It took months, but I finally finished reading The Bulletproof Diet by Dave Asprey. It seemed like a good topic to write about for my first posts about diets and lifestyle.
I've been aware of Bulletproof Coffee for years.
I laughed when I heard about it. Butter coffee sounded familiar. I discovered the concept over a dozen years ago, only I called it my “butter latte”. When a friend told me that a coffee chain puts butter in their coffee to make the coffee taste the way it does (I didn't believe him then, nor do I now) it got me thinking: What WOULD it taste like? I experimented and finally came up with my ideal recipe.
Making butter coffee “Bulletproof”
A few years ago a guy named Dave Asprey came along with a great tale of a fat 20-something multimillionaire entrepreneur in Silicon Valley who figured out how to solve his weight and health problems through something he calls “biohacking” – aka, trial and error.
He reinvented himself with a story of struggle (his own) and his discovery of yak butter tea in mountains of Tibet. Further to this discovery, he made declarations of health benefits of butter coffee. He shared his findings that coffee beans carry mould and mycotoxin. He had a marketing budget. With all this (imagine my hand gestures), “Bulletproof Coffee” was born, a lifestyle was invented, products were created. This is how branding works.
Bulletproof Coffee Health Benefits (according to Asprey)
According to Asprey, drinking Bulletproof Coffee in place of breakfast makes you feel full and satisfies your appetite for hours.
Asprey claims that Bulletproof Coffee promotes brain function, improves mental clarity, memory and focus and increases energy. Those are some significant claims, but really, they're potential benefits of any coffee.
The absence of mycotoxins enhances the benefits of coffee, according to Asprey. This makes sense taken at face value. It's the nature of anti-nutrients to make nutrients less effective (“anti”), and the absence of anti-nutrients to make nutrients more available and effective. Added butter strengthens some of these benefits (see “Butter is Good For you”, below).
In one piece published to his site, Asprey shares the benefits of coffee and his recommendations for coffee consumption. These benefits are consistent with I've read in several places in the past. His recommendations are sound too. For example, 1 cup a day is perfect, but don't exceed 3 cups. Another statement is one I've made several times myself: “If you need coffee to function – you’re addicted and need to find a better solution.” In other words, if you need coffee to function, something is off and you need to fix it. If you need to exceed those 3 cups, don't. (A search for “caffeine” on my original health & wellness blog pulls up a number of posts with the same statements.)
Official Bulletproof® Coffee Recipe
Brew 1 cup (8-12 oz.) of coffee using filtered water, just off the boil, with 2 1/2 heaping tablespoons freshly ground Bulletproof® Coffee Beans. (French Press is easiest.)
Add in 1-2 tablespoons of Brain Octane™ to the hot coffee (It’s STRONG – start with 1 tsp. and work up over several days).
Add 1-2 tablespoons grass-fed, unsalted butter or ghee
Mix it all in a blender for 20-30 seconds until it is frothy like a foamy latte.
In another version of the recipe, Asprey notes, “Brain Octane or XCT oil (these are 18x and 6x stronger than coconut oil, with no flavor. They are NOT generic MCT oil, which is about 1.6x stronger than coconut oil).” So, his brand of MCT oil (“Brain Octane”) is 18x than coconut oil. Other brands are 1.6x. I don't know if that's every brand, an average, or a sampling of brands that he looked at.
Asprey also suggests the following optional ingredients: Cinnamon, vanilla, dark chocolate, or a sweetener such as Stevia, erythritol, or xylitol.
In some places on his website, Asprey suggests adding his brand of collagen. In one blog post / newsletter I read quite awhile ago, he discussed what NOT to do, which can be summarized as “Use a blender, but don't treat your coffee like a smoothie. Protein powder, vegetables and fruit don't belong in it.” I think that people confuse breakfast blender drinks.
What about those mycotoxins?
Moulds, and “mycotoxins” are what sell the Bulletproof brand coffee. Asprey wants you to avoid the mycotoxins in coffee, which he claims are absent from the beans he sells. He offers advice on finding good quality beans.
Asprey declares that not all coffee is created equal. “The wrong coffee will sap your energy, cause sugar cravings, and leave you feeling lethargic and irritable.” He says that when people think they can't tolerate coffee, it's the toxins in the coffee that they have the problem with. He says that even low levels of mould toxins can have consequences on some people.
Mould is present in many places, including coffee. Yes, mould is everywhere. And yes, it no doubt affects people. Mould is one of my few allergies.
Elsewhere Asprey says, “You don’t like the taste of bad coffee for the same reason you don’t like the taste of gasoline: your body is telling you it’s toxic.” Perhaps. Or perhaps it's the tannins. Or perhaps you don't like the taste of bitter. Humans evolved to associate “bitter” with “poison”.
“Mycotoxins are in almost all low quality brands of coffee. One study showed that 91.7% of green coffee beans were contaminated with mold. This is before they were processed, which allows even more mold to grow. Another study showed 52% of green coffee beans and almost 50 percent of brewed coffees are moldy. Coffee is easily one of the largest sources of mycotoxins in the food supply.”
I'll believe it. Coffee starts when the coffee berry is picked from the coffee tree, then seeds are separated from the fruit and dried or fermented. Eventually, it gets to the place that roasts it, which might be local to you, might not be. With that long process, I imagine plenty of opportunities for mould to grow, in addition to any naturally occurring toxic properties.
However, the process of roasting increases the antioxidant properties of coffee beans and decreases the mycotoxin content. (I read that about antioxidants awhile back, Googled for a source and found this.)
The Dose Makes the Poison?
In my research, I found an article called “Debunking The Myth About Mycotoxins in Coffee”. While not an article that specifically argues against Asprey's claims, it's a good complementary piece.
I don't want to get into the entire article and encourage you to give it a read when you're done reading this (link below) but here are some highlights:
The author, Kris Gunnars, acknowledges that there are two types of mycotoxins present in a large percentage of coffee beans and these mycotoxins are present the final drink. Of these, one is a well-known carcinogen and has been shown to have various harmful effects. The other has been less studied, but it is believed to be a weak carcinogen and may also be harmful to the brain and kidneys.
Gunnars also points out that “the dose makes the poison”, that mycotoxin levels in foods are tightly regulated, and that the levels are still way below the safety limit.
His conclusion: “…unless if you have an allergy or some sort of sensitivity, then I don’t think you need to worry about mycotoxins (or any other toxins) found naturally in coffee.” As mentioned above, Asprey believes that even low levels of mould toxins can have consequences on some people.
Based on my knowledge and intuition, I mostly agree with the majority of the article and Gunnars' conclusion, though I'm not sure that he debunked any myths. It seems instead that he demonstrated that the implications are minimal. Coffee comes from a plant. Plants have naturally occurring toxins that act as natural pesticides. Many years ago I read that caffeine is the coffee plant's insecticide/defense mechanism. There's an old New York Times article about it.
Simply, grass-fed cows provide nutritionally superior product. The ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3 is significantly improved (up to 300%) vs. non-grass fed milk.
Dr. Frank Lipman has declared raw, organic, grass-fed butter “the forgotten superfood”. Grass fed butter is high in CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), which helps prevent heart disease, helps reduce belly fat, protects against cancer and encourages muscle growth.
Grass-fed butter contains key antioxidants Vitamins A, D and E. Vitamin A helps maintain thyroid, adrenal and cardiovascular health. Grass-fed butter also contains a high amount of Vitamin K2. Vitamin K2 is one of the most important nutrients in the diet for heart and bone health. It works synergistically with a number of other nutrients, including calcium and vitamin D. Vitamin K2's biological role is to help move calcium to where it is supposed to be in your body, such as your bones and teeth, and plays a role in removing calcium from areas where it's not supposed to be, such as in your arteries and soft tissues. I suppose that you could call K2 “the hall monitors” and calcium “the students”.
“Shouldn't you be in the bones? Get away from those arteries!”
Butter is the richest source of the fatty acid butyrate, an anti-inflammatory. The name butyrate is derived from the word butter. Researchers have found that the gut is less likely to suffer from inflammatory disorders such as, such as Crohn’s disease or colitis in the presence of butyrate.
Butyrate is also anti-carcinogen.
Another fatty acid, lauric acid, is a potent antimicrobial and antifungal substance.
This is good. About 15% of the fatty acids in butter are of the short and medium chain variety which are not stored as fat in the body, but are used by vital organs for energy.
Your brain is composed mostly of fat – 60% of our brains are fat – and so your brain needs fat to optimally function. For example, people on low-fat diets tend to have more trouble concentrating.
When Asprey says “Bulletproof Coffee promotes brain function, improves mental clarity, memory and focus and increases energy.” the butter has a part in it.
When I was in my early 20s I was diagnosed with ADD. The diagnosis made SO much sense. Based on research, I started a regiment that included increasing my fat intake, especially essential fatty acids, taking Omega 3s in the form of fish oil supplements, taking other supplements and eating more fish. A couple of months later during in a job interview it occurred to me, “I can look this person in the eye and focus on them.” Previously, my eyes would have been darting around. Over the years I've discovered (or “biohacked” – ha!) that my brain functions better when I consume more fish and other EFA containing foods. I also found that my instances of cyclical depression decreased.
Furthermore, I've discovered that in order for smoothies to keep me fuller longer I need fat. Often that comes in the form of full fat yogurt. My yogurt of choice is plain, full fat Astro, which contains 6% fat and only three ingredients: Milk, cream, bacterial cultures. Last summer I was juicing a lot and often added pumpkin seed oil or walnut oil to the final product. I'm backing up Asprey's claims here. I know that most of you have just met me, but you'll hear me say a lot that fat itself isn't the enemy.
So, butter good. If you are strictly paleo, you already know about using ghee instead, but if you're one of those people who has adapted “paleo” to their own needs (there was not one single way our ancestors ate & those who say there is misunderstand), or are interested in doing so, consume grass-fed dairy, including butter.
And if you know anyone who eats margarine, slap them. (Kidding.)
Better than Bulletproof coffee?
Uneasy about butter in your coffee, the mycotoxin claim or the expense?
Try the Better than “Bulletproof” Coffee recipe from Butter Believer. It calls for regular fair-trade beans, grass-fed cream instead of butter, coconut oil instead of MCT oil (it costs way less), grass-fed gelatin powder and salt. I've heard that “fair trade” isn't necessarily better though, and that it costs money for the coffee farmers to get designated as such (a Haitian coffee farmer told this to my man, and the story is similar to what local farmers have told me about organic certification), so you could also go with a good quality coffee. I point you once again to Asprey's guide to finding the “Highest Performance Coffee” in your city.
Or, go with the recipe that I nailed down years ago.
My Own Butter Latte
Hot coffee (espresso or something dark that can stand up to other ingredients)
Unsalted butter, preferably grass-fed
Maple syrup or raw honey to taste.
Even though I enjoy my brewed coffee and Americanos black, I find that my “butter latte” needs some sweetness. Maple syrup contains nutrients. Honey is super-healthy. Both are forbidden on the official “Bulletproof Diet”.
Optional: Cinnamon, raw cacao powder or cocoa powder, real vanilla extract or vanilla powder, coconut oil, collagen (such as this one, available online from Amazon or at your local health food store, or this one from Bulletproof), Java Elixir of choice, Organic Traditions Macaccino Drink Mix (black maca, cacao, coconut palm sugar, vanilla). I've used all of these at various times.
Brew your coffee. I use an Aeropress, which is perfectly portable. Use a mug bigger than you think you need, with room for the foamy finished product. An Aeropress fills one of my standard-sized mugs but when I make a latte I need my Peet's mug, which the Aeropress fills 2/3 full.
Blend in a blender. I used to use a Magic Bullet. Now I use my Vitamix. Do NOT mix in a mug. If you don't have some way to aerate it, don't make it. Acceptable: Immersion (stick) blenders and those small battery powered hand whisks or milk whip.
The “Bulletproof diet”, beyond coffee
I'll get to more details about the book and the Bulletproof Diet in a subsequent post.