Why is it then that over the last 30 years, butter has become a nutritional four letter word? Conventional wisdom will tell you that over time butter and other saturated fats clog arteries and will give you a heart attack. Well once again, the science tells a different story. So much so, that I thought it was important to clear up a few misnomers and show you the important benefits of incorporating real butter into your diet.
In 1910 heart disease rates were below 10% and butter consumption averaged 18lbs/capita. In 2000, heart disease killed over 40% of Americans and butter consumption averaged 4lbs/capita.Butter has been around since the beginning of agriculture and has been a prized staple of many traditional cultures for its life-giving properties. For thousands of years, the Swiss placed bowls of butter on their church alters each Spring when their cattle’s butter was most nutritious as a way of thanking the divine. Arab nations have cherished their peak-season butter for thousands of years.
Fast forward to the beginning of 20th century America where heart disease was a rarity. Between 1920 and 1960, the incidence of heart disease began to skyrocket becoming America’s number one killer. During the same period, butter consumption dropped from 18 pounds per person per year to just 4 pounds. Butter certainly wasn’t to blame.
After Ancel Keys’ famous saturated fat hypothesis linking saturated fat and cholesterol consumption with coronary heart disease, butter was even more vilinized. The problem of course was that he cherry-picked the data to reach a conclusion that wasn’t actually represented. The truth is that hundreds of subsequent studies (costing millions) have failed to back up Keys’ claim, yet it is the very landmark study that underpins our government’s subsequent fat phobia.
Margarine – The Original Trans Fat
By the 1970s, vegetable oil replacements were being consumed at an all-time high. While saturated fat intake was at its lowest levels, obesity, diabetes, and heart disease rates continued to climb. The truth is margarine is a highly processed food. Margarine is made from crude vegetable oils that go through a series manufacturing processes which end with a smooth spread. Ever heard of trans fats? They come mostly from hydrogenated oils – the same process that gives margarine a long shelf life and allows it to retain a perfectly blended texture. Between the solvent extraction, degumming, bleaching, hydrogenation, neutralization, fractionation, deodorisation, emulsification, interesterification, hydrogenated oils like margarine are far more damaging to your health than simple butter.
Grass-Fed Cows Make Better Butter
Just 14 grams of grass-fed butter contains more carotene than carrots, 500 IU of vitamin A, and suprisingly high levels of vitamin D, K2, and E. When it comes to food, some options are simply higher quality and thus more desirable than others. Butter is no exception.
If you’re looking for the best tasting and most nutritious butter, look for varieties that come from grass-fed cows. Cows that pasture on green grass has been shown to produce butter with much higher levels of vitamins like, A, D, E, and K2 over traditional grain-fed dairy cows. If you have never tried grass-fed butter, you are in for a treat. It is so delicious and deep yellow in color, you’ll find conventional butter bland and pale in comparison.
We tend to pickup Kerrygold butter from Costco. It’s one of the few items we make a special trip out to Costco for every week. Kerrygold butter is made from exclusively grass-fed Irish dairy cows. Even more, they only produce butter from summer milk – the time of year the cows can graze on fresh, lush green Irish pastures. It makes roasted sweet potatoes taste like cake.
6 Reasons to Eat Butter
Let’s jump straight into some important (and too often overlooked) benefits butter provides.
1. Butryc acid – The Anti-Inflammatory, Anti-Cancer Compound
You may have never heard of butyric acid before, but this short-chain fatty acid is an important component of maintaining healthy gut flora and is abundant in butter. In fact, Low levels of butyric acid have been linked to ulcerative colitis, colon cancer, active colitis, and inflammatory bowel syndrome. Butric acid decreases intestinal permeability and is a critical element of healthy digestion.
Butyric acid has also been shown to inhibit cancer growth in several studies. Another found that mice fed a butyric acid supplement had a 300% increase in insulin sensitivity (a positive metabolic marker). If that wasn’t enough, it also dramatically reduces inflammation.
Ever wonder how our ancestors received iodine before “iodized salt” was created? Butter was (and still is) a good source. Low iodine levels can reduce your overall health. If you have switched to sea salt, you are likely deficient and you will need to get iodine from natural sources like butter and marine life.
Butter with the highest iodine concentrations tend to come from farms located near the ocean. Did I mention Kerrygold butter is from Ireland? The combination of iodine with selenium and vitamin A in butter make it a strong contributor to healthy thyroid function.
Butter is a great source for selenium – an essential trace mineral with strong anti-oxidant properties. Selenium is critical for healthy thyroid function and overall metabolism. Most Americans are selenium deficient due to its diminishing concentrations in most modern food sources. One more reason to add butter. Interestingly, gram-for-gram butter contains more selenium than even garlic.
When butter comes from cows eating green grass, it contains high levels of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a compound that gives excellent protection against cancer and also helps prevent excess fat storage.
The CLA in butter has been shown to be a powerful anticarcinogen and inhibit the body’s mechanism for fat storage – instead promoting fat metabolism for energy.
5. Cholesterol – Heart Disease Rrevention
You read right. Eating butter lowers your risk of developing heart disease. Most westerners think of cholesterol as something to eliminate as much as possible, but cholesterol is an essential component of life with strong protective and antioxidant effects.
Butter contains moderate amounts of dietary cholesterol, which has been shown again and again to raise HDL (good), not LDL (bad) cholesterol. Remember that the HDL/triglycerides ratio is a much better indicator of a heathy cardiovascular system than total cholesterol. Eating butter will actually improve those markers.
Need proof? A Medical Research Council survey showed that men eating butter had half the risk of developing heart disease than their margarine eating counterparts[Nutrition Week Mar 22, 1991 21:12:2-3]. Or you could just cut your coronary artery calcification score by 24%by eating a half-stick of butter per day.
Stick to the Good Stuff
Once you try the extra creamy, golden yellow pastured variety you’ll never go back. There are seriously two classes of butter. Those from grass-fed cows and the overly processed white stuff. If you’re really adventerous, you can even make some bulletproof coffee with it.
Butter is the dairy exception in our house and we’ve fallen in love. Since it is entirely fat, butter doesn’t contain most of the potentially problematic components found in most dairy products. It is also an extremely affordable fat source and stable at even high cooking temperatures. The benefits are well documented and let’s be honest – everything just tastes better with butter.
Ever tried grass-fed butter? Have a favorite butter recipe? Share your experiences in the comments below!