Nutritionist: Is the Bulletproof Diet actually healthy?

Dave Asprey, founder of The Bulletproof Diet, would like to dispel the notation that, “Everything in moderation is the key to success when dieting.”

In fact, he believes nothing could be further from the truth. The Bulletproof Diet is based on the theory that harmful, “antinutrients”, or toxins, should be the major analytical tool when elevating dietary patterns and the nutritional value of foods. Foods that contain the least amount of antinutrients should be valued as the best for our health by decreasing hunger and increasing hormonal regulation. While foods that contain a small amount of antinutrients could be an okay choice for some individuals depending on tolerance. Further, true toxins, or in his words “kryptonite“, should be avoided at all cost.

During one of his podcasts, Asprey described a scenario that made this idea hit home. To paraphrase, science and the general population have widely accepted the notion that bacteria and viruses (that are invisible to the naked eye) can bring someone to their knees–or even their death bed. Traditional nutrition science, however, is more apt to write off the undetectable chemical or compound that is harming us as too small to make any real damage. In the Bulletproof paradigm, moderation has no value when it comes to kryptonite.

So what is kryptonite to Bulletproofers?

Here are the major classes and Asprey’s rational of why these should be avoided:

  1. Fructose: Found in fruits, honey, and high-fructose corn syrup. Reported to raise leptin (hormone causing satiety) resistance which increases food cravings and high triglyceride levels.
  2. Sugar: Reported to cause dopamine resistance which incurs decreased satiety from higher amounts of sugar (a.k.a. pleasure), alter insulin production over time that results in chronic fatigue and lack of focus, and promote fat storage.
  3. Processed Foods: Items such as chips, salad dressings or sauces, cookies, cereals. The argument is that processed foods all contain some sort of chemical alteration to the natural food component and does not metabolize efficiently in the body.
  4. GMO Ingredients: In Asprey’s words, “If you define processed as chemically altered, then GMOs are indeed as processed as any other Frankenfood.” GMOs are allegedly linked to immune and reproductive issues, and long-term studies are not available to prove/disprove their harmfulness.
  5. Vegetables Oils: Asprey categories fat is a much different way: chemically stable versus unstable (can be easily oxidized). Vegetable oils (for example, canola, corn, safflower, soybean, peanut) are considered inflammatory, not only, due to their oxidation capacity, but also, their high composition of omega-6 fatty acids.
  6. Grains: Wheat and gluten, in particular, are accused of acting as an opiate which promotes a cycle of food cravings. Gluten is also linked to chronic inflammation, gut dysfunction, decreased thyroid function, and malabsorption of vitamin D.

Ok, but what are the elements that make these bad for some people?

Asprey’s suspect list includes antinutrient-rich foods that MIGHT be tolerable for certain individuals, but act like kryptonite in others. These antinutrients come in the form of four chemical classes: lectins, phytates, oxalates, and mold.

Plant lectins come into contact with the gut by way of beans, nuts, grains, and some nightshade vegetables. Sensitivity with lectins varies from individual to individual. The major repercussion that occurs with lectin is a hormonal deficiency (leptin) that results in the body’s inability to receive the “I’m full” signal.

Phytates are a part of some plants’ immune systems, and attach themselves to harmful compounds, inhibiting their uptake. What seems like a good thing is actually harmful in humans, as it decreases mineral absorption and promotes gut disruption. Phytates are found is some whole grains, nuts, and seeds.

Oxalates are most known for their ability to form kidney stones. Oxalates are found in some traditional superfoods: kale, chard, and spinach. When oxalates come into contact with calcium in the body, crystals form and accumulate in less than desirable locations–resulting in muscle pain and weakness.

Finally: Mold. Mold is the most common antinutrient in the environment. It can be found in a variety of food crops, from corn, wheat, and wine. Mold toxicity in small, chronic doses can lead to lack of focus or even cardiomyopathy and brain damage. Asprey recommends that all of these antinutrients should to be tested in every individual’s own gut to determine if that person is sensitive.

Here is a further listing of Asprey’s suspect foods:

  1. Vegetables: Nightshades (artichokes, tomatoes, bell peppers, eggplant, cayenne peppers), green beans, garlic, beets, and peas
  2. Fats: extra virgin olive oil, palm and palm kernel oil, unheated nut oils, pastured bacon, grain-fed butter, pastured duck fat, pastured chicken fat
  3. Proteins: pastured poultry, pork, duck, factory-farmed eggs, whey protein isolate, sprouted legumes

My thoughts on this as a nutritionist

The Bulletproof creator has effectively helped to alter the paradigm of nutritional analysis. He has proven through valid and current research that there are elements in our food that are toxic to our bodies. And, for the most part, we are not paying attention to these.

For example, one patient in recent memory can into my office with advice for his kidney stones. I analyzed his diet and notice a very high consumption of almonds. Even though almonds are a great source of vitamin E, almonds also have one of the highest sources of oxalates. He did not want to stop eating them because he had been assured how HEALTHY they were for him. To him, the almond was determined “healthy” because of its concentration of “good stuff”. Thus, to him, it would have absolutely no “bad stuff”, perfectly illustrating that HEALTHY is relative to everyone.

The point that I would like to exaggerate is that all humans are composed differently. We cannot make a hard and fast rule that one thing is bad for all humans across the board. It is simply not that black and white. Secondly, I believe the bigger spotlight should be placed on body awareness. Knowing what feels good to your body and knowing what your body needs would be the best medicine. The caveat is that one must know where the possible problems may lay, and this is why I think Dave Asprey is completing ground breaking work.

Continue on to Part 2 of this series.

Mari-Chris Savage is a licensed and registered dietitian with years of experience in nutritional consultation and corporate wellness. As a nutrition specialist, Mari-Chris has consulted individuals on improving their current health status and focusing on preventative methods for a lifetime. Mari-Chris also holds a certification in personal training to promote physical activity guidance and motivation. Her background spurs an extremely active lifestyle filled with running, hiking, barre, and yoga classes. For more from Mari-Chris, check out the first part of this series: “What is the Bulletproof Diet?