How do you take your coffee? Cream, sugar? How about butter? Bulletproof coffee, a beverage of brewed coffee blended with grass-fed butter and coconut oil, has been popular among alternative dieters and so-called life-hackers for several years. Dave Asprey, who trademarked the term, founded his company, Bulletproof, in 2010 – but only recently has it become a full-blown health trend.
Thanks to endorsements from athletes and celebrities like Shailene Woodley (who also does oil-pulling and lives out of one suitcase), the breakfast alternative has found itself in kitchens across America. But how did butter and coffee, of all things, get billed as health food?
Putting butter in your coffee, strange as it may sound, is nothing new. For centuries, the people of Tibet have been blending nak butter (FYI: “yak” refers to males of the species) with black tea to create a fatty, calorie-loaded drink for all-day energy. Often mixed with tsampa, a buckwheat flour mixture, to create a dumping or porridge, butter tea (which goes by at least six different names in the multilingual country), is a staple of the Tibetan diet. Tsampa, like butter tea, has found its way to the U.S. – you can get the buckwheat concoction at Red Bread Café with yogurt and fresh strawberries (it's pretty tasty, in case you were wondering).
Dave Asprey, whose Bulletproof lifestyle brand comes off as borderline cultish, says he invented the mixture of coffee and butter after a life-changing trip to Tibet. He now sells, among other “health” products, “upgraded” coffee beans and a “brain octane” (he claims to have upped his own IQ by 20 points).
Most people, though, seem to brew the stuff themselves with pantry ingredients – coffee, a tablespoon of butter and a spoonful of coconut oil. Serious fans say grass-fed butter is a must, claiming that it's more nutrient-dense than conventional butter. Evidence of this is scant, but who cares, if it gets more cows on pasture?
Descriptions of bulletproof coffee read like those for any other fad diet: Swap out “bulletproof coffee” for “green juice” and you get the picture. Drinking a blenderfull of the stuff every morning (in lieu of breakfast) will apparently keep you alert throughout the day, jumpstart your metabolism, help you lose weight, lower your cholesterol, and basically turn you into a better human being.
The way it works: The caffeine from brewed coffee (80-145 milligrams) provides instant energy in the morning, as any coffee-drinker will confirm. Butter and coconut oil provide the fat that your body will slowly metabolize, so you can maintain constant energy throughout the morning. Combining two different kinds of fats is a good idea too. Butter, a long-chain triglyceride, is metabolized very slowly, whereas coconut oil, a medium-chain triglyceride, will turn into energy a little faster. So there you have it: three different levels of energy to keep your body fueled until lunchtime.
Much ink has been spilled over the unfair demonization of fat, which can actually be quite healthy. A morning meal of bulletproof coffee versus just coffee is bound to be much more nutritionally sound (and definitely better for you than a bowl of Cocoa Puffs). But there's no reason bulletproof coffee would be any more beneficial than toast with bacon and eggs.
The value, then, seems to lie not just in fueling up for the morning, but in one-upping the idea of breakfast altogether. Bulletproof coffee drinkers are looking for “enhanced performance” and efficiency. They want something better than what a normal breakfast can provide, and they're finding it in a weird place.
If you're looking to “upgrade” your mornings, go ahead and give bulletproof coffee a try. It might give you a boost of energy without the huge crash. Just don't join the cult – butter in coffee is basic nutrition, not a health miracle.
Editor's note: This piece has been changed since initial publication to correct a misspelling of Dave Asprey's last name. We regret the error.