Can This Trick Turn Your Morning Coffee into Brain Fuel?

I’ve been hearing about “Bulletproof Coffee” for a few years now, including from a physician friend of mine who specializes in optimizing performance. Despite that, I must admit it did not sound appealing. Basically, the idea is that instead of a solid breakfast, you have high-quality organic coffee with butter and coconut oil mixed in. Sounds kind of gross, right?

The first time I tried it, it just made my coffee slimy and tasteless. However, a friend of mine came to visit and wanted to try it. She added sugar and mixed it in the blender. That was much better – the oils and butter emulsify in the blender and make it into a nice foamy treat that truly is similar to a latte.

However, my doctor friend told me (over a year ago) that the goal was to keep your body burning fat for fuel by only having fat for breakfast. He said that your body burns fat overnight, but as soon as you have a carbohydrate or protein, it switches away from fat-burning. As your brain is primarily fat, he explained that when your body is burning fat for fuel, it’s actually feeding the brain with its preferred fuel source (fat). This makes me think that adding a sweetener might be sabotaging the whole point.

To be clear, I am not a doctor and I can’t verify the science on this, because it gets completely mixed reviews. Some sources say the science is legitimate, while others call it pseudoscience. Most of what people talk about regarding bulletproof coffee is that it’s supposed to help you burn more fat, but frankly, I just want my brain to work quickly again. I have been super-tired lately (having a 7-month old son who’s going through a sleep-regression is really taking its toll) so I’ve been trying it (taste-testing, playing with recipes, etc.) for the past month to see if it made a difference in my daily life. Here’s the full  scoop (in a daily diary-type format) so you can get a sense of what it was like for me.

Day One:

Well, it still tastes gross, so I added some half and half. I don’t normally put sugar in my coffee, but I do use half and half, so I needed something. I also made it with espresso (since I normally have a homemade cappuccino in the mornings), but it was so strong, I added some hot water to make it more of an Americano.

I’m pulling out the coffee maker and descaling it for tomorrow. Maybe that will taste better. If not I’ll add a small dollop of heavy cream, since that’s pure fat without carbs or protein. I also ordered some of the Bulletproof “Brain Octane” oil, which is supposed to have the brain-boosting benefits of coconut oil without the flavor. I’ll let you know how it goes when I get that.

With a little half and half added it definitely tasted better, and I do feel much more energized than I do most days lately. (I got up several hours earlier than I wanted to since it was my turn to get up with the baby, so that is saying something.) The big question is: how long will this last?

Day Two

It’s official. I do NOT like the taste of coconut in my coffee. I’ll pause my experiment and recommence when my “Brain Octane” oil is delivered and I find a recipe I like.

Okay folks, I’m back. Here’s what I’ve learned over the two weeks it took to get my “Brain Octane” oil delivered.

  1. Heavy cream gives too slimy a mouth-feel, so I can’t get it down. I’m not afraid of good-quality dietary fats (if you follow the latest nutrition research, you won’t be either), but you can’t take my morning coffee and turn it against my taste buds.
  2. Make sure you don’t cook your coconut oil. To blend it all together I was using a milk frother that also heats the liquid, which made it taste like slightly-burned toast. Not good.
  3. This “holistic nutritionist” (whose credentials annoyingly aren’t listed on her site) says bulletproof coffee isn’t good for women’s hormones (which definitely affect our brainpower), but she has some delicious recipes that add in some protein and (very few) carbs that supposedly take away the desperate hunger cravings people report from drinking bulletproof coffee the way it was originally intended. This is my favorite so far, but I don’t add stevia because it’s too bitter for me.
  4. While I have subsisted very nicely many, many mornings with only a homemade breve cappuccino for breakfast (2 shots espresso, 4 oz half and half, dusting of cinnamon), bulletproof coffee did make me hungrier. So the mornings I had “true” bulletproof coffee, I added a “fat ball” to my breakfast (sort of following the recommendations from #3, adding a bit of protein and carbs), and that kept me satiated for hours.

Now that we’ve got all those tips out of the way, let’s continue with the experiment, shall we?

Oh, and this “Brain Octane” oil is Bulletproof’s version of MCT (medium-chain triglyceride) oil. You can read up on that here, if you like.

Day Three

I’m starting with 1 tsp of the “Brain Octane” oil, (since I’ve been told it’s much easier on your body to do it that way) plus 1 tablespoon butter. I still don’t like the taste, so I added in some half and half. It’s relatively low-carb (5 grams in 4 ounces) and makes it drinkable, so that’s the compromise I’m willing to make. I also ate one of my peanut butter “fat balls” mentioned above. It took me about 2 hours to finish this “breakfast” and I’m still feeling a bit tired. I did play hooky yesterday and go to the beach though, so maybe it’s all the sun exposure….

Five hours later, I’m ready for another coffee. Just a normal one this time, but I am feeling tired, and I know it’s not a slump from lunch because I had a good salad with plenty of protein (high carbs put me to sleep). I am getting good work done, but my focus is not as good as I’d like it to be.

Day Four

I can’t do it. I can’t turn my morning coffee into a chore – I enjoy it way too much for that. I tried a few recipe variations and it’s no good, so here’s my compromise. My normal, breve cappuccino with 1 teaspoon “Brain Octane” oil blended into the espresso. That tastes good.

After several hours, I feel no different than normal. If the benefit is in the MCT oil, maybe it needs you to work up to the full dose? I did have a second cappuccino with an additional half-teaspoon of MCT oil, so I’ve had a half dose today, but I don’t notice a difference. Maybe tomorrow….

Day Five

I skipped a few days of writing to get me up to the full 1-tablespoon dose of the MCT oil, in case that made a difference. Today was my first day of the full dose, so wish me luck. At the half dose and the two-thirds dose, I don’t think there was a huge difference, but I have been noticing a funny feeling in my brain lately. It’s sort of like tiny bubbles of clarity coming out a haze, so that’s interesting. Update: it wasn’t a workday, so I forgot to finish tracking my brain over the day. I was quite productive around the house though.

Day Six

I’ve been getting what seem to be caffeine withdrawal headaches lately, which I never used to get (i.e. you wake up with a headache and it goes away after consuming caffeine). I’m not sure if this has anything to do with my new coffee habits or my enduring sleep-deprivation. In any case, I downed this morning’s breve cappuccino (with 1 tablespoon MCT oil) in about 20 minutes after sleeping in an hour later than normal. Time for a second cuppa (sans MCT oil).

Update: It’s a few hours later and I still have a slight headache; it may not be caffeine-related at all.

It might be worth noting that I’ve been using “Longevity Coffee” as my coffee brand on and off before this. It’s not supposed to give you caffeine headaches, and is supposed to be lower acid than other coffees. Since I was writing this column, I decided to try the Bulletproof brand coffee (same type of claims, except doesn’t mention the pH). The Longevity coffee was lower acid, but it was a pH 5 instead of Bulletproof’s 4 (from my own home testing). In case you don’t remember your high school chemistry, 7 is neutral, anything below that is acidic, anything above that is alkaline. The Standard American Diet (SAD) is highly acidic, so increasing alkaline foods (like dark, leafy greens) has been linked to many health benefits and said to slow aging.

I’d ordered several packages of Longevity coffee before my pregnancy (I couldn’t stomach coffee while I was pregnant, so this had been stored in my freezer for over a year. It’s possible that lowered the pH, or it’s possible that when they say it has a pH of 7.2 they means the beans themselves, not the coffee when it’s consumed (though that would be sneaky advertising). They both seem fine, but I prefer organics, so I’ll probably end up reordering the Longevity coffee. I don’t see any reason to wait two weeks for the nonorganic Bulletproof brand. This website compares the two, but they sell Longevity Coffee, so it may be biased.

Update: My hubby shared with me an article from Mark Sisson’s website that you don’t need to buy organic coffee because the roasting process burns off 99.8% of the pesticides. Surprise!

I will say that today, at the end of my workday, I feel good about what I’ve accomplished. I did end up taking a painkiller for my headache (which I now know wasn’t caffeine-related), but even despite that, I felt focused and got a lot done.

Day Seven

I’m fired up! It feels like a good day, despite having woken up early with the baby. I am energized, and feel like the day is going well. No brain fog today at all. Hm. Interesting. Maybe it’s a cumulative effect?

My Conclusion

Since I paused this experiment a few times (to wait for my supplies to arrive, to find a recipe that was drinkable, and to give me time to adjust to the full dose of “Brain Octane” oil), my “week” has actually been 21 days. Overall, I feel more focused and alert than I did before, but I can’t decide if that’s because of my new coffee drinks, increasing my dietary fats, or my concerted effort to get more sleep (quantity and quality).

I had really hoped to be able to give you a nice, solid yes or no, along with some amazing bonus effect such as my energy level being more consistent, my hair being bouncier and shinier, my house magically being cleaner, etc., but no such luck. I do think it’s making a difference, but I’m not 100% sure; just another case where it appears there is no magic (or proven scientific) solution.

What I can say definitively is that I think it’s helped enough for me to keep going as I have been. If I were to give any advice to people considering adding some version of bulletproof coffee, I’d say this: it hasn’t hurt, and it may be helping me. Three weeks is not very long over the course of one’s work-life, so even if it takes a month to figure it out, if it does help, that time frame seems to be worth it. There is lots of research available on how good-quality dietary fats benefit our brains, so I believe it’s a worthwhile personal experiment to try yourself, if you’re inclined to and it doesn’t oppose any advice your doctors have given you (such as “avoid caffeine”). In any case, I’m not planning to give up my MCT oil (or coffee) anytime soon.

UPDATE: After another week of using the Brain Octane Oil in my morning coffee at the full dose (1 tbsp), I can say it is definitely helping. The comparison between how foggy my brain felt a month ago and how I feel today is frankly, shocking. A month ago, at my worst times, I would space out mid-sentence and take 3-4 hours to get my brain working in the mornings. Now, I feel like I’m back almost to my pre-pregnancy brainpower, and let me tell you— it feels AMAZING!!!

My go-to recipe these days: coffee or espresso plus organic half and half (grass-fed non-homogenized if possible) and 1 tbsp brain octane oil. Works wonders. :)

 

P.s. I was NOT in any way compensated by Bulletproof or any other brands listed above – I just wanted to share my own experiment for any of you who are looking to increase your productivity and efficiency too.

About the author

America's Mojo Maven, Ariana Ayu, is an entrepreneur, author, interpersonal expert, Registered Nurse, and business and brand strategist, Ariana is the CEO and creatrix of several companies including Ayutopia International, LLC, which develops profitable and collaborative corporate cultures, personal celebrity brands, and custom branded websites. Ariana is the author of the column: Business Mojo on Inc.com.

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