The Cult of the Bulletproof Coffee Diet


When Jimmy Fallon handed the actress Shailene Woodley a mug of coffee blended with butter on “The Tonight Show” in October, she didn’t recoil. Instead she raved to the audience about the cup of saturated fat:

“It will change your life!”

“It’s the most delicious thing ever,” Mr. Fallon said. “But it’s actually good for you. It’s good for your brain.”

It seems these days everyone is a coffee evangelist, but there are perhaps no proselytizers more fervent than those of Bulletproof coffee, a creation of the technology entrepreneur and biohacker Dave Asprey.

The recipe — a riff on the yak butter tea Mr. Asprey found restorative while hiking in Tibet — calls for low-mold coffee beans; at least two tablespoons of unsalted butter (grass-fed, which is higher in Omega 3s and vitamins); and one to two tablespoons of medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) oil, a type of easily digestible fat. Mr. Asprey claims having the 450-plus-calorie cup of coffee instead of breakfast suppresses hunger, promotes weight loss and provides mental clarity.

“It’s a gateway drug for taking control of your own biology,” said the well-caffeinated Mr. Asprey. Consider the strength of the addiction: At a three-day Bulletproof conference in Pasadena, Calif., in September, 200 pounds of Kerrygold butter wasn’t enough for the 500 attendees. There was also a run on unsalted grass-fed butter at the nearest Whole Foods.

Joan Salge Blake, a clinical associate professor of nutrition at Boston University, was skeptical, because it’s carbohydrates, absent from the drink, that are brain food.

“This is not a breakfast of champions,” she said.

Ms. Blake put the drink in the pantheon of marketing triumphs, comparing it to the old grapefruit diet, which didn’t magically melt pounds for good, but did lead to increased consumption of grapefruit. “The No. 1 driver of food choices among consumers is taste,” she said. “If individuals continue to enjoy the taste of their coffee prepared this way, they will continue to consume it. Whether it has long-term effects on weight management remains to be seen.”

Mr. Asprey first posted the recipe on his website in 2009 (the name “Bulletproof,” he says, was a gift from his neighbor on a Virgin Atlantic Upper Class flight from London to San Francisco) and soon began selling creatively titled ingredients like Brain Octane (his own MCT oil) and Upgraded Coffee, his low-mold beans (toxins from mold are “performance-robbing,” he said, and also make coffee taste bitter.)

Most recently, he added Unfair Advantage, which he asserts is one of the few supplements that helps you grow new mitochondria (“feel like you’re flipping on a switch of clean-burning energy.”) Supplements don’t require clearance by the Food and Drug Administration, and Mr. Asprey’s website contains the usual disclaimer that his statements have not been evaluated by the agency.

His company, called the Bulletproof Executive, now has a staff of 20. Some seven million people have downloaded Mr. Asprey’s podcast, and his first stand-alone shop and cafe will open in the first quarter of 2015 in Los Angeles, perhaps the citadel of Bulletproof. And Mr. Asprey’s “The Bulletproof Diet: Lose up to a Pound a Day, Reclaim Energy and Focus, Upgrade Your Life,” is being published next week. It’s a lot like the Paleolithic diet, which eschews grains and dairy, but includes even more — and according to Mr. Asprey, more beneficial — fat.

Not one to let a marketing opportunity slip by, the book was finished with five all-nighters in a row fueled by a social-media-documented tsunami of Bulletproof products, including Mr. Asprey’s “smart drugs,” as he calls Unfair Advantage, red lights on his head (“boosts mitochondrial function,” he says), and of course, Bulletproof coffee.

“The information just poured out of me,” he said in an interview. “I would go into this high performance state and I would just sort of come out of it hours later with tens of thousands of words completed.”

According to the company, Bulletproof is also popular in the San Francisco Bay Area, New York, Seattle — and Milwaukee, which Mr. Asprey suggested was because of the popularity of mixed martial arts there, where any tiny edge in performance counts.

It helps that the drink has high-profile fans in Hollywood, Silicon Valley (one Twitter executive is lobbying to get the company chef to stock Bulletproof products) and sports (the Los Angeles Lakers), all of whom have personally won converts. The music producer Rick Rubin said he introduced the drink to the British singer Ed Sheeran, who promptly enthused about it on the Grammys red carpet.

Fans insist the beverage tastes like an amazingly creamy latte, though Mr. Rubin was more exclamatory: “like crisp toasted rye bread slathered with lots of butter blended in hot coffee,” he wrote in an email. “A wild classic-tasting breakfast in a cup.” For best results, the chef Seamus Mullen, another enthusiast, advised a hand blender instead of an electric one, because the electric blade heats up the oil, denaturing it and changing the taste. And start small with the MCT oil, which used to be given to hospital patients lacking enzymes to digest fat. “It can wreck your digestive tract,” Mr. Mullen said.

Being Bulletproof means never traveling light. After a MacGyver attempt to make coffee in a Chicago hotel room, Brandon Routh, who plays the superhero The Atom on the CW show “Arrow,” now carries ground beans, containers of clarified butter, a silicone squeeze bottle of MCT oil, plus a hand blender and Aeropress filter.

“My energy levels are through the roof compared to what they used to be,” said Mr. Routh, who learned of the drink at a bachelor party, of all places. He added: “My lines just kind of sink in and they’re there when I need them.”

Dr. Frank Lipman, an integrative doctor, recommends Bulletproof coffee to clients (who include the actress Gwyneth Paltrow) for “mind clarity and a bit of pep,” but cautioned that the drink is not nutritious because it lacks much protein and a variety of vitamins or minerals.

On “Good Morning America” last summer, Los Angeles coffee shop denizens gave the drink a thumbs up, but back in the studio, the anchors were dubious.

“I want to, but I’m looking down at it,” George Stephanopoulos said, grimacing as he peered into his mug. Ginger Zee decided it looked like chicken noodle soup.

In an interview, Mr. Asprey blamed the use of the company’s coffee service (“people in the building tell me it’s the worst coffee ever”), the wrong butter, no MCT oil and a failure to blend for the lack of enthusiasm. “I imagine some poor TV producer putting a stick of butter in a cup of coffee and stirring it around using the stick as the butter,” he said. “They basically drank bad butter oil slick on top of bad coffee. Of course they didn’t like it.”

Said “Good Morning America’s” Lara Spencer, “If I want butter, it’s in a baked potato.”



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