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Over the past few years I've been slowly starting to dabble in the caffeinated arts. I'm far from being knowledgeable, but I'm definitely very curious about this favourite beverage of mine. So, I occasionally read up on it.

Not long ago I discovered something called Bulletproof Coffee. It seems to be associated with the Paleo diet movement. It involves adding butter to your coffee.

I asked around at a few coffee shops but nobody seems to know why anyone would do this!

Articles such as this one claim it gives an energy boost.

Is this true? If so, what is the science behind this?

  • Related post on Skeptics.SE. – fredley Feb 17 '15 at 14:48
  • The main benefit I found is that the day comment makes the caffeine delivery "extended release". I had a roommate who amplified this effect with a green tea extract. – Lucaffe Aug 25 '16 at 14:11
15

Another view on this:

Bulletproof coffee is often used with a low-carb diet, often referred to as the "keto diet", which has some similarities with Paleo, but is quite different. The diet requires you to cut out as many carbohydrates as possible out of your diet in order to get your body into a state of ketosis, where most of the energy in the body is produced by processing fat instead of carbohydrates.

When following the keto diet, you need to eat a lot of fat, minimum carbohydrates and a reasonable amount of protein. The goal is to get most of your calories from fat. Getting in all the fat that is required is often difficult, so in that context, bulletproof coffee is nothing more than a delivery method for fat. There's nothing special about it, it's just easier to drink a spoonful of butter melted in coffee than eating it on its own.

If you want to read up on keto further, the keto reddit has lots of resources on it: Keto In A Nutshell.

  • It sounds like you're saying that "bulletproof coffee" is merely to provide a vehicle for eating more butter...? Golly, if that's the case, I really missed the point. :) I respect the conclusion, but "bulletproof" seems like a misnomer for "butter consumption." I've never heard it put quite that simply; can you point to somewhere that says that? – hoc_age Feb 27 '15 at 22:14
  • @hoc_age Bulletproof coffee is also supposed to improve caffeine absorption by the body, so you get a stronger effect. Diets based on ketosis are difficult and people often suffer from lack of energy because they take in less calories (eating enough on those diets is the hardest thing for me by far, so any calorie is welcome). Also, since dairy is off the table, you'd need to substitute the butter for something else ;) There are supposedly other benefits from bulletproof coffee (see www.bulletproofexec.com/how-to-make-your-coffee-bulletproof-and-your-morning-too/) but I didn't research them – schvaba Apr 16 '15 at 13:00
9

A co-worker of mine drinks this every morning: big mug of strong coffee, blended with organic butter and MCT oil into an oily coffee-flavoured concoction. So I read about it... and tried (only) a sip.

The idea seems to be to flood yourself with stimulants and concentrated sources of macronutrient energy. According to the linked Wikipedia article (additional references available there), MCTs (Medium-chain triglycerides) are easy for the body to absorb and use (they require less digestion and less energy to use). MCTs are also purported to have appetite-surpressing and energy-burning benefits (Wikipedia article has links on both sides of that debate). The idea of butter (especially organic butter from pasture-raised animals) is to provide beneficial fatty acids (organic/pasture-raised butter purportedly having better Omega-3 content (see another skeptics.SE question about this) and vitamins -- both being purported for "energy" benefit.

That's my take on the "theory" anyway; hopefully someone else has better links to some peer-reviewed study.

I tried this concoction once, and found it (personally) to be not tasty enough to drink. I can't comment first-hand on any energy boost, because I didn't choose to consume any appreciable amount of it.

One trademarked recipe and related marketeering here.

6

There seems to be a very blurred line between actual nutritional energy (calories) and stimulants (caffeine) in many people's mind. It is an oxymoron to have a zero calorie energy drink, but there are plenty of them on the market. That being said, there are many coffee drinks out there that add calories to your morning stimulant routine. Encouraging a healthier source of calories isn't necessarily a bad thing.

A cup of black coffee has almost no calories (no energy). Adding anything to that coffee that provides a significant source of calories (milk, sugar, chocolate, whip cream, butter, flavored syrup) will provide actually nutritional energy as opposed to just the stimulant effect that black coffee provides.

All that being said when you start claiming you have magic beans and that all the other coffee in the world is hosting some sort of fungus party, I feel you've crossed the line into marketing snake-oil. My perhaps favorite quote from that site:

Roasting the beans enhances their antioxidant capacity and flavor to provide you with a healthier, tastier cup of coffee.

The beans he is selling are more than 50% more than a bag of quality specialty coffee. His main selling point is perhaps that it is "mycotoxin free". A condition that is apparently fairly common among most coffees.

  • 3
    Roasting coffee produces acrylamide, which is a recognized carcinogen (or so I believe). It just does not seem supportable that roasting enhances antioxidant capacity. Heat is a well-known source of food break-down, not enhancement. – ErikE Feb 17 '15 at 21:46
6

Here's an article by FastCompany whose author gives a day to day on Bulletproof. Also, watch the video of Joe Rogan which is included in the article.

what-its-like-to-drink-bulletproof-coffee-every-morning-for-two-weeks

There's a lot of misconceptions and snake oil used to entice you to buy the Bulletproof brand coffee, and by all reasonable accounts have been debunked or else not uncommon to just Bulletproof coffee.

Overall it's a gimmick; but that's not to say there's zero science behind it, but the science only seems to conclude that all the claims Bulletproof makes are complete bullshit.

Mycotoxins are NOT contained in the microbiota involved in the fermentation process of coffee. Mycotoxins are one of many of the by-products created by the microbiota from fermentation. These by-products are washed off from the bean during pre and post-fermentation processing (regardless of wet or dry processing), and even then are only in extremely minute amounts if not zero. Further, apparently the mycotoxins are made inert after the roasting process.

Bitterness in coffee can be a result of a few things. The roast itself, and the brewing. Roasting the coffee at higher temperatures (normal roasting temps are from 300-500F) and longer roast times, can add to the tannins that are perceived as bitter. Those tannins can then be extracted from the coffee if brewed for longer times and higher water temperatures.

Here's another article explaining how just the idea of replacing a nutritious meal with coffee and oils is obviously not as healthy.

5

My 2 cents:

I've been doing an alt. version of Bulletproof Coffee for about 2 yrs and have had good results. For my version, I use freshly roasted beans from my local farmer's market (they roast on site), Coconut Oil, and Stevia as a sweetener. I also use a mini aerator from ikea ($2.49) to mix it. This is very important unless you like an oily film on top of your coffee.

I use organic Coconut Oil rather than Grass fed butter for two reasons: 1. Coconut Oil is much easier for me to find 2. IMO, it tastes better than the butter

I tried the grass fed butter, and it was pretty good, but like I said. The coconut oil is much easier to find in stores and it actually tastes better. The butter does give the coffee a creamy texture that's good though, so I'd try both just to see which one you like better. I tried the MCT oil for a while and noticed that it can be a tad harsh on my digestive system, so I cut it.

As for results, in addition to having a significant boost in energy in the AM, I also noticed health benefits. My good cholesterol (HDL) was through the roof at my last physical. While my LDL was really low. My Doc asked what I was eating, and I told him about my Bulletproof experiment and he said it appears to be working at least for my HDL.

As for added benefits for workouts, I don't really notice a huge difference with coffee alone. When I add a NO2 booster to the bulletproof coffee, I do feel a big difference, but that may not be for everyone.

So, I said all that to say, it does work...to an extent. But I'd definitely advocate a DIY version rather than buying a bunch of overpriced products with highly questionable added benefits.

I hope this helps. I'd be happy to answer any other questions.

2

This answer won't be related to science, but tradition. Still, I think it may help the reader about the roots of both bulletproof coffee and the traditional coffee brewing.

As far as I know, the bulletproof coffee is originated from Tibet (wikipedia). I don't have any knowledge about Tibetan coffee traditions.

However, I know that both in Yemen and in Ethiopia people traditionally prepare their coffee very similar to Turkish-style then from time to time add a bit of butter in it.

Thinking geographically, I am suspicious that Tibet originated coffee may have roots* from this style. Also, Tibetan might be using buttered coffee to keep themselves warm in cold.

(*) I tributed Ethiopia and Yemen for this preparation style as they are the geniune inventors of coffee historically.

0

There is very little science to support any of the claims about BPC. What there is is a lot of confirmation bias and a metric ton of variables.

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