Ah, the beloved cup of morning Joe. It’s a ritual (er, habit) for millions of people around the globe; the United States alone imports almost 1/3 of the coffee grown worldwide, with Germany coming in a distant second (source). Its health benefits are hotly debated:
- Is caffeine good or bad? (Depends on your sensitivity, other stressors in your life because it may increase cortisol, personal objections, etc).
- Doesn’t coffee contain antioxidants? (Yes. So does red wine but be honest, nobody really drinks it for that reason.)
- How much is too much? (If you measure your consumption in “pots per day” rather than cups or think a coffee IV would be much more convenient, you may need to reconsider).
- Is it even Paleo? (Purists will state that coffee isn’t Paleo. Others concede it’s one of those exceptions they’re willing to make.)
While I can’t tell you if coffee consumption is right for you—remember, it’s up to you to know your unique context, needs, and goals—I can show you how to make the coffee you drink better for you. Meet “bulletproof”.
Bulletproof® is a brand founded by Dave Asprey, a Silicon Valley investor and life hacker. His formula for making this trademarked brew is quite specific, requiring specially grown, Bulletproof Upgraded coffee beans that are devoid of problematic mycotoxins (linked to all sorts of health problems), high quality grass-fed butter and MCT oil (I’ll go over these components shortly). In the past couple years, this concept of packing coffee with healthy fats has taken off and spawned its own variations. It’s kind of like calling all photocopiers “Xerox” machines, right? Not all coffee put together in this way can technically be called Bulletproof® but the spirit of the original is there.
What’s the Bulletproof Coffee® recipe? Basically brewed coffee + grass-fed butter + MCT oil. More on these in a minute.
How can this Bulletproof® coffee formula really improve your health? It’s all about the fats. If you’re new to Paleo, be advised this is not a low fat diet. We rely on fats – particularly of the saturated variety—for slow-burning, stable forms of energy. They also compose a large percentage of our cell membranes and are important in the absorption of fat-souble vitamins. In short, saturated fat (in the context of a relatively low carb approach like Paleo) is a good thing.
This may be surprising since shelf-stable saturated fats (particularly of animal origin like butter, lard and tallow) have been vilified for years thanks to the weak correlation concluded between fat consumption, cholesterol levels and mortality rates from heart disease from a study by Ancel Keys (Seven Countries Study). While Keys’s intentions and motivations are still debated, what’s clear is that the Seven Countries Study became the study used to justify steering the boat toward polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) consumption and away from saturated fats. PUFAs (most plant oils and some of animal origin like fish oil) are highly unstable and prone to oxidative breakdown due to their chemical structures. Read: PUFAs are not a better choice for dietary fat sources. Saturated fatty acids (SFA) are much more stable and better for high-temperature cooking.
Let’s look at the components of Bulletproof® coffee:
- Grass-fed butter. Rich in conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a fatty acid produced by ruminants like cows, it’s been implicated in many studies as having beneficial effects. Grain-fed cows do not produce as much CLA in their milk as their grass-fed counterparts. Grass-fed butter also contains an Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratio that’s basically 1:1 (that’s very GOOD). If you’ve ever seen pale (almost white) butter, the poor stick of saturated fat is lacking in beta carotene. Where to get bright yellow butter? You guessed it, cows fed on grass. In addition to all this, grass-fed butter contains more fat-soluble vitamins like K2 (which is converted from K1 by cows).
Verdict: Butter from grass-fed cows is better than butter from grain-fed cows.
But…isn’t Paleo supposed to be dairy-free? It’s generally not part of a Paleo template because some dairy can be quite problematic for people – not because Cordain wanted to make you cry by taking away your delicious cheese. For some, it’s a sensitivity to the proteins like casein. For others, it’s a problem with digesting the lactose carbohydrate fraction. Butter has very little protein and is mostly fat (read: butterfat doesn’t cause the same reactions that the protein or carb component can). If you’re sensitive to dairy protein, you could try using grass-fed ghee (how to make your own or find a commercially available brand) which is essentially clarified butter stripped of its proteins. The only way to know for sure if you’re sensitive to these foods is to remove them for at least 30 days and then reintroduce them methodically.
- MCT oil. MCT stands for medium-chain triglycerides and is a purified form of these types of fatty acids (capric and caprylic, naturally found in plant fats like coconut oil and palm kernel oil). MCTs have several benefits, including being an easily metabolized form of energy. MCT oil is purified from coconut and palm kernel oils and generally sold as a supplement instead of a food on store shelves. It can be quite expensive, so many folks have taken to using coconut oil instead of pure MCT to make their version of Bulletproof®-style coffee.
Verdict: MCT oil provides a higher concentration of these fatty acids, though coconut oil is a good, budget-friendly alternative.
- And lastly, the beans. The mycotoxin issue makes sense to me – and apparently higher quality coffee isn’t necessarily devoid of these mold poisons – but I’m not sure it’s personally worth the cost of the upgraded beans for my wallet. You can certainly decide what fits your budget best though I recommend buying Fair Trade beans whenever possible.
Verdict: Get the Upgraded beans if you’re really concerned and want to spend some extra money.
Here’s my simple recipe for making bulletproof-style coffee at home:
- 1 cup of hot freshly brewed coffee (I use a French press but any preparation will do)
- 1 Tablespoon of grass-fed butter or ghee
- 1 Tablespoon of coconut oil, virgin preferably
- Optional: sweetener (like raw honey), pumpkin puree, cinnamon, cacao, etc
- Pumpkin Spice (per 1 cup): add 1 teaspoon pumpkin puree + a dash of cinnamon and nutmeg
- Mexican Chocolate (per 1 cup): add 1 teaspoon cacao (or cocoa) + a dash of cinnamon and chili powder
- Bulletproof® Chai (per 1 cup): substitute 1 cup of brewed chai tea instead of coffee
- Iced Bulletproof®-Style Coffee: prepare the coffee as below, then chill and pour over ice. Trying to do it the other way around (by making cold coffee then blending in the fats) won’t work because the fats won’t emulsify.
- Prepare the coffee, scaling the recipe up to suit your needs.
- Pour hot coffee into a blender. Add the grass-fed butter and coconut oil, plus any extras like spices or sweetener if preferred.
- Blend for 30 seconds until frothy and creamy (use caution when using a blender with hot liquids).
- Enjoy. You could also use an immersion blender or just melt the butter and oil on top of your hot coffee but I don’t prefer it that way…it ends up like an oil slick. If that’s your thing though, that’s okay 🙂
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