Bulletproof Coffee: Butter Off With Or Without?

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Bulletproof coffee has been in and out of the limelight for years – it’s not going to disappear. But is this ‘miracle’ drink really worth your calories? Let’s take a look.

Bulletproof coffee and coconut and beans on white table

If you’re anything like me, the morning ritual is absolutely centred around a good old dose of our favourite stimulant: caffeine. And in the form of a freshly brewed coffee.

White sugar, brown sugar, sweetener or a dash of milk – take your pick. But have you ever considered a slightly creamier alternative?

Say hello to bulletproof coffee.

A handy two-ingredient recipe, it’s ready in a matter of minutes. It’s coffee with a dollop of butter, really.

Why would anyone possibly want to drink such a combination? We’ve heard of skinny almond milk Macchiatos but this, literally, takes the biscuit. Right?

Naturally, I’m keen to take a balanced view – don’t worry, I’m not about to butter you up. Let’s look at why this is a thing and dive into the supposed health benefits behind this concoction.

New Year, new brew

coconut and coconut oil in bottle

The idea behind this is centred around MCTs (Medium Chain Triglycerides). Without getting too science-y, these fat sources are apparently linked to a lower appetite, a faster metabolism and even enhanced cognitive function (sounds like the perfect dietary supplement, right?). But, naturally, lots of the studies behind these benefits have been either debunked or disproven in the context of overall energy intake.

However, bear in mind fats like coconut oil – or even grass-fed butter – can give us additional nutrients, such as Vitamins E & K. These are powerful antioxidants and can help balance our cholesterol levels among a whole host of essential functions.

Coffee itself has multiple benefits, from giving you that pick-me up you need during the mid-afternoon slump to shunting appetite and even providing more kick-ass antioxidants. Some studies suggest it gives a nifty boost in your metabolism, apparently increasing the rate of fat burn.

Many claim that bulletproof coffee, this ‘high performance’ drink, has helped CEOs & renowned sports stars on their quests to stardom. The mixture of saturated fats & caffeine are a supposed match made in heaven. Long, gradual energy reserves designed to keep you focused & active throughout the day.

So there you have it. Improved satiety, enhanced brain function & the best workouts you’ll ever have.

What’s not to like?

Is bulletproof coffee really that good?

couples smiling to each other, bulletproof coffee

I think you’ll agree, it’s quite the sales pitch. But, as you’ll soon discover, I’m very skeptical indeed.

Naturally, with anything nutrition-related, context is key.

When it comes down to it, it all comes back to our good old friend, energy balance.

Now the claims of such a mixture having magic fat-burning powers is actually quite counter-intuitive if you think about it. If you’re anything like me, my hunger levels are barely touched even after the tallest of Strawberries & Cream Frappuccinos. And there’s good reason for this.

Our body just doesn’t respond in the same way to liquid calories as it does for genuine, whole foods. This is why playing the food volume game is the quickest way to a successful weight loss diet.

See, our digestive tract is smart. It doesn’t play with the numbers side of things, it prefers to get more bang for its buck, so to speak.

Ever notice how full you feel after a fat chicken breast and some roasted veggies? That’s food volume.

Hypothetically speaking (and emphasis on hypothetically), if you were to eat exactly the same number of calories of pure oil (don’t do that) the outcome would be very different.

I’m no betting man but, if I had the money, I’d sure as hell place it on the first option being more sustainable long term. And it sounds gross, right?

But, hang on. You’re probably also thinking that the second, oil-based alternative sounds a bit familiar. You’d be right. That’s essentially bulletproof coffee in a nutshell.

500 calories literally down the drain.

Bulletproof coffee vs. heroic protein

foods high in protein, meat, milk eggs, high protein snack bar on table,

Continuing along the idea of satiety (that lovely, warm feeling of being full and satisfied), food choice is also important.

You’ll no doubt be familiar with the multitude of benefits a high-protein diet can afford you. One of these is appetite management.

If you think of your daily calorie intake as a budget, I’d want to get as much as I possibly could for good value. This is where protein can give you a real foundation for long-term dietary success.

Far and away the most satiating macronutrient, protein keeps you fuller for longer and helps shunt those pesky hunger pangs.

This is where bulletproof coffee falls way, way short.

Imagine you had £2,000 to spend a month (I wish!). Now, I don’t know about you, but I’d want that to last me as long as possible.

Bulletproof coffee takes out £500 on the very first day, betting on Scotland to qualify for the football World Cup. Not impossible, but you’re pretty unlikely to get much in return.

If you’re smarter about it, you’ll allocate this budget for the essentials. This could be weekly food shopping, bills, your mortgage, you get the gist.

These for me are your vitamins, minerals and a suitable source of amino acids.

Hocus focus

Magician Hat, magician, Hocus focus, magic

Many followers of this cult-esque coffee movement also claim only ‘bulletproof’ ingredients will do the job. If it isn’t grass-fed butter, you’re wasting your time.

Even down to the specific type of MCT – some just won’t have the same effects, they claim. Coconut oil or Lurpak aren’t up to scratch, apparently. Don’t even start them on I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter.

One of the supposed magic properties of bulletproof coffee is also its ability to enhance your cognition. However, there’s currently no clinical data to support this theory and only a handful of studies undertaken on mice with Alzheimer’s, showing mild improvements in brain activity.

Anecdotally, after a cup of fresh brew, I know it will give me a quick boost regardless of any additional buttery creaminess.

Say hello to our good old friends correlation and causation. Again, I won’t get too science-y with this, but I’ll give you a scenario.

Let’s suppose that the total U.S. highway fatality rate decreases as the number of fresh lemon imports from Mexico to America increases in the same time frame.

Sounds ridiculous, right?

This is the problem with a lot of nutrition-based studies, they simply don’t look at the bigger picture.

Sleep well, feel bulletproof

 young handsome man resting on couch in the living room with head on the floor. Sleep well

Part of the context, for me, is sorting out the basics. This could be improving the quality of your sleep, for instance. Reduced hunger, enhanced focus & more energy throughout the day. Sounds like the perfect supplement, right?

Why not save the money and make small improvements in your evening routine a key focus for moving forward.

The idea of ‘hacking’ your diet or energy levels may seem quite enticing but, naturally, this is something we can improve without resorting to a greasy, calorie-laden cup of joe.

We all know that sleep is essential not just for our health and fitness goals, but for anything we do on a daily or even weekly basis.

If you can nail 7-9 hours per night on a consistent level, I can almost guarantee you will reap many – if not all – of the benefits advertised by the bulletproof coffee bandwagon.

The concept of ‘hacking’ also leads onto one of the fundamentals surrounding our diet strategies.

Winners don’t cheat diet plans

girl model hands cross covered mouth

A large part of the bulletproof coffee movement is the idea of cutting corners or even ‘cheating’ your way to weight loss success.

But, here’s the thing: you can’t cheat when it comes to your long-term health.

Energy balance always wins, no matter how you structure your diet.

And, for me, if you feel the need to ‘hack’ your set-up, you’re on the wrong plan. Something I love about finding an eating style that fits your preferences and schedule is that it becomes second-nature.

The best ‘diet’ for me is one that you can sustain long-term and becomes a lifestyle change you can stick to, not just a short-term diet fad. Cabbage soup diet? Come off it.

If you enjoy a dollop of lard in your morning coffee, absolutely go for it. But I know I’d rather indulge in something much more nourishing such as a good old plate of scrambled eggs or even some porridge to get me going.

Once you nail the basics, you’re pretty much set. No doubt, you won’t feel the need to look for quick fixes or sneaky ‘cheats’ to reach your goals.

And that’s the beauty of nutrition, it’s actually pretty simple once you ignore the minute, often irrelevant, details.

If you can aim for a large majority (around 80% works well) of what you eat to come from natural, whole foods such as fruits, veggies, whole grains and lean meats then you’re onto a winner.

This will make balancing your energy intake a whole lot easier and those lofty hunger levels will likely be a thing of the past.

Back to the grind

sliced butter

Again, I’m not one to make decisions for others. If bulletproof coffee still sounds like a good fit for you, then by all means grab the grass-fed butter.

I’ve found that a balanced approach to nutrition is what works best for me.

When it comes to weight loss diets or even gaining muscle, going slower is often better. It may seem like a grind at times, but once you step back and think long-term, things will naturally fall into place. Trust.

Food, for me, is also more than just a source of energy. It’s made to be enjoyed and shared with others. Similar to the idea of a budget, I’d always pick spending it on time with my friends or family over something short-term or even wasteful.

If you can allocate those 500 calories towards something more nourishing, both physically and mentally, I’ll doubt you’ll regret it.

Declan McLaughlan

20, Medicinal & Biological Chemistry undergrad, passionate cook & keen gym-goer