(Diet Review) The Bulletproof Diet: Long on Fat, Short on Proof
This diet review, as with all of my diet reviews, is an opinion piece.
There’s no lack of kooky diets developed by doctors and ‘health gurus’, but sometimes a person with absolutely zero nutrition credentials takes it upon themselves to grace us with an ‘innovative’ diet that catches on like wildfire.
It goes against all common sense that non-evidence based diets from completely unqualified people would go viral, but hey – there’s not a lot of common sense at play here.
There’s always the exact same formula among these sorts of diets:
- The person who develops the diet is charismatic and good looking.
- They always have a compelling story, usually something along the lines of ‘I almost died from being so overweight and unhealthy, and then I changed my eating habits to this diet and now I’m like the healthiest person alive! Look at me!’
- They always belittle and oversimplify their audience’s situation to make them feel shitty and convince them to do the diet. It’s usually along the lines of, ‘if you’re overweight and unhealthy LIKE I WAS, and you feel TOTALLY HORRIBLE from all the shitty food you’re constantly eating, PICK YOUR SORRY ASS UP and try this LIFE-CHANGING diet!!’
- That’s another thing: their promises are always ‘life-changing’. You’re gonna be a different person with the best life ever after you do this diet plan!
- There’s usually a crazy unrealistic weight-loss promise.
- They always say that their diet is evidence-based, but the research is complete crap (but looks legit to the layperson who doesn’t know any better).
- They usually have something to sell alongside their book; typically supplements or food products. Because books themselves don’t make you money, product$ do.
Does all of this sound familiar? Today I’m writing a review of the Bulletproof diet, which happens to check all of the boxes above. It’s a real doozie, and I mean that in the worst possible way.
What is Bulletproof?
The Bulletproof company was founded in 2013 by a guy named Dave Asprey, a businessman and ‘biohacker’ (more on that later). True to form, he was totally unhealthy before he started melting butter into his coffee, at which point he experienced a life-changing transformation. He claims that his IQ even went up by 20 points, wow! Too bad that wasn’t enough for him to be able to interpret research properly! But I digress.
Along with gaining those 20 IQ points, Asprey claims to have lost 100 pounds of fat, eliminated the signs of six chronic diseases (?), and increased his energy and productivity.
I’m sort of wondering what his diet consisted of before he began his Bulletproof eating habits – that would be an interesting point of comparison, amirite?
Even the thought of greasy coffee wasn’t enough to deter followers when this diet first emerged. Since then, its become an empire, with an actual diet and tons of product$. A little intermittent fasting combined with high-fat, moderate-protein, and low-carbs is the diet’s main idea, with, of course, butter coffee for breakfast and a ton of food restrictions for dubious reasons.
There are 10 rules in the Bulletproof diet, many of them being along the lines of ‘cut X food out forever because it’s toxic’. Here they are:
- Eliminate sugar – even ‘natural’ sugars like honey and maple syrup.
- Replace sugar with healthy fats. These include grass fed butter and of course, one of Asprey’s Bulletproof branded fat$$ that you can purchase on the site.
- Switch to grass fed meat and wild caught seafood, because they’re ‘clean’. This is definitely not a diet for vegetarians or low-income earners, not that Asprey cares, since those people don’t earn him money anyhow.
- Remove grains and gluten (and insert eyeroll here), because gluten has ‘many negative effects’.
- Eliminate all synthetic additives, colorings, and flavorings.
- Eliminate legumes unless they’re sprouted (and, says Asprey, that’s if you MUST have them, you weak person you)
- Remove all processed, homogenized, and pasteurized dairy. Except, of course, for full-fat raw dairy (oh hey, listeria, how’s it going), grassfed butter, and I’m assuming, milk consumed directly from an organically-grown pastured unicorn’s udder. Cough.
- Switch to organic fruits and vegetables. Because conventionally grown ones must be POISON…not that the average person eats enough of them anyhow.
- Cook your food gently, at or under 320F. Don’t use microwaves or fry your food. Adjust your tinfoil hat now.
- Limit fruit consumption to 1-2 servings per day. Choose low-sugar fruits like berries and lemons…because you don’t need that tooth enamel anyhow.
- Bonus tip: Enjoy your food. (Right)
The Bulletproof diet:
For the uninitiated, Bulletproof has a handy chart listing all of the food groups and showing where individual foods lie on a spectrum from ‘Bulletproof’ to ‘Suspect’ to ‘Toxic’. This chart is basically the crux of the diet – eat more ‘Bulletproof’ foods to be more ‘Bulletproof’, and time your food according to Bulletproof’s rules (depending on which ‘level’ you do).
The chart and food groupings smack of the same bullshit fear mongering as many other diets, and have the same brand of nonsensical, unscientific reasoning for each food’s classification. For example, why would you ignore the solid research about the benefits of olive oil and advise people that it’s ‘suspect’, while recommending coconut oil (and Bulletproof’s own fat brands, of cour$e)? How can watermelon be more ‘Bulletproof’ than its ‘suspect’ cousin, cantaloupe? Why would any canned vegetables be ‘toxic’, but colostrum be ‘Bulletproof’? Yes, you read that right. COLOSTRUM (FYI no benefit has been found to consuming it outside of infancy). The chart is reportedly based on the foods’ level of ‘inflammation’, but much of it appears to be based on a figment of Asprey’s imagination, not reality.
The use of the words ‘suspect’ and ‘toxic’ to describe food is not only wrong, it’s just obnoxious; especially coming from someone who has absolutely no relevant nutrition credentials. The foods that the diet cuts out – legumes, dairy, grains and gluten – for example – have zero zero zero zero evidence behind healthy people eliminating them. They’re the usual suspects that ‘alternative’ practitioners eliminate from peoples’ diets for being ‘inflammatory’, but this is unproven and ridiculous and it makes many very-qualified dietitians like myself roll their eyes in exasperation. In fact, just so you know, dairy may be anti-inflammatory for healthy people, the lectins in cooked legumes are harmless, and removing gluten from your diet ‘just because it’s inflammatory’ isn’t warranted.
In exchange for eliminating perfectly acceptable, healthy foods, Bulletproof stuffs you full of saturated fat, which may still be unhealthy in large amounts. In smaller amounts it appears to be fine (more so than we previously thought), but regardless, eating a diet that’s 70% fat is tough to maintain and cuts out a load of healthy stuff.
Asprey’s gluten-phobic physician associate (another thing about this sort of diet: there are always affiliated ‘healthcare professionals’ and doctors who are notorious for spouting total BS despite their credentials..Bulletproof also works with a doctor who was taken to court for recommending a ketogenic diet for an infant) also recommends that you get an ALCAT test to determine your ‘food sensitivities’ (insert dietitian eyeroll here). It’s important to note here that the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, plus the corresponding academies in Europe, South Africa, Australasia, UK, and Singapore all denounce the ALCAT and/or ALCAT-type IgG ‘sensitivity’ tests as irrelevant and unproven as diagnostic tools. It’s an expensive test that determines nothing, and reputable professionals should know this. Note that I use the word ‘reputable’.
There are a few levels of the Bulletproof diet, allowing followers to be as ‘Bulletproof’ as they choose to be.
The basic Bulletproof diet consists of 50-70% fat, 20% protein, and 5% starch/fruit – which should only be eaten in the afternoon/evening ‘to avoid high triglycerides’. Why that timing would affect triglycerides, I have zero clues.
The second level of Bulletproof is Intermittent Fasting for Fat Loss and Focus.
This level is labelled as a ‘biohack’, which is essentially ‘trying be the absolute best version of ourselves.’ Asprey says, ‘The main thing that separates a biohacker from the rest of the self-improvement world is a systems-thinking approach to our own biology.’ Meaning, being obsessive about your body’s processes to the detriment of living mindfully and actually listening to your body.
This level starts each day with a cup of Asprey’s ‘low-toxin’ Bulletproof coffee, then nothing until lunch, when it basically follows the typical 70-25-5 or so ratio.
The third level of Bulletproof is an ‘occasional’ (although suggested 1-2x week, which I think is fairly frequent) Protein Fast, based on the biggest pile of *ahem* malarkey ever imagined. The diet says:
‘About 1-2 times a week, limit your protein to 15-20g to help cleanse your inner-cells without muscle loss.’
This is the PERFECT example of how these sort of diets suck the layperson in to believing that the diet protocol is based in science. I mean, ‘inner-cells’ sounds all science-y and stuff, and most people wouldn’t want to question matters of cell biology because the topic is intimidating.
Having studied cell biology myself, I can reassure all of you that ‘inner-cells’ is not really a thing, and cells have their own ‘cleansers’ or, if you will, ‘garbage disposals’. They’re called proteasomes, and they work all by themselves regardless of what amount of protein you consume. Isn’t science fun? Yay!
Needless to say, a ‘protein fast’ is biologically worthless.
A diet like Bulletproof wouldn’t be the same without an online store full of product$$ that you can purchase aka waste your money on. Let’s take a look at some of their best selling products:
Where would this diet be without its ‘low-toxin’ coffee beans?
Regular coffee apparently contains ‘performance-robbing mycotoxins’ and Bulletproof lab-tests this ‘clean’ coffee so you can be sure that you aren’t buying moldy, toxic coffee like the rest of us. The funny thing is that mycotoxins aren’t only in coffee; they’re actually in a lot of foods, including dark chocolate, peanut butter….and breastmilk. There is no research at all that mycotoxins – especially in the low levels that we consume regularly – cause us to be ‘weak’ and ‘steal our energy’ like Asprey claims. If all the foods that the diet proclaims to be ‘toxic’ were actually toxic, we’d all be dead by now.
Essentially, these are MCTs – medium-chain triglycerides – derived from coconut oil. Some research seems to show minor fat loss when MCTs are consumed in place of other fats. Bulletproof claims that Brain Octane helps your body burn fat and supports cognitive performance, but a recent review of research studies doesn’t prove the fat burning claim at all (and no food burns fat). The cognitive performance studies he uses reportedly have been done on Alzheimer’s patients, which if true, renders them irrelevant. I can’t find any other studies that prove this claim. Bulletproof also claims that MCTs are anti-microbial, but the search for proof to this claim reveals only test tube studies – some from the 1950s. That’s ancient in study-land.
‘Fast Detoxing for Better Digestion & Supported Rejuvenation’ is the claim, which is ridiculous because charcoal doesn’t detox anything unless you’ve been legit poisoned. In fact, taking charcoal capsules at the very least can bind your essential medications (like birth control), making them ineffective; and at worst can kill you by causing an intestinal blockage. Just another totally useless product.
This is where things get either really complicated, or really, really easy – depending on how you look at it. Like many other fad diets, Bulletproof takes research and extrapolates it to suit the diet’s needs – like the Alzheimers study I mention above. I mean, just because MCTs appear to maybe work on Alzheimers patients, are they going to work on normal peoples’ cognitive function? Asprey and his team seem to cherrypick really small, really short, and really old studies, most done on rodents, to ‘prove’ his points. This is a common tactic because most laypeople don’t care, or don’t know enough about research to question the studies that the diet is based on. They see ‘research’ and that’s good enough for them. Really though, it’s not.
As someone who sees a lot of shitty nutrition research, I recommend that you familiarize yourself with research basics before you believe everything that someone with something to sell, tries to tell you about their product.
Believe it or not, there are some good points to Bulletproof. It encourages followers to eat less (or no) ultra-processed food; it also encourages the consumption of a large amount of vegetables.
My main issues with this diet, as usual, lie in the claims it makes and the sustainability/cost of the actual plan.
You can’t hack your entire life, your entire body, or nature, at least not to the level that Asprey will have you believe. There’s being healthy, and there’s being obsessive. Obsessive = not good. If you’re going to try Bulletproof, take your time and don’t believe the hype it’s based on. And always clear new diets with your doctor before you start them. Always.
A diet with 70% fat is not easy to maintain.
Not all research is equal. Consider the age of the study, methodology, number of subjects, and genus of them. Meaning, rats vs actual humans vs test tubes. That makes a difference. Big.
Just because someone is a doctor doesn’t mean they’re a reputable source of nutrition information. In fact, some of those docs are just as reputable as a person who has lost 150lb and now considers themselves to be a ‘weight loss expert’ or ‘lifestyle expert’. Just saying.
Classifying foods as ‘toxic’ and ‘suspect’ is obnoxious and a huge red flag alerting you to a questionable diet. Food is food. Along with those labels, Bulletproof has all the signs of a fad diet: crappy research, eliminating whole food groups, false claims, and products to sell. Sigh. Beware.