Bulletproof Coffee: the four month experiment to increase focus and lose weight
What if you could drink a single coffee each morning for breakfast and feel a huge burst of energy and mental focus, and lose weight at the same time?
If you haven’t heard of Bulletproof Coffee, it claims to provide all these benefits. But does it actually work and is it worth trying?
I have been drinking Bulletproof Coffee, on and off, over the past four months. In this blog, I’ll explain what it is, whether it achieves the results it claims, and some pros and cons of the approach.
What is Bulletproof Coffee?
Bulletproof coffee has three key ingredients:
- Coffee beans sold by Bulletproof 360 Inc. The quality of the beans is all important and they claim that their sourcing and processing methods minimise mold and other toxic contamination that can have a detrimental effect on your body and might be found in other coffee beans.
- Grass-fed butter. It has to be butter from cows that are grass-fed in order to get the nutrients that come from it (omega-3 fatty acids, beta-carotene, fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K, fatty acid CLA and antioxidants. It is also high in butyrate, a short-chain fatty acid that can prevent and decrease inflammation (the evil that is being linked to all sorts of illnesses from depression to cancer). If you’re lactose intolerant, they suggest using ghee (where the casein and lactose are mostly removed).
- MCT oil (which stands for Medium Chain Triglycerides and is branded Brain Octane Oil by Bulletproof) – a weird sounding extract of coconut oil without the coconut flavour, that is said to raise your ketone levels, which is what makes your body burn fat instead of glucose and can raise your metabolic rate.
Blend it all together and you get a really rather lovely creamy coffee that you could easily become a little addicted to!
What does Bulletproof Coffee claim to do?
- Gives you mental clarity by combining caffeine and ketones, which are created by the MCT oil and are believed to provide a more efficient source of fuel for the brain than carbs or sugar.
- Suppresses hunger by balancing your hunger hormones gherkin and CCK. This, it claims, can help you to easily ‘fast’ until lunch time. Why would you want to do that? To encourage your body to burn fat instead of carbs, leading to weight loss. Read on to find out some more fascinating implications of fasting for overall health and slowing the ageing process below.
- Gives you longer lasting energy because the saturated fat in grass-fed butter slows the absorption of caffeine so it’s not a fast spike and crash. Again, this supports the idea of resting your body from the need to digest.
The topic of whether this is a credible approach or not has certainly has polarised opinion. If you search for Bulletproof Coffee you’ll find a whole host of raving fans (from celebrities to high profile business leaders) and just as many detractors and ‘science trolls’ as Silicon Valley-based Bulletproof founder Dave Asprey calls them, who pull apart the claims.
I think the only way to know is to try these things for yourself, which is what I did.
The most noticeable effect for me has been the significant improvement in my mental focus during the mornings when I’ve had Bulletproof Coffee. I’m super focused and have achieved possibly more than I normally would (and I like to think I’m a pretty productive person!). In fact, I’ve had a few of the best days I can remember recently in terms of work breakthroughs, clear thinking and productivity whilst following the Bulletproof approach.
I also became the most physically trim I’ve been since before my children. I wasn’t seeking weight loss, but I still managed to shift a couple of stubborn kilograms that made all the difference to my waistline and made me feel super trim, which is something I’d been struggling to do even with a few years of focusing on my nutrition.
I’d add the caveat here that this approach was combined with my ongoing regular fitness regime of three fairly intensive workouts each week, some yoga, and a healthy eating approach. Most of the time I was drinking the coffee, I was following the Bulletproof diet (or variations of it), which recommends a ketosis-style approach of a high intake of healthy fats, a good amount of proteins and limited carbs (more on that in another blog). So it may not just be the coffee itself but rather the combination of these approaches.
Maintaining the weight loss
Have I been able to maintain that physique? I did for a couple of months and it was so satisfying. Then, it was knocked off course a little over Christmas and again over the past couple of weeks (as a result of getting too enthusiastic with the idea of adding fermented food to my diet which has caused some issues – also a topic for another blog!). I’m working on that and getting back to the same approach and will update when I know if it can consistently deliver these results.
Does it actually suppress hunger?
Does Bulletproof Coffee suppress my hunger? In a word, no. I’m usually up early with my morning routine and the kids and then having my bulletproof coffee around 7am. By 9am, I’m hungry!
I manage to get through it because I like the other effects such as the clear mental focus, and the thought of how my body is being fuelled. But it’s a little disappointing that the promise of suppressing hunger didn’t materialise for me. My husband, on the other hand, who has been following the same regime as me and usually has a large appetite, feels no hunger in the morning after a Bulletproof Coffee so it’s clearly working better for him in that respect.
The impact on my workouts
The company also claims that you can “work out harder” with Bulletproof Coffee. Again, this did not happen for me.
For a solid two months, I drank just the coffee before my mid-morning workouts and every time there was a noticeable drop in my performance and energy in these workouts. Where I’d normally be bouncing around like a crazy person in my classes, I found myself reducing my efforts just so I felt comfortable I could get through each class. It felt like there was a dampener on my energy levels as if I just didn’t have the fuel I needed to get my muscles firing as they normally do.
When I reverted to more protein/fat based breakfasts (such as eggs and avocado) on the mornings of my workouts, the energy level picked right up again. I know that the Bulletproof site has lots of information about how you have to do carb cycling and refuelling days for women, but I haven’t been able to decipher it yet and to be honest I believe (based on intuition only) that I just need a more solid breakfast when I’m exercising.
Is drinking coffee good for you?
The science is mixed, with some studies showing lower risk through consumption of things like diabetes, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and some cancers. And it is known to boost performance. But these benefits are negated and can cause issues if you consume too much coffee (which is suggested as three cups or more per day).
Another factor to consider is how quickly you metabolise caffeine (I have the gene to metabolise it quickly which may be a factor in why I find the Bulletproof approach works well for me on the whole – read more about results from genetic testing here).
My feeling is that as a fast metaboliser of caffeine, and possibly more importantly, as someone who loves coffee, I prefer to see the benefits in it and I just focus on making sure I don’t drink too much. I don’t usually finish my cup (of anything actually!) and then I might drink half a latte on occasion mid morning, but that’s it and to me I think (and hope) that is an acceptable level.
Is non-Bulletproof coffee really that toxic?
The Bulletproof focus is very much on the quality of the coffee and the promise of no mycotoxins or mold, which its founder Dave Asprey had many issues with that he believes was a big contributor to his own autoimmune disease Hashimotos (but his main issue was environmental mold where he lived, rather than coffee). He’s even made a film on the topic aptly named Moldy, which you can watch free here).
Is mold and mycotoxins on regular non-Bulletproof coffee really an issue? It’s hard to know, but a few studies have found mycotoxins in a small handful of coffee supplies out of hundreds that are above the generally accepted level. The general consensus seems to be that you’d need to drink an absurd amount of coffee to be affected but that you can also consume them on fruits and grains (see this article here), but Dave Asprey’s concern is due to the fact that the US coffee market is currently unregulated compared to, say, Europe, and so some of the poor quality coffee may end up there (see his view here)
For me, I’m aware of the issue and drink Bulletproof when I can, but with some reservations given the commercial nature of his recommendations (see below) and I’m not going to get too hung up on it, particularly not as I’m based in Europe where toxin levels are regulated.
I do believe that consuming enough good fats is essential for your body (and the low-fat approach to dieting of the past several decades continues to be debunked). They are filled with good nutrients, keep blood sugar levels under control, and can help you feel satiated from your food.
But what about the level of saturated fat in the butter? There’s 52g of fat, of which 44g are saturated (and 468 calories) in a cup of Bulletproof Coffee.
One issue I’ve seen discussed is the potential for an increase in their blood lipids (the fatty substances found in your blood like cholesterol and triglycerides) from the saturated fat.
The fear and hype around cholesterol (just like fat generally) is now being shown to be for the most part unfounded, but it’s still a concern if this negatively impacts your cholesterol enough to develop heart disease. It doesn’t affect everyone this way, as some people are more able to handle the extra fat. But you can only know if you get tested.
An interesting article here suggests that his high lipid readings were due to an underlying thyroid issue that was uncovered, rather than the coffee itself.
But it is worth being cautious if you have any concerns about high cholesterol levels or heart disease. And it’s something that I will be looking into further if I continue with the Bulletproof approach.
The benefits of fasting
The Bulletproof Coffee approach is focused on enabling you to fast for long enough (16 hours+) to encourage your body to burn fat instead of carbs.
Burning stored fat can obviously lead to weight loss and a lower body fat percentage. There’s also increasing science to suggest that intermittent fasting can trigger ‘Autophagy’, a fascinating process where cells essentially cleanse themselves and can do things like remove cancerous tutors, protect the brain from disorders, and extend life. If you’re interested in learning more about this, there’s a great TED talk on the topic here.
I like the idea of the fasting as our hunter/gatherer ancestors might have done, going between feast and famine.
But men and women likely respond to fasting differently and you have to use your own judgement about whether the approach works for you or causes you more problems.
What about adrenal fatigue?
This was highlighted to me recently when I went to see nutritionalist Emma Davies, who herself has experimented with Bulletproof Coffee.
She suggested that the strain put on the adrenal glands by the fasting approach could have a negative impact for women, particularly those over 40 (as I am!), coming into a period in life when the hormones need all the help and balance they can get and nourishment is key. Not eating can put your body into a state of stress which could drain the adrenals (but conversely is said to be what helps your body to cleanse and rebuild in the autophagy process).
It’s hard to know which is right, but I’m going to pay close attention to how I respond and when I feel I need extra energy or not.
Do you actually go into ketosis?
I don’t believe I actually went into ketosis. I tested on several occasions (by peeing on a stick) and got a zero response for ketones. But I still feel that fuel was being burned effectively and the rest my body got from not constantly digesting had noticeable benefits.
Fitting in all the other nutrients you need
A challenge I found is that you have one less meal available to try and jam all the vegetables and nutrients in as you can during a day, as the bulletproof breakfast is very low in nutrients.
A smoothie can certainly help and I find I’ll have a small one of those and a small lunch, as well as dinner, effectively getting me back up to three opportunities each day to get the nutrients in.
There is a heavily commercial aspect to Dave Asprey’s approach with Bulletproof. Everything he recommends he of course sell through his shop, and it is not cheap! It took me a long time to bring myself to purchase the coffee and MCT oil as I feared I was possibly buying into some incredibly sophisticated marketing hype supporting the ‘Bulletproof’ lifestyle. And I still worry about that.
But I really respect his approach to life, the challenges he’s faced and how he’s battled them, and pretty much every single topic in his regular podcasts, which I find absolutely fascinating and right up my street. So I’m trying to put that aside and focus on the results instead.
Where do you get the ingredients?
You can get them directly from the Bulletproof website, but if you’re outside the US they don’t ship everywhere and where they do ship gets expensive. In the UK I found a distributor Enhanced Nation that is quick to ship, and Evolution Organics. But I’ve just discovered you can get some of it via Amazon also (which I’m sure I couldn’t find a few months back). Key items include:
- Ground beans
- Whole beans
- Powdered instant mix (for travelling)
- MCT / Brain Octane Oil
- Grass-fed butter (After some research it seems availability in the UK is limited to Kerrygold, but thankfully it’s stocked in our local supermarket or can be ordered online).
What blender is best to use?
I had a fairly basic one but it would often spill over or have pressure that would cause the lid to come off. I then researched alternatives and was surprised to read about people getting burnt with hot liquids in the Nutribullet mixers (which Nutribullet actually advises customer not to d0!).
So the choice then came down to two blenders: Vitamix and Blendtec. We opted for the Blendtec, which we love. It’s a fast and effective blender for all sorts of other things (and is used in places like Starbucks and can apparently blend an iPhone if you ever felt the need…).
I really like the effect that Bulletproof Coffee has for me. But I know that there are times when it’s going to be useful and other times it is not and I need to be guided by my body and feelings to know when and be flexible in my approach.
For example, the first couple of days of this week I’ve known I was going to exercise in the morning so I fuelled myself with a proper breakfast. But this morning I knew I wanted to focus and so I enjoyed the creamy Bulletproof Coffee I’ve become accustomed too. If I feel I’m too stressed or start craving carbs, I’ll adjust my approach and avoid the coffee as I know that effectively starving myself when my body needs something else is not going to go well.
Should you try it? I’d definitely recommend trying it, so long as you aren’t feeling very stressed, suffering from the effects of adrenal fatigue or other physical challenges, and if you approach it with flexibility to adapt your regime to suit your mood and conditions.
Have you tried Bulletproof Coffee and did it work for you? Or are you considering trying it? Let me know in the comments below?