Dodging the Bullet-Proof Coffee (May 23, 2017)
If you will kindly recall, last time here I was discussing how the kind of people who write diet books with words like “Modern Health Miracle” in the title have been ragging on fruit lately. Where people get off picking on fruit is still beyond me. You might as well start a war against puppies.
But it grabs your attention, doesn’t it? Here you are, innocently thinking that fruit is healthy, and suddenly there’s someone on Dr. Oz saying that it isn’t. And they say it's because of something you already know is bad – sugar! It all sounds plausible, if a bit weird.
What happens next is that you become disoriented. Something that you thought was a certain fact, suddenly is not. And, because of this, you end up hanging on the next words out of the mouth of the anti-fruit person, because your lizard brain is quite sure that they will save you. Those next words are invariably a sales pitch of some kind. See? You have just become the victim of a sort of intellectual Stockholm Syndrome.
If you don’t understand a subject thoroughly, but you don’t trust its authority figures because you feel they’ve let you down in the past, you are wide open to rational-sounding appeals from precisely the most untrustworthy types on said subject. That’s nowhere more true than it is with nutrition.
I am going to give you a bit of insider information right now. It is this – in the area of food and diet, secret facts do not exist. There is no nutritional equivalent of Deep Throat. What we know about nutrition stems from real research done by real scientists, and the state of knowledge on any particular aspect of nutrition at any point in time is well-known and accepted. No one knows anything that everyone else doesn’t.
So if you encounter someone loudly touting the latest and greatest cutting-edge nutritional Whatever, they are at best jumping the gun. Maybe the suggestion of something new has just been noticed, or possibly something else once thought to be true is starting to be questioned. But that’s all. Real progress in this area is incremental, and there's no use suddenly getting one's panties in a bunch about anything.
Such is the deal with Bulletproof Coffee, which I am using it today as a poster child to illustrate some aspects of nutritional hucksterism. If you drink it and like it, please do not violently unsubscribe without reading on for at least a bit.
The existence of this nutritional abomination was revealed to me by an alert reader (well, not THAT alert – it’s been around since at least 2014) in response to one of my “Fruit is NOT bad for you, for pete’s sake” newsletters. It is coffee made from SPECIAL (buy them only at the author's website) coffee beans with butter from grassfed cows plus a SPECIAL oil (available from only the author as well). You add up to two tablespoons each of the latter two to the brewed coffee. You blend it all up and drink it for breakfast and once you learn not to barf it right back up, it does magic for you all day long.
And here are three reasons why, in common with so many other food fads, it has gotten to be a Thing.
1) You bought the stuff, followed the recipe and made and drank it -- and you felt better! Or, you sneakily and guiltily used what you already had around the house which was similar, and still felt better! Or you know someone who knows someone who did. And felt better. Doesn’t that mean it’s a Real Thing?
No. Much more likely it means that it’s an improvement on what you were eating for breakfast before. I swear that three-quarters of the food fads or trends out there come from just that – the basic American diet is so lousy that even the most bizarre fad can be an improvement on it.
A cup of coffee with all that fat in it is going to give you an energy boost from the caffeine (our most underappreciated drug) and a feeling of satiety. Plus your blood sugar will stay pretty even for quite a while. That beats the heck out of the basic American breakfast, which is Pop Tarts or their equivalent, or maybe nothing at all.
There are worse starts to the day than bulletproof coffee. But that doesn’t mean that it’s a GOOD start. Just better than the Lucky Charms were, even if you did eat them with soy milk.
2) A good solid fad trades off information that you were sort of vaguely aware of already – in this case, that fat is no longer the demon that the nutritional press made it out to be for so long. So immediately it sounds plausible on the surface, and you are seduced. You feel like you’re keeping up with the latest science and doing something extra good for yourself at the same time.
3) Athletes tout it. They love it and swear by it. And you know how healthy athletes are.
Well, they aren’t. You want to see a mess, you look at someone who played football (or god forbid, boxed) professionally. Why? They pushed their bodies to the limit and beyond endlessly and did anything they could, legal or illegal, to win at whatever they were doing. What does that have to do with health? Nothing.
It is amazing how many health fads of recent years started with some athlete or another promoting it. Sometimes a fad will end up being a genuinely good thing. (I’m thinking of the George Foreman Grill here, which will not get you into any trouble at all.) But most of them are wild extrapolations from a smidgen of suggestive evidence that something might be of some benefit. The thing is, athletes will try anything to give them an advantage over their competitors. ANYTHING. That doesn’t mean that regular people should do it.
Athletes are like your basic mad scientist trying his messes out on himself. And you know what happens to THEM. They split into two men (one good one evil), or wind up with the head of a housefly, or they become invisible and have to wear bandages just so people can see them, or – well, you get my point. That is the same thing that athletes do.
You know that this is true. Any athlete, any time, would gladly swap heads with a housefly if it meant that he could humiliate a competitor or break a world record in something. We have to pass laws to keep these people from taking horrible drugs and destroying themselves in order to get just that little bit of extra edge. Those are not the kind of people you want to take health advice from.
Everything in nutrition has been said before. Sugar is great, then sugar is awful; fat is great, then fat is awful; meat is great, then meat is awful, then meat is great again. And so forth. No wonder people get confused. But there are just so many things that can be eaten, and each of them sometime in the last two hundred years has been the subject of some kind of a fad. And as well, has at least a little bit of science supporting it.
So please, don't be misled. Stick with conventional nutritional advice. You know the drill. Eat Real Food. Not Too Much. Mostly Plants.
And there we have it. Drink the bulletproof coffee, or not. Just be aware of what you're doing.
--dr. diane holmes
Copyright © 2017