refined or concentrated.  Also, when you use albumin to transport MCTs, you lessen its ability to transport real nutrients into cells, like vitamin E and amino acids.  

All this is on the promise of fat loss and energy.

Evidence on MCTs ability to shift fat and change body composition is mixed.  This study found that MCTs worked to control weight only when used as a full replacement for long chain fatty acids.  When tested for performance, MCT was not seen to offer any enhancement in endurance runners.  When they have been seen to work the effect is very modest.  

The thing is, there are no scientific studies on BPC and its impact on the body, and MCTs impact on cardiovascular disease remains to be established.  Research has shown a negative effect on lipid profiles in healthy subjects and athletes.

Whether a high fat diet delivers on health is an open question.  Where it cannot deliver is saturated fat at the expense of all other fats and nutrients.  It’s a seductive offer to think you can short cut your biology to lose weight.  However, unless you are radically aligning your diet to your morning cup of BPC, you’re just replacing nutrition with empty calories.  If you choose to eat real food for breakfast, you’ll probably feel better for it.

Originally published in vigouronline.com

Deborah McTaggart is a registered nutritionist practising in Barnes, South West London, and global via Zoom. I offer bespoke nutrition for health, wellbeing and travel. Please get in touch here if you’d like to know more about my nutrition plans and improving your health.