Bulletproof Coffee: A Dietitian's Opinion
Updated: Feb 14, 2018
I’m not the kind of Dietitian to tell you “you can’t have sugar” or “eat kale at least 5 times a week”. I get that we are all different and we all have a different psyche – therefore sweeping recommendations don’t work! All my patients are different and I approach each of them in a different manner to help and inspire them to be happier and healthier. One patient’s “healthy” may not be another patient’s “healthy” – and that’s ok! If a patient comes to me with certain food preferences – I very rarely tell them to stop, unless its detrimental to their health. I inform my patients using an evidence-based approach and encourage them to make their own informed decisions.
I have been recently approached by several individuals asking me about “Bulletproof Coffee”. Bulletproof coffee is a health trend that emerged from California, which combines high quality filtered coffee, ghee or grass-fed butter and brain octane (an MCT oil extracted from coconut oil). So, I did my research and the following article is my OPINION on Bulletproof Coffee...
First thing first, I searched my 3-favourite online databases (Medline, Embase & Pubmed), and not to my surprise – I found NOTHING! No studies or no research papers published about the benefits of bulletproof coffee. But, individually, these ingredients pose no threats. In fact, I regularly consume ghee in cooking for its high content in fat-soluble vitamins (A,E,D,K), butyrate (a protective small chain fatty acid that is important to gut health) and has a high smoke point (great for cooking). I drink at least 1 cup of coffee a day – and with conflicting research out there about the benefits and consequences of coffee, I have decided that my morning cup doesn’t pose any risk to my health. As for brain octane, or just MCT oil, it has been used for therapeutic interventions in patients with Type 2 Diabetes, Cystic Fibrosis, Alzheimer’s and Epilepsy. However, if improperly consumed by the average individual, MCT oil can lead to massive GI distress (diarrhoea) and even weight gain or altered lipid profiles. In general, moderate consumption of MCT oil is OKAY but it’s not magic!
At this point, my clinical opinion is: if you enjoy the taste of bulletproof coffee, consume it. Like everything else, you should consume bulletproof coffee in moderate quantities. However, my real issue lies within the marketing strategies of the producers of Bulletproof coffee and the information they have posted on their website…
“Drink Bulletproof Coffee instead of eating breakfast” is a bold statement to make from someone with no nutritional background…
The writers claim that the coffee will ‘suppress your hunger, give you energy and give you mental clarity by converting to ketones for energy, as opposed to glucose’. And here is everything wrong with that statement:
Supress hunger: why are we so quick to get rid of hunger? Hunger is a natural phenomenon in which our body signals for food as energy to maintain bodily functions. The diet culture has really messed up mind-sets about feeling hungry – often demonizing the sensation instead of honouring it in a healthy way. Hunger is not the enemy à skipping meals and ignoring hunger is potentially VERY BAD! You have just engaged in an overnight 8+ hour fast, thus it is NATURAL to wake up hungry. So…let’s not “supress” our hunger, but honour it with a hearty and healthy breakfast.
Give you energy: I’m sure the combination of a bullet proof coffee + a healthy breakfast will give you even more energy?
Mental clarity by converting to ketones for energy: let’s clear something up… your brain exclusively uses glucose for fuel. In the absence of glucose, your body can convert fatty acids into ketone bodies, which can be used to fuel the brain. While some studies may show an increase in mental clarity (evidence still lacking), ketone body production is an adaptive mechanism to starvation or a lack of glucose in the cells (diabetes). Your body is designed to run on glucose, not ketones. In times of need, we may produce ketones and burn fatty acids, however, this is a life-saving mechanism, not a mechanism that your body is meant to engage in daily. Why are we always trying to fight out body’s natural physiological mechanisms? Do you want to undergo constant ketosis to burn fatty acids? Why can’t we just live a healthy lifestyle and embrace our bodies, hormones, and the instruments that keep us alive. We are always looking for ways to ‘burn fat’, but our bodies NEED fat to keep us alive! Additionally, those that undergo constant ketosis (burning of ketone bodies), often experience symptoms, such as ‘keto-flu’, lack of energy, sweet-smelling breath (quite nasty to be honest), electrolyte imbalances and gastrointestinal shifts... not things that will make you feel good.
Furthermore, the Bulletproof website claims that we should all “ditch the carb-heavy breakfast and start your day with fat for fuel”. I hate this statement. First, breakfasts don’t have to be carb heavy. In fact, I recommend my patients consume a breakfast full of complex carbohydrates (fibre) with protein and/or fat! This will ensure they you have a steady release of energy and maintain blood sugar levels, avoiding insulin spikes and sugar crashes. Having a carb-filled breakfast, such as a doughnut or sugary cereal is so old fashioned! We live in a world where nutrition education is more widespread, we consume oats, eggs, yogurt, nut butters, salmon, sausages, etc. for breakfast!
Dietitian recommendation: if you like the taste of bulletproof coffee, go for it! In moderation, the ingredients do not pose any health risks. However, please do not skip breakfast and replace it with a cup of fat-filled coffee. If you want to consume this drink, it should be in combination with a well-rounded breakfast. There is a lack of scientific evidence on human subjects to support the health claims of this product. But kudos to bullet proof’s marketing team because they make this product seem hella interesting to their customers and abuse the mind-set that the ‘diet culture’ has created…