Is Bulletproof Coffee a Bad Idea?

Bulletproof coffee — a type of keto drink focusing on fats rather than carbs — is a fad that mixes coffee, grass-fed cow butter and medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) oil into one beverage. But bulletproof coffee side effects may outweigh its health benefits.

Bulletproof coffee’s high saturated fat count due to butter and medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) is enough to spell concerns for heart and overall health.
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Bulletproof coffee’s high saturated fat count due to butter and MCTs is enough to spell concerns for heart and overall health. Not much scientific evidence exists to support the beverage’s claim for health benefits.

What Is Bulletproof Coffee?

Bulletproof coffee originated when entrepreneur Dave Asprey returned from a trip to Nepal, where he drank tea with yak butter while meditating, according to the American Council on Science and Health. Asprey wanted to create something similar, and he came up with what he called the bulletproof coffee recipe — something that had a kick of caffeine along with a dose of fat.

Bulletproof coffee ingredients include a mix of coffee, butter and MCT oil (or coconut oil). It typically has the taste and look of an oily latte. The idea was that coffee or tea mixed with some form of fat or oil could provide you with a dose of energy, boost your mental focus and even help with weight loss by tipping your body into a state of ketosis.

The fad quickly caught on, and now bulletproof coffees can be found in the form of supplements and various products, both online and in stores, and you can even make your own. As long as it's a cup of coffee or tea with some form of fat in it, like heavy cream or coconut oil, it's considered a bulletproof coffee recipe.

With its claims for enhancing cognition, digestive health and weight loss, bulletproof coffee has grown into a multi-million-dollar industry that harps on keto communities or people aiming for low-carb diets. But what does the science really say about these health claims, and bulletproof coffee side effects?

Read more: Is Coffee Good to Drink While Dieting?

Bulletproof Coffee Side Effects

Regular black coffee has some health benefits, like reducing the risk of Type 2 diabetes, assisting in weight loss and improving cognitive health. But the claims made about bulletproof coffee — such as being good for digestion, mental clarity and weight loss — are still unconfirmed. Here's a breakdown on the science behind the bulletproof coffee recipe for the keto diet.

The ketogenic diet focuses on consuming high levels of fat and protein, and little to no carbohydrates. The idea is to push your body into a state of ketosis, which is supposed to help you burn fat and lose weight faster. The idea behind bulletproof coffee ingredients, butter and other fats, are to boost your body into a state of ketosis.

According to Mayo Clinic, there's some evidence that the keto diet might protect brain health, reduce epileptic seizures and balance blood sugar among people with diabetes. However, there's still much to explore when it comes to the keto diet and its potential health benefits.

The University of California San Francisco notes that many claims about the keto diet's benefits, like cognitive boosts or improved kidney health, are still lacking real data. And some of the research that does show benefits, like the keto diet's role in reducing brain inflammation or increasing lifespan, have only been shown in mice.

It's not the coffee in bulletproof coffee that may pose problems; it's the high saturated fat content in the form of butters and oils. As many bulletproof coffee recipes require up to 2 tablespoons or more of butter and two tablespoons of MCT oil, you could be drinking up to 43 grams of saturated fat in one sitting.

You should be consuming far less than 43 grams of saturated fat per day. The American Heart Association recommends taking in only 13 grams of saturated fat per day, ideally less than that. Over the long term, bulletproof coffee side effects could take a toll on your cardiovascular system.

That's because saturated fat has been linked to heart issues like high cholesterol and cardiovascular disease. One June 2017 study published in Circulation found that people who removed saturated fat from their diets and substituted polyunsaturated vegetable oil instead lowered their risk of cardiovascular disease by 30 percent.

In short, fewer saturated fats and more healthy fats like monounsaturated fats help your heart health. Monounsaturated fats can reduce bad cholesterol and bring nutrients to you cells. Saturated fats, meanwhile, can cause bad cholesterol buildup and weight gain.

MCTs are one of the main bulletproof coffee ingredients. They're made from vegetable oils to form triacylglycerols and can be found in coconut oil or palm kernel oil. Some research has shown that MCTs could help manage weight, according to a February 2015 meta-analysis published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, though more research is needed to solidify that link.

Because MCTs are essentially a glycerol molecule made up of three fatty acid chains, with six to 12 carbons involved, it's easily digested and absorbed into the bloodstream, according to a February 2017 study published in Practical Gastroenterology.

Because of this, MCTs have been explored as potential tools to help people with gastrointestinal disorders. Their quick access to the liver and use for energy also makes them possibly beneficial for losing fat and maintaining satiety.

Coconut oil, for example, contains a lot of MCTs. It's also high in saturated fats — about 80 to 90 percent of coconut oil is made up of saturated fats, according to Harvard Health Publishing. Harvard Health Publishing also notes that some of the health craze surrounding coconut oil may be a bit exaggerated, pointing out that many coconut oils in stores contain lauric acid in addition to MCTs.

Unlike MCTs, lauric acid takes longer to be metabolized by the body. This leaves many questions unanswered about whether coconut oil is truly healthier for you than other types of oil, like olive oil.

If you're going to try bulletproof coffee, you may want to stick to pure MCT oil rather than other types of butters or oils that may contain unwanted fats. And the key is to always drink it in moderation; a daily beverage packed with saturated fat may not be beneficial to your health long-term.

Read more: 9 Ways You're Doing Coffee All Wrong — and How to Get It Right

Healthiest Ways to Drink Coffee

There are still ways to enjoy coffee and boosts of energy without all the added saturated fats. Unlike bulletproof coffee, there is actually a mound of research and evidence that supports coffee's health benefits.

Drinking coffee has been associated with improved heart health, and it may even lower overall mortality, Mayo Clinic states. But that's not all: Coffee may even protect brain health. An October 2018 study published in Frontiers in Neuroscience concluded that various compounds found in coffee contributed to neuroprotection, potentially even reducing the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease or Parkinson's disease.

The healthiest way to drink coffee is to drink it black, without any added sugars or creams, as it contains no fat and virtually no calories. However, if you want to avoid the biting acidity of black coffee, you can add any type of milk — like milk, almond milk, fat-free milk or coconut milk — into your coffee for a tasty and healthy cup of joe. This way, you can enjoy a creamier cup of coffee without all the saturated fats in bulletproof coffee.

Finally, choose your well-balanced diet outside of coffee wisely. If the ketogenic diet works for you, then you can find your energy through healthy fats like avocados and proteins like lean, organic meats. But you can also try one of the most effective and scientifically backed diets out there: the Mediterranean diet.

The Mediterranean diet focuses on lean meats, fresh seafood, fruits, vegetables and legumes, as well as heart-healthy fats like olive oil and avocado. It's one of the few diets that has consistently been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, improve cognitive function, lower inflammation and other health benefits. If you're consuming it along with a healthy, balanced diet, a daily cup of coffee certainly can't hurt.

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