ARTICLE: Testing “Bullet-Proof Coffee”

I’ve been under the weather since last Thursday and have used the opportunity to start a love affair with the internet phenomenon that’s called “Bullet-Proof Coffee”.

Let me come clean and say I have always been a tea-drinker – not a coffee man, yet this little idea struck a chord. So what’s bullet proof coffee?

Bullet-proof coffee is a registered trademark of Bullet-Proof Executive and you can read the original article here.

The recipe (what to put in!)

Bullet-Proof coffee contains three mainstays (coffee, butter, coconut oil) and below is my chosen mixture:

  • 2 mugs worth of fresh coffee (I prefer Irish company Java Republic, the tastiest coffee I’ve tried, and their method seems to explain why)
  • 2 table-spoons of grass-fed butter (this means essentially all butter in Ireland)
  • 2 table-spoons of coconut oil (the original recipe calls for another type of oil – but this is not widely available in Ireland and you can buy good coconut oil in any healthstore and most supermarkets in Ireland)

In addition, I have added the following for extra taste and health benefits:

  • A hefty shake of cinnamon powder (don’t bother with low quality, it has little of the taste or benefits of good cinnamon)
  • 3-4 drops of Vanilla Essence (I use Finest Quality from Madagascar Vanilla cold-pressed from Vanilla beans)
  • A tea-spoon of Red/Green Dark Chocolate powder or other dark chocolate mix

How to make it

Prepare your coffee as normal. For best results have whole beans at hand and use a small grinder to prepare them in the morning (this takes 1 minute at most). I then use a plunger, stir the boiled water and coffee well and let it stand for a few minutes. I prefer strength 4-6 for my beans but that is up to you.

Next add all other ingredients into a blender. I use a Kenwood stainless steel unit we got as a wedding present (a joy to clean!). Once all ingredients are in I pour the coffee into the blender and blend it for about 1 minute.

Once you see an appetising thick foam at the top it’s ready to serve! I was surprised how delicious this is – creamy and rich!

Why drink it?

The million-dollar question! Bullet-proof coffee was first incepted by Dave Asprey after trying a “creamy cup of Yak butter tea”. The stated aim of consuming it is to "promote brain function, turn off cravings, boost energy levels”. As endurance athletes it is not news to us that you have better energy levels if you can rely on fat for much of your energy rather than glucose. So the process is meant to go something like this:

  1. Caffeine in the coffee tells the body to break down fat stores and send it into the blood stream
  2. The saturated fat from the butter and coconut oil further increases the concentration of fatty acids in your bloodstream
  3. Medium-Chain Fatty acids from coconut oil are absorbed very easily by the body, provide a sustained energy boost and are rarely stored as fat in the body
  4. With a plentiful supply of fatty acid available in the blood stream, hunger pangs and cravings for the usual offenders (sugar, refined carbs etc.) should not occur

Loren Cordain showed recently that most hunter-gatherer groups eat only one meal per day (afternoon or evening) with general fasting for the rest of the day. This makes Bullet-Proof Coffee a handy way to keep yourself nourished if you have to miss breakfast one morning. There’s every reason to believe it would make a superb pre-race concoction as you will get plenty of fatty calories and the benefits of caffeine without putting a huge load on your digestive system (remember, food in your stomach requires energy and fluid to digest that will not be available for you in your race).

I add chocolate, cinnamon and vanilla mainly because they are my favourite tastes but there is some evidence to suggest that cinnamon likewise helps control blood glucose levels. As for dark chocolate it contains several important minerals (such as iron, magnesium, potassium), improves your HDL/LDL (“good”/”bad” cholesterol levels), includes anti-oxidants and may increase blood flow and lower blood pressure. Since the taste is great and there are no known side-effects of cinnamon and chocolate in moderation – there’s no risk to add it!

But saturated fats are evil?

Saturated fats, contrary to popular belief are only a problem when ingested in processed foods and along with refined carbs. Loren Cordain, father of the Paleo Diet, explains in his latest book (“The Paleo Answer”) that as long as you keep saturated fat consumption between 10 to 15 percent of your calorie intake AND you stay faithful to the general principles of the Paleo Diet (eat mainly meat, fruit, vegetables), then they are beneficial.

I have not tried the Bullet-Proof Coffee for long enough to speak to any benefits except that it is very taste and helps stave off hunger for longer before lunch-time As I am already eating a Paleo-style diet and doing regular exercise that promote fat burning, I may not see as noticeable a change as others. For me the primary motivation was to add extra fat calories to my breakfast where it can be difficult to prepare a large enough meal to match the calorie requirements of high mileage training.

How to ruin it

You can read some of the common concerns about how to “wreck your Bullet-Proof coffee” here. A few of the safe tweaks suggested I have tried myself (cinnamon, chocolate, vanilla) but from an evolutionary perspective I cannot endorse the following:

  • Xylitol
  • Stevia
  • Erythritol

Artificial sweeteners such as Stevia where recently shown to promote the same health issues as normal sugar (high cholesterol, high blood pressure and high blood glucose). Given there are no known benefits from these substances but there may be a potential high downside, just stay clear of them for now.

The use of butter is also a source of some concern. While the saturated fats in butter is not a problem, dairy has numerous issues. All foods that come through your system produces what is known as AGE (Advanced Glycation End-Product). These are compounds in our blood stream created from chemical reactions between sugars and proteins. Excessive concentrations of AGE damages almost every single tissue in your body causing constant low level inflammation. Butter causes one of the highest concentrations of AGE – 23,340 kU per 100g (compare to 13kU per 100g for an apple or 7801 from a Big Mac) making it one of the pound for pound biggest offenders.

Apart from this short-coming, however, butter shares few of the problems of other dairy products (impairment of zinc and iron absorption, gut irritation, damaging to bone health, increased risk of cancer, asthma, skin problems, metabolic syndrome etc.) so as long as you otherwise eat healthily this “AGE load” should not pose a problem. However, if you are eating lots of processed foods and fried meats, you may want to avoid adding further load every morning!

Bullet-proof coffee is a registered trademark of Bullet-Proof Executive and you can read the original article here.