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January 30, 2017 /
The Barista’s Guide To Bulletproof Coffee

There’s a lot of hubbub about Bulletproof coffee at the moment. The company Bulletproof Executive has come under fire for a number of lofty health claims, while at the same time they attracted a $9M investment to open coffee shops in the US.

Customers and friends are asking questions, and there’s a lot of misinformation flying around. As a reader or subscriber of Barista Hustle, you’re probably either a Barista or someone’s “coffee-friend”. We’ve read, researched, experimented and even performed bloodwork on Matt so we can arm you with measured and responsible short and long answers to the most popular questions about Bulletproof coffee.

Keep in mind, we’re not doctors, and this does not constitute medical advice. We did put a lot of work into writing a measured and factual piece (MP – I literally bled for this) [AB – I had to listen to him talk keto for two weeks] but the information herein should not form the basis of any life, business or liquid-breakfast decisions.

Why?! Just Why.

Bulletproof coffee is said to provide you with long-lasting energy and focus, a fat-burning metabolism and general goodness. Lofty claims indeed! We’ll delve into each of these below.

What’s in it.

Short Answer: ~30g MCT oil, ~30g grass fed butter and 300ml coffee, blended together to achieve a fatty coffee emulsion.

Long Answer: Grass fed butter is unanimously considered delicious and pretty good for you. When you think about it, butter is just the next step after milk. Not too much controversy there, apart from the unorthodox application of emulsifying it in coffee.

The coffee for bulletproof is preferably metal-filtered (rather than paper). This leaves more coffee sediment in the brew that provides stabilisation, creating a Pickering Emulsion. Essentially, it allows you to add lots more fat without the drink separating. Smart.

Now for MCT. This is where things get interesting.

Coconut oil and its derivatives are becoming more commonly used as part of a balanced diet. Bulletproof specifically recommends MCT oil, a refined extract of coconut oil. MCT’s or medium chain triglycerides are somewhat of a nutritional enigma. To avoid turning this into a medical journal, let’s keep this fairly brief:

1. The fats in MCT skip the slow process of stomach digestion and are readily utilised for energy. They do not require the body to expend any effort for digestion, storage or use. Instant energy boost! (Don’t go out and drink some though. You’ll probably feel sick. We warned you.)

2. Some studies link them with promoting weight/fat loss and inhibiting hunger.

3. They are known to induce a state of ketosis. (More on this in a moment.)

So, “Bulletproof Coffee” is a caffeine-based beverage that includes a significant amount of MCT’s – a potent, quick and efficient energy source. Claims about crash-free energy are pretty plausible.

Can a Bulletproof coffee be anything close to delicious? I don’t want it if it’s not delicious.

Short Answer: Yeah, sort of. But it ruins a good coffee.

Long Answer: A Bulletproof coffee is a really fatty latte (read: 10x as much fat as a 230ml/8oz whole milk latte). Fat is usually delicious and when it’s emulsified in coffee, it behaves a lot like milk; so it’s not an altogether alien product. If you’re generally ok with fatty foods, and don’t mind slightly greasy lips, you’ll be fine. Don’t think you’ll be fooling anyone that it’s milk you’ve added though.

When you add regular milk to filter/drip coffee, it slightly softens the coffee flavour. In the case of bulletproof coffee, the massive amount of fat creates a drink that’s 10x more concentrated than drip coffee (think rich, heavy quadruple ristretto) but doesn’t really change the concentration of the coffee flavour. Instead, you perceive the coffee as weirdly acidic, with low sweetness and almost no bitterness. All that fat is limiting the amount of coffee flavour that can reach your taste buds, so the result is pretty far from familiar coffee town. If you’re going to make one, we strongly recommend using darker rather than lighter roasts – the acidity is truly weird.

We’d rather eat a spoonful of butter, shoot some mct oil and chase it with a really nice coffee.

Warning: Bulletproof coffee may not be appropriate for those with cholesterol or heart conditions

Will I lose weight by drinking it? That sounds easy! Give me a Bulletproof coffee please!

Short Answer: No.

Long Answer: Bulletproof coffee is like a really fatty latte. And when I say fatty, I’m talking somewhere close to your entire recommended daily intake of fat (~60g per serving). This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Many popular studies have recently salvaged fat’s reputation as diet devil, showing that fats can be part of balanced diets. But, 440 calories is 440 calories. If you eat it, your body will burn it or store it somehow.

Most humans that would potentially drink a bulletproof coffee spend a lot of the day in an anabolic state. That is, they’re well fed, and blood glucose is relatively high from eating. This means their body is content to store any excess calories as glycogen in the muscles and liver, or fat in adipose tissue. If you consume fat in an anabolic state, it’s more than likely to be stored as fat, because that’s easiest for the body. But Bulletproof coffee has a trick up its sleeve.

What’s Ketosis? Will it turn me into a fat-burning machine!?

Short Answer: If you’re fasted when you drink it, and don’t eat anything else for a while afterwards – maybe.

Long Answer: Ketosis is a metabolic state where our body turns to fat as its primary energy source, saving precious sugars for the brain and a few other functions. It will happen if you fast for extended periods, or eliminate nearly all carbohydrates from your diet. 

It has been observed that consuming MCT oil can induce a light ketogenic state.

Warning: inducing ketosis is not appropriate for insulin dependent diabetics.

This is interesting, because achieving a steady state of ketosis can take weeks, and is difficult to maintain. (MP – I recently finished 3 weeks of ketosis as an experiment. I can confirm it sucks.)[AB – The sugar high he went on snarfing down pastries once it was over seemed pretty epic fun though…] If consuming MCT oil can quickly induce a state of nutritional ketosis, it could be a pretty neat hack to get your body to consume its own fat stores for energy.

Don’t get too excited though. As we said before, most bulletproof-prone humans have constant and generous eating patterns. Ketosis doesn’t happen if your liver has enough glycogen (sugar) to manipulate your blood glucose levels (no matter how much MCT-loaded Bulletproof liquids you guzzle). Epileptic patients are sometimes rushed into ketosis to avoid seizures by drinking almost nothing but MCT. So it definitely works, but 30g of the stuff will only take you so far.

Being the geek Matt is, he wanted some data on this. So he bought a blood ketone meter and designed a quick n=1 experiment.

He ate a dinner with a standard macro breakdown at 7pm (40% Carbohydrate, 30% protein, 30% fat), fasted overnight and fed himself a bulletproof coffee at 9:30am. He then stabbed himself and measured blood ketone levels every 30 minutes following consumption. To make sure it was the drink and not the fasting that raised ketones, he did it all again the next day, without a bulletproof coffee (labelled ‘Control).

Did 30g of MCT oil move the needle? Was it any different to an identical period of fasting?At the moment he drank the Bulletproof coffee (9:30am), Matt’s blood ketones were at 0.0mmol. This means his liver is happily adding glucose to his blood to keep him going. ~99% of the population is most likely somewhere between 0.0 and 0.1mmol/L of blood ketones for the vast majority of their lives (Inuits, some athletes, ketogenic dieters, those who are starving etc. will be somewhere between 0.2 and 8mmol/L).

So yes. The Bulletproof coffee raised blood ketones, especially compared to regular fasting where his energy needs were managed by his liver’s glycogen. But…

The presence of Ketones doesn’t mean that his body is using fat instead of glucose. HIs liver was still replete with glycogen from the previous day’s eating, and it takes time for the body to adapt its cells (muscles, organs etc.) to using fat as their primary energy source. The human body loves using glucose and will always choose glucose if it has the option. It’s very possible that all of the ketones detected in this test were exclusively from MCT oil, especially when you consider how they dropped off so quickly. If, however, the MCT oil actually tricked Matt into ketosis for those few hours, he could have been burning through my body’s fat stores as well. It’s a chicken or the egg scenario, but we’re calling it plausible.

Reminder: this is an n=1. We know it’s not a medical study. It was only performed on one human and it does not represent the whole population. Results may vary for others, but it sure is interesting!

Alright. Give it to me straight. Can I leverage these quasi-plausible factors to get shredded?!

Short Answer: Probably not. Just eat less.

Long Answer: If you have an early dinner (preferably low carb), fast for 12 hours (including sleep), exercise vigorously early in the morning to deplete liver glycogen, drink a Bulletproof coffee, and then eat nothing else for a number of hours afterwards, you might enter temporary nutritional ketosis. Once in ketosis, your body will have to first burn through the calories from the MCT and Butter, and then it might start burning your own fat stores instead of using glycogen.

So yeah, it could work, but you’re also drinking 200 calories of butter fat that’s probably going to be stored as fat. Eating less will pretty much do the same thing, and is markedly more simple.

Now’s probably a good time to reference the Bulletproof Diet which, for the most part, steers the user away from carbohydrates. But if you follow common ketogenic diet advice, there’s far too many carbs in there (~10-20%) to maintain deep ketosis (~0-10%), and you’d likely remain anabolic.

What are mycotoxins? They sound deadly! Does your coffee have mycotoxins in it? I’m allergic to mycotoxins.

Short answer: Don’t worry about it, roasting kills whatever miniscule amounts may exist in coffee.

Long answer: Mycotoxins are mold byproducts of fermentation processes, including all green coffee processing to some degree, which the Bulletproof company claims make it into your roasted coffee beverage and interfere with energy and brain function. However, research shows that mycotoxins do not survive the 450 degree coffee roasting process at any meaningful concentration. Also, mycotoxins are found in all sorts of food in trace amounts (including breastmilk…), with no observable health issues.

In coffee terms, Bulletproof are claiming that both traditional natural (dry) processing and washed (wet) processing of coffee cherries involves a fermentation stage where mold can form on the green coffee beans; so Bulletproof only buys coffees that have gone through a newer style of processing usually referred to as Eco-pulping, which uses reduced water and a mechanical demucilager and washer, most commonly a Penagos machine, to separate bean from cherry.

There is a kernel of truth here that makes the resulting exaggeration attractive: traditional coffee processing does involve some degree of fermentation, which can cause mold, and eco-pulped coffees in fact do not meaningfully ferment during the cherry processing stage. However the wet beans from eco-pulping must still be dried as in other processing methods, and this opens up even eco-pulped beans to the potential of mold forming. More to the point though, any sort of mold formation is wildly detrimental to coffee flavor, so every step of coffee production has been carefully considered to minimize mold, and it is all but guaranteed that any specialty grade coffee you are drinking is completely free of any mold defects.

However, even for green coffee samples contaminated with mold, the health risks of drinking the actual roasted coffee have been found to be all but nonexistent. Way back in 1980, a meta-analysis study of mold and coffee found that: “Because of the extremely low frequency of findings, the low levels of toxins, and the experimental data showing 70-80% destruction by the roasting process of toxin added to green coffee, further study on this topic has been discontinued.”

These results were backed up by a 2001 investigation into the effects of roasting on toxins, and a 2002 study on toxins in green coffee. A more recent 2012 study found that drinking coffee did not significantly increase blood mycotoxin levels above normal environmental conditions.

If you’re still not convinced, debunking Bulletproof Coffee has been a rich vein of internet writing for quite some time, with everyone from food and coffee geeks to Paleo-heads and Gizmodo getting in on the game. The most definitive long read is probably this one from Authority Nutrition.

Okay! So maybe MCT + butter in coffee induces light ketosis, and maybe it gives some people energy. So what’s the issue?

There isn’t one! Except for all the bogus claims about mycotoxins, and the rather indeterminate nature of whatever ketosis is happening. Well, and that thing about nicely roasted, acidic coffees not tasting great with tons of butter in. But you know what? People can do what they want, and hopefully now you’re a little better prepared to understand why.

 

If you have found this useful and want to enjoy delicious coffee with the rest of the community – register for our monthly Superlatives coffee subscription. Or if you just want to keep up with every thing Barista Hustle – sign up to the Newsletter.

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Matt Perger
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Matt Perger

Hey! Thanks for the measured comment.

I was thinking of adding thoughts about mental clarity but found it extremely hard to communicate/measure. I definitely had some crazy intense periods of focus and flow while in deep nutritional Ketosis, but didn’t feel as much during this experiment. It’s a tough one.

wisewell
Guest
wisewell

I appreciate your efforts in putting this article together. My experience is purely anecdotal, but as a Nutritional Therapist I have closely followed the Bullet-proof trend and have used it myself for extended periods of time. First, I’m a huge believer in using fats and protein as fuel (especially brain fuel) over glycogen for many reasons. In fact, several people in my family (grown kids, husband, in-laws) have noticed the hunger/health benefits of not being a slave to fast burning macronutrients while increasing good fats/proteins in their diet. But, the real positive outcome of Bulletproof coffee has been the mental… Read more »

CLPettigrew
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CLPettigrew

Bulletproof Coffee – Bulletproof Marketing Scam ™

Nice data.

Trent Funke
Guest
Trent Funke

Bloomsberg magazine has a really nice article about this. They take a very neutral side of things.Talks about is it a scam, why he came up with it. Dave Asprey, the inventor, has said that it probably won’t work on everyone, but if it does, you should do it

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2015-04-21/buttered-coffee-could-make-you-invincible-and-this-man-very-rich

duffy
Guest
duffy

Hey Matt, nicely done. I was curious how you would approach the topic upon hearing your allusions to this article in other places. So… I’ve been drinking “Bulletproof” coffee almost daily for the last 2 years. Honestly, I’m not a fanatic, but the results for me have been life-changing. My body started breaking down once I hit my mid-forties, primarily thanks to chronic inflammation stemming from my eating/drinking habits, compounded by stress. I will spare you the details, but suffice to say the benefits of intermittent fasting, increased consumption of high-quality fats, decreased consumption of gluten, carbs (oh how I… Read more »

Colin Frew
Guest
Colin Frew

I love this. Thanks for looking in to it!

BattleBrew
Guest
BattleBrew

Hi Matt, nice article and agree with you totally on the mycotoxin claims however there are some interesting benefits to adding MCT to coffee, lets not get to the butter just yet. There is a lot of debate about ketogenic diets but it does seem that the brain likes ketones and that ketones do improve focus and clarity. MCTs are great because you can get the benefits of ketones without needing to be on a ketogenic diet and coffee just speeds up this process. So onto butter, MCTs are again interesting because when you consume them, you actually get an… Read more »

BattleBrew
Guest
BattleBrew

From what we can tell, it’s the brain that consumes them. Starting off on 1/2 tablespoons of MCT does not cause a problem but starting off on a high dose of MCT, apart from gastric distress, can actually result in what we are calling Keto Shock. Symptoms can include heart palpitations, headaches and dizziness. The last up to 2 weeks and disappear immediately is the MCT dose is dropped and then slowly increased.

Matt Perger
Guest
Matt Perger

I’m curious as to how the body consumes ketones when it’s not ready for them. It takes weeks for the hormonal and metabolic shift to occur across the entire body, so I’d like to know which part of the body actually consumes the ketones when you add them ‘surprise’ style like a bulletproof coffee.

Jack Hales
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Jack Hales

Each part of the cell has the ability to use ketones instead of glucose/glycogen as energy. When you have bulletproof, you’re not necessarily providing “ketones”, you’re making your liver/body push out ketones instead of full glucose.

Matt Perger
Guest
Matt Perger

Oh man. Steatorrhea. Freaky stuff!! Haha

I could’ve made this post 5 times as long, but maybe half as long would’ve been better. I’m glad you’re finding solutions! IF is the best. 🙂

Matt Perger
Guest
Matt Perger

Oh great! Thanks! It’s really hard to find measured, well researched and unbiased articles about anything to do with fat loss/MCT/Bulletproof

Jack Hales
Guest
Jack Hales

Its pretty bias. They slammed keto as a unmaintainable diet and don’t look into how beneficial this really is when you’re doing a full keto diet. If you want to have 40g of fat in one hit (bulletproof) – your body has to be adjusted to be able to maintain such a mammoth hit, and they don’t explain the perfect body and diet example. It’s bias.

Matt Perger
Guest
Matt Perger

With the advent of bulletproof cafes opening, I think it’s safe to assume that most of their customers looking for a quick fix will likely be on a HC diet. So the benefits of the drink also need to be weighed for those who aren’t HFLC.

Brian
Guest
Brian

There likely needs to be some fundamental agreement about HFLC before any opinionated (or otherwise) discussion of Bulletproof Coffee can take place. If you don’t subscribe to the HFLC ideology then this recipe probably makes zero sense to you. However, if you’re living the HFLC lifestyle this recipe is a very convenient way to get your coffee and fats in a morning drink. I’m not sure it’s really anything more than that.

Matt Perger
Guest
Matt Perger

Oh you can order heavy cream at sbux? Bonus!

Brian
Guest
Brian

Possibly but most HC diet people I talk to about BPC are grossed out and don’t get it. Butter in coffee?? AYFKM? I get enough weirdness at Starbucks when I ask for heavy cream instead of the more sugar-filled whole milk, 2% or skim, and I doubt many non-HFLC folks would come back a second time.

Matt Perger
Guest
Matt Perger

I think you’ll find the brain can satisfy up to 75% of its needs from ketones. The other 25% – when in ketosis – comes from glucose.

Jack Hales
Guest
Jack Hales

That your body can produce in ketosis itself from fats or protein – gluconeogenesis.

Goog Smells
Guest
Goog Smells

BattleBrew, the brain is actually the only tissue in our bodies that cannot utilize ketones as an energy source. All other tissues are able to metabolize ketones in a manner that is (sort of) similar to fat metabolism. Also, I’m not sure what you are getting at with “Keto Shock.”

sonia
Guest
sonia

This is amazing! I am a coffee lover and a medic, and love this experiment!

duffy
Guest
duffy

Holy Crapping Fat Batman! Of course there’s a word for it. And now that word is part of my lexicon. You made my day!

Goog Smells
Guest
Goog Smells

I was thinking about the glial/neuronal lactate shuttle and was off base. The brain utilizes ketones to satisfy its energy requirements. You are correct.

Goog Smells
Guest
Goog Smells

Yeah, I was entirely off base with the tissue/metabolite associations. You are correct.

BattleBrew
Guest
BattleBrew

I think as matt pointed out that you will find that while the brain cannot directly use fat, it doesn’t need to because of an elegant mechanism called ketosis where fat is converted to ketones by the liver and the brain certainly does use ketones directly and it seems, very efficiently. As modern humans on a western diet, most of us have no been in keto for any significant period of time, despite being designed to be able to. What we have observed is that some people who suddenly leap into ketogenic diets or take more MCT than initially recommended,… Read more »

Joshua Pierre
Guest
Joshua Pierre

Great article clearing things up! I love the taste of bulletproof coffee but not have a better understanding 🙂 Great reading!

Dave Armstrong
Guest
Dave Armstrong

If I’m being honest, I think the problem with what Asprey did was that he made a lot of scientific claims about the quality of his coffee versus competitors that just don’t hold water. I also applaud what he’s done from an entrepreneur standpoint, but building your brand on pseudo-science is going to get a fair share of detractors.

coffeekat1
Guest
coffeekat1

Friends of the Marketing 101 genius, After 44 years as a coffee roaster at Thanksgiving Coffee Company , I have seen and heard many things coffee. One of the things I noticed early in my career, way before people wrote intellectual Blogs about coffee, was that it suppressed my appetite. A single cup in the morning worked thru lunch and way into the afternoon. Another cup around 3 pm worked until dinner time. Being an A body type, 165 pounds at 5’8″ I was not into food as a constant need or as a scheduled event three times a day.… Read more »

Matt Burnes
Guest
Matt Burnes

Hi Matt, Firstly great article.! You have covered a great amount of detail and paid special attention to the health risks/consideration of excess fat consumption. I am personally and big fan of a keto diet and eat keto strict for 6 out of 7 days. I do agree you need to be careful when in a normal anabolic state. Although very different, its like telling someone eating 2 Cronuts every day with there coffee as it will make them sharper and more focused :/ . Anyway If anyone is interested in some of the health benefits about Keto diets check… Read more »

Yaro
Guest
Yaro

Apparently this bulletproof gem was birthed in 2009, yet it’s gaining in
popularity currently. The concept? Adding butter and coconut oil to
your coffee helps raise your IQ and assists in weight loss. Right – butter. And oil. – http://coffeelounge.net/bulletproof-coffee-a-cup-of-fat-loss-and-more-energy-for-you/

MilkFrotherTop
Guest
MilkFrotherTop

I can agree with u, Yaro!

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