If you frequent gyms and social media, you probably know someone who swears by bulletproof coffee. Maybe that person is even you. Created by 'bio-hacker' Dave Asprey, bulletproof coffee is popular among keto diet advocates as a way to boost energy and fat-burning abilities in the morning.
If you're wondering what bulletproof coffee really is, its proposed benefits and whether it's healthy, HuffPost Australia enlisted the help of three health experts to answer all your questions.
What is bulletproof coffee?
Bulletproof coffee is a drink consisting of brewed coffee, grass-fed unsalted butter and medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) coconut oil.
Bulletproof coffee is mostly popular with people following a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet.
When do you drink bulletproof coffee?
"Bulletproof coffee is designed to be drunk on an empty stomach instead of breakfast and prior to working out as it helps to increase energy and endurance," nutritionist Fiona Tuck told HuffPost Australia.
"This is due to the combination of caffeine and fats fuelling the body. It is very high in calories and fat which is why it is recommended that it replaces a meal and not drunk with a meal, which would lead to consumption of excess calories and potential weight gain."
Is bulletproof coffee good for you?
To understand whether bulletproof coffee is good or bad for you, let's break it down into the proposed benefits and the arguments for and against.
The proposed benefits
"The proposed health benefits are mostly weight loss and increased energy levels, aimed particularly at those on a ketogenic diet or low-carb, high-fat diet," accredited practising dietitian and performance dietitian Jessica Spendlove said. "It also claimed to improve cognitive function and boost metabolism."
Bulletproof coffee is also said to boost mood, suppress appetite and be anti-inflammatory.
While anecdotally bulletproof coffee appears to be beneficial for many keto dieters, there is currently limited quality scientific research to back up these claims, Spendlove explained.
"The three bulletproof coffee components of saturated fat, coffee and grass-fed butter may have health benefits in isolation, but there is no conclusive research or controlled trials supporting the purported health claims of bulletproof coffee."
1. Fuel for people on a keto diet
"For those on a ketogenic diet, the fat requirement is necessary to provide fuel for the brain and body as the body has been trained to burn fat for fuel, rather than traditional carbohydrates," Tuck said.
Ketones act as the primary fuel source on ketogenic diets or during states of starvation, when glucose (broken down from dietary carbohydrate) is not available. Drinking bulletproof coffee could then be beneficial for energy as it elevates ketone levels in the blood.
"Some people claim improved brain function, mental alertness and energy after consuming the drink -- however, this could simply be due to the caffeine and fat which can be found readily as part of any healthy diet."
2. Contains omega-3s
Grass-fed butter tends to be higher in anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin K than traditional grain-fed cows.
"Butter also contains important fat-soluble nutrients such as vitamin A, vitamin E and vitamin D -- nutrients necessary for bone health and a healthy immune system. Vitamin K2 is important not only for healthy bones but also for a healthy cardiovascular disease," Tuck said.
From this perspective, including grass-fed butter is a positive, but you could be adding it to eggs rather than drinking it straight.
3. Contains coffee
According to a new study, people who drink 3-4 cups of coffee a day are more likely to see health benefits than harm, experiencing lower risks of premature death and heart disease than those who abstain.
"Coffee contains some antioxidant benefits due to its polyphenol content, but the quality depends on the quality of the coffee," Tuck said.
"Many bulletproof coffee advocates will therefore only use pure organic coffee with minimal processing and no artificial pesticide residues."
Once again, you can obtain the benefits of coffee by drinking it at any time of day without the other ingredients required for bulletproof coffee.
1. Reduces your nutrient intake
"As bulletproof coffee replaces an entire meal, it means you're reducing your nutrient intake greatly but not your energy intake. This would put a lot more pressure on fitting all your daily nutrients into your remaining meals and snacks across the day," Spendlove said.
"In my opinion this does not constitute a healthy, well-balanced breakfast as it is lacking in protein, important vitamins and fibre," Tuck added.
2. High in saturated fats
While the jury is still out on whether saturated fats actually play a role in heart disease, most health experts agree it's better to opt for unsaturated fats found in nuts, seeds, avocado and oily fish.
"While we're not as worried about fat consumption as in the past, the type of fat is still important," accredited practising dietitian Chloe McLeod told HuffPost Australia.
"Saturated fats tend to be the ones we want to eat less of -- however, if the saturated fat is coming from a quality product (such as grass-fed butter as opposed to highly-processed butter), the fat profile does vary slightly.
"As a general rule of thumb, if the saturated fat is in a highly processed food, it is less likely to be a healthier version of it."
Replacing a healthy, balanced breakfast with bulletproof coffee displaces a lot of important nutrients.
As fat is calorie-dense, over-consumption can be easy. Eating an excess of any type of fat can lead to weight gain. So, while dietary fat is essential, it's important to not overdo it.
"Bulletproof coffee could lead to weight-gain, particularly for those not following a ketogenic diet," Spendlove said.
"For an individual on a regular carbohydrate-containing diet, bulletproof coffee at breakfast isn't likely to provide the satisfaction and energy levels that it would for someone on a ketogenic diet. This could lead to an overall increase in energy intake throughout the day."
3. Can cause stomach upset
A high fat intake at breakfast may cause stomach upset in some individuals, particularly those with gastrointestinal conditions like IBS.
"This is because fat stimulates gut motility (gut motor activity). This also wouldn't be ideal for athletes or active individuals before a morning workout, as high fat meals may impair performance due to gut discomfort," Spendlove said.
4. Not a balanced breakfast
With its absence of complex carbs, protein and many vitamins and minerals, a bulletproof coffee in place of breakfast does not meet all the guidelines of a 'balanced' breakfast.
"Essentially [bulletproof coffee] is water, fat and caffeine, along with a handful of antioxidants and micronutrients," McLeod said.
Spendlove agreed, saying a bulletproof coffee and regular balanced breakfast are very different nutritionally-speaking.
"For most people a healthy, balanced breakfast greatly outweighs a bulletproof coffee," Spendlove said.
"Bulletproof coffee contains approximately 440 calories (1,840 kilojoules), one gram of protein and 50 grams of fat -- 80 percent of which is saturated (based on a bulletproof coffee made with two tablespoons of MCT oil and two tablespoons of butter). This also means no fibre and no carbohydrate."
Compared to a more traditional, balanced breakfast of a similar energy value: two poached eggs, one slice of whole grain sourdough, ¼ medium avocado and one cup of strawberries. This contains approximately 400 calories, 20 grams of protein, 38 grams of carbohydrate, eight grams of fibre and 18 grams of fat (three grams saturated).
"This breakfast is high in protein, fibre and unsaturated fat, and means you're likely to feel fuller for longer, and also provides a source of calcium, vitamin C, several B vitamins and iron. Starting the day with a breakfast high in protein and fibre can be beneficial in weight loss and weight maintenance," Spendlove said.
"Replacing a healthy, balanced breakfast with bulletproof coffee displaces a lot of important nutrients."
Essentially: bulletproof coffee can be beneficial for those following a ketogenic diet, but for most people following a standard diet, bulletproof coffee is not a balanced way to start the day.