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Can Buttered Coffee Help You Lose Weight?
By Beth W. Orenstein

Would you like some butter with your coffee?

That sounds like a strange question. But after Silicon Valley investor and biohacker Dave Asprey realized during a trip to the Himalayas that Tibetan Yak Butter Tea made him feel “awesome” at high altitudes, he developed a coffee recipe containing butter that has become the latest health trend.

Asprey calls his popular recipe Bulletproof Coffee, which contains three ingredients: unsalted grass-fed butter, Brain Octane oil (extracted from coconut and palm kernels), and coffee made with mold-free, lab-tested beans. He named it Bulletproof because “bulletproof” is the state of high performance where you take control of and improve your biochemistry, he says. That’s what biohackers do.

High in Calories
Although Bulletproof Coffee may have as many as 460 calories per cup, Asprey says he shed 80 lbs when he made it his sole item for breakfast. “I did an experiment where I ate 4,000 calories per day on the Bulletproof Diet, which included Bulletproof Coffee with extra butter every day, and lost weight,” he says. “I felt so good during this experiment that I continued it for two years straight, and grew a six-pack during that time with little to no exercise.”

Asprey’s theory is that the fat content of his concoction not only turns off hunger cravings but also shifts the bacteria in your gut so you have more of the kind that’s found in thin people and less of the variety found in the obese.

Asprey says ideas about counting calories and eating low fat to lose weight are outdated. “You may be able to drop some temporary pounds and water weight,” he says, “but you’re going to cause thyroid issues, hormone problems, brain fog, and other symptoms, especially if you’re cutting calories for an extended period of time or combining it with excessive cardio exercise.” The body goes into famine mode, which can cause weight gain even if individuals don’t eat much, he says.

Is Saturated Fat Healthy?
Ideas about the evils of saturated fat also are outdated, Asprey says. “Saturated fat is a stable fat that your body needs to create proper cell membranes and hormones.” Those who still believe that saturated fat causes heart disease need to update their knowledge, he says.

However, dietitians aren’t buying it.

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, a Baltimore-based food and nutrition expert and author of Nutrition Diva’s Secrets for a Healthy Diet, believes there may be some validity to eating a high-fat breakfast. “It could act as an appetite suppressant and therefore cause you to eat less over the course of the day, which might help with weight loss,” she says. However, she doesn’t believe “there’s any metabolic magic here.”

Like Asprey, she doesn’t believe saturated fat is all bad. “But I also don’t think we need to or should eat saturated fat to the exclusion of other fats,” she says. While Reinagel doesn’t think the amount of saturated fat in a cup or two of Bulletproof Coffee is necessarily harmful, “I can certainly think of other ways that I’d rather enjoy my saturated fat quota,” she says.

Calories Do Count
Toby Smithson, RD, LDN, CDE, a Buffalo Grove, Illinois-based national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (the Academy), believes most people need to consume less saturated fat and fewer calories, not more. She can see how the caffeine in Bulletproof Coffee may give people more energy, but not how the coffee can help them lose weight. The opposite is more likely, she says. “For some, an extra 400 calories can cause weight gain.”

Smithson says a recent study that showed saturated fat doesn’t cause heart disease doesn’t apply here.1 The participants of the study didn’t consume saturated fat in their coffee. The saturated fat they ate came from other foods that held nutritional benefits, she says.1

In addition, Smithson says she would never advise her patients to start their day with Bulletproof Coffee. “Filling up on it may lead to their taking a pass on obtaining a healthful breakfast,” she says.

Skipping Breakfast Could Be Dangerous
Joy Dubost, PhD, RD, CSSD, an experienced food scientist in the Washington, D.C. metro area, and spokesperson for the Academy, has a similar concern. If drinking Bulletproof Coffee is a substitute for a healthful breakfast, she says, “one is at risk of receiving little to no essential nutrients (specific vitamins and minerals), no protein, and no fiber. In essence, it’s a missed opportunity to ensure nutrients are being delivered in a meal.”

Asprey says that you can have Bulletproof Coffee with breakfast foods as long as those foods don’t contain carbohydrates. “Having carbs in the morning sets you up for food cravings, and you’ll be reaching for that bagel at 10 AM,” he says. If you choose to opt out of breakfast, and only have Bulletproof Coffee, you’ll be doing Bulletproof Intermittent Fasting, which is what Asprey does most mornings, he notes.

Expect to hear lots more about this trend. Asprey’s book, The Bulletproof Diet, will be released December 2.

— Beth W. Orenstein is a freelance health writer based in Northampton, Pennsylvania.

1. Chowdhury R, Warnakula S, Kunutsor S, et al. Association of dietary, circulating, and supplement fatty acids with coronary risk: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Ann Intern Med. 2014;160(6):398-406.