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Is “bulletproof coffee” a really good idea?

Is “bulletproof coffee” a really good idea?
Bulletproof coffee has conquered the hearts, minds and stomachs of many people. Although, the idea for this beverage, or rather – liquid food, seems trivial, but in reality, it is not that simple. Bulletproof coffee has some advantages and disadvantages, which are either omitted, or presented in not that thorough way. Therefore, it's good to look the truth in the eye and think if, in some cases, the only justification of using, or recommending, “bulletproof coffee” is... fashion.

What is the “bulletproof coffee”?

According to the common practice, you may have black or white coffee, or maybe latte with sugar. But it turns out, that those are not the only ways of serving that drink. There is also the option of adding coffee to... concentrated fat, e.g. butter or MCT oil. I remember, that when I was talking about “bulletproof coffee” three years ago during workshops on low-carb diets, the participants were very surprised and kept asking how I could drink such thing. After some time it turned out, that the “bulletproof coffee” causes common enthusiasm and... tastes quite well.

Where did that idea come from?

The idea of mixing coffee with fat is not that obvious. The author and the main promoter of such way of serving coffee is Dave Asprey, the author of blog about health and efficient slimming. Dave promoted the concept of “bulletproof diet” as perfect to the paleo diet (ironically, as there was no butter or coffee in paleolite). The inspiration for the author's idea of the “bulletproof coffee” was his journey around Tibet, where it's common to dring tea infusion with the addition of butter obtained from the yak's milk.

How is it made?

Bulletproof coffee is very easy to prepare. In fact, the author suggests thorough selection of the ingredients (special, organic coffee, MCT oil, milk form the cows form the free range husbandry), but practically speaking, not so many people follow those rules. The most often ingredients are following:

  • grain coffee of arabica type,

  • MCT oil (or, according to the popular practice – unrefined coconut oil),

  • butter extra.

You should prepare the infusion from freshly ground coffee beans, then add 1 big table spoon of butter (or more – the dose is individual, but originally it's definitely not a tea spoon...). The next step is to include the MCT oil in the amount of about 1-2 table spoons. Blend it altogether until you get smooth consistency.

What does it cause?

People who drink “bulletproof coffee” confirm that it gives them the drive to act, it decreases their appetite and increases effort abilities. In fact, such results are possible, because of the fact that bulletproof coffee contains the stimulating caffeine and the cetogenic medium-chained fatty acids. Such mixture may really stimulate and decrease hunger (after all, that's huge dose of energy). This drink, or rather – food, is sometimes used as a replacement of meal, e.g. breakfast – and this fact may be also used as a disadvantage. Why? Well, the explanation is simple, but not everybody is aware of it...

Jejune substitute of a meal

Let's be honest: coffee is not a harmful product, provided it is drunk with restraint. What's more, there is evidence in a form of scientific studies, which point out that people who drink coffee regularly are of better health than those who avoid this beverage. Just like in case of butter, we can talk about some advantages – such fat may be an integral part of healthy diet. The MCT oil also has some advantages, it is cetogenic (big plus in low-carb diets) and thermogenic (which is advantageous when you want to lose weight). Why wouldn't the connection of such ingredients and replacing one meal with them be healthy?

Well, the situation is that the bulletproof coffee is quite calorific. The energy value of this beverage may be from 300 to 600 kcal. For people on reduction diet it really is an equivalent of a meal. The problem is, that a meal usually contains a mixture of various macro and micro elements. It's easy to visualise it by such comparison: “bulletproof coffee” VS omelette with vegetables. Here it is:

An omelette from 3 eggs (170g), on butter (5g) with the addition of a tomato (150g), mushrooms (100g), pepper (50g), parmesan cheese (15g). Energy value: 400kcal, including 32g of proteins, 26g of fat and 8g of digestable carbohydrates and 5g of fibre. Such meal covers about 100% of the demand for vitamin C, 150% of the demand for vitamin B2, 50% of the demand for vitamin B6, vitamin E and niacin, iron and zinc, as well as about 25% of the demand for vitamin B1 and calcium. Therefore, it's a large dose of various nutrients.

“Bulletproof coffee”: from one dose of arabica (4g), one table spoon of butter (30g) and two table spoons of MCT oil (20g). Energy value: 400kcal, but there is only trace amount of protein and carbohydrates, and almost 100% of energy comes from fat (45g). Of course, there is no fibre. There are also no vitamins from group B or minerals. The only thing you can find there is small amount of vitamins soluble in fats, with the clear advantage of vitamin A. That's it. Pure energy from fat, lack of non-energetic components. In case of sugar – then it's empty calories...

The fact that “bulletproof coffee is nutritionally jejune, should not scare anybody away from it. However, it may be important from the planning diet point of view, because when you start replacing good-quality meals with the mentioned drink, you will definitely impoverish the amount of elements important for your body. You may compensate that supply by planning the remaining meals, but that's kind of obstacle that not every person can deal with.

Saturated fats bomb

Although in recent years there have been many studies published, which point out, that saturated fats are not as horrible as it was suggested for a long time, it doesn't mean that you can consider their intake without second thought. Second of all, if you assume, that such fats are not harmful in small amount, they may turn out to be harmful in large amount. Besides, this rule applies to almost any kind of food or nutrient. It's the dose of a particular substance, that is responsible for being friendly, neutral or negative for the body. Whereas, the issue of consuming saturated fatty acids is quite complicated. It turns out that, as long as low-carb diets are concerned, the efficiency of metabolism of such lipids is significantly increased, in case of diets where the limit of carbohydrates is moderate or high, the situation is different.

“Bulletproof coffee” is a concentrated source of saturated fatty acids. Including it in the very low-carb diet will probably not cause negative effects for metabolic health (although, we are not completely sure of that). However, if you include it in diet with higher content of carbohydrates, you may find yourself in a problematic situation. It's also good to take under consideration the fact, that there is no evidence in a form of observation concerning consuming very large amount of saturated fats in natural conditions (against common beliefs, even in the diet of Greenland Inuits there was majority of monounsaturated fatty acids, not saturated ones). But even if there were traditional populations anywhere in the world eating this way, it would be impossible to transfer the results into the reality of western diet, or its “healthy” modifications, of which there are plenty nowadays.

Large dose of fat and testosterone

It's good to know that the intake of fat influences the production of testosterone. What's interesting, if such dependency was presented on a graph, it would remind letter “U” turned upside-down. It means, that both too low and too high intake of fat may cause the disorder of the production of androgenes. Such effect may even occur after one high-fat meal. The mechanism of this phenomenon is not fully known, but the studies, like the one linked below, confirm it:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11699056

Summary

“Bulletproof coffee” has definitely few interesting advantages: it stimulates, gives energy, lowers appetite, it probably prevents from hypoglycemia during physical effort (within low-carb diet – thanks to the presence of ketogenic lipids). On the other hand, this drink also has some flaws: as a replacement of a meal, it is poor in nutrients (it does not provide any vitamins, minerals, protein, EFA). It is also extremely rich in saturated fatty acids, which, even if they are not as harmful as it is often suggested, may turn out to be like this when there is a lot of them in diet. To sum up, it can be said that you should not approach the “bulletproof coffee” carelessly, or include it in your diet only because it's... fashionable.

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