You have to admit, butter has been given a bad rap over the years. Certain celebrities have put it front and center in the diabetes debate, and most people have reacted by demonizing it as a food to be avoided at all costs if you ever wish to be truly healthy.
So here’s the craziest thing you’ll hear all day: butter is actually good for you.
For decades now, such high fat foods have been included as sparingly as possible in the diets of people seeking to improve their health. When we go to the supermarket, we look for the cut of meat with the least amount of fat. When we buy dairy, we go for the lowest of the low-fat versions we can find.
Fat has been the enemy for so long, we’ve convinced ourselves that the only way to be healthy is to eliminate it altogether from our diets. The reasoning for this may not be so concrete.
Turns out, all that time spent avoiding fatty foods may have been a waste of time. You could have been enjoying your butter, dairy, and meat with healthy amounts of fat, the same way our ancestors did before the beginning of the 20th century, back when heart disease levels were far lower.
In the 1980s, the US and UK governments released new health guidelines that recommended people go for new low-fat products, which led to consumers shunning cheese, milk, and cream – something now being credited as partial blame for the startling obesity epidemic.
As a result of reducing fat, we increased our intake of carbohydrates, of sugars, and the now-dreaded trans fat (found in margarine).
Long vilified for its alleged role in clogging arteries and weakening the heart, butter is making a comeback. Here are 9 reasons why you should reconsider your aversion to butter.
Butter can strengthen your immune system
Pulling the butter out of the fridge and including it with your breakfast every morning could actually lead to improved health overall.
Butter contains the natural, fat-soluble vitamins A and D, which have been shown to reduce cancer cell growth and increase red blood cell production. It also contains the fat-soluble vitamins E and K.
A healthy body needs these vitamins for a few reasons:
- Vitamin A is important for bone growth, reproduction, tooth development, and is an important antioxidant that may contribute to the prevention of certain cancers.
- Vitamin D is used by the body to regulate its use of calcium and phosphorous, and benefits the control of cell growth. And, as you’ve likely heard many times in your life, it helps to build strong bones.
- Vitamin E serves as an antioxidant, protecting red blood cells and fatty acids. But its early links to success in preventing cancer and heart disease have been in question for a while now and are not as set-in-stone as they once were in the medical community.
- Vitamin K is essential for blood clotting, promoting bone health, and producing proteins for the blood, bone, and kidneys.
Because these vitamins are fat-soluble, the foods containing them, when cooked, will not lose their nutritional value. Thus, using butter in your cooking is guaranteed to provide you with these important and essential nutrients.
Butter also has anti-microbial properties that protect against those pesky pathogenic microorganisms found in your intestinal tract.
Saturated fat is not the enemy
For nearly four decades, saturated fats have been targeted as the primary cause of our worst health woes. These fats are found in meats, dairy, and baked goods. Saturated fats are made up of straight chains of carbon, which allow the molecules to cling tightly against one another. This makes saturated fats more effective for energy storage.
In the 1970s and 1980s, health gurus claimed eating red meat and butter were the causes of higher “bad” LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol, which led to heart disease and obesity. But since then, studies have failed to link saturated fat to either.
In fact, neither saturated fats nor monounsaturated fats (found in olive and canola oils) had any effect on raising the rate of heart disease.
What did have an effect?
Trans fats. These are abundant in the fried foods found at fast-food restaurants worldwide, low-fat margarine spreads, baked goods and pastries.
The myth that saturated fats lead to high levels of bad cholesterol is becoming more and more unbelievable as research continues to demonstrate the opposite.
The food industry has to recognize this quickly if it wants to keep customers alive long enough to keep eating their products.
Sugar is the real enemy
The amount of calories we consume from saturated fat has decreased by 10% over the past 30 years, but in that time obesity rates have skyrocketed. This is because sugar is the real enemy.
Because the trend of reducing fat by switching to low or non-fat alternatives, we’ve been inadvertently increasing our intake of carbohydrates (sugars are known as simple carbohydrates), which completely throw off the body’s insulin production and response.
That’s why so many trendy diets of the past decade have had such success guaranteeing weight loss by insisting on cutting down the carbs. Check out my recent post, for some awesome low carb recipes.
Sugar is found in so many foods now, it’s almost impossible to avoid. Worst of all is high fructose corn syrup, which has been linked directly to weight gain. You can even become addicted to the stuff.
A 1965 study compared 3 groups on different 1000 calorie diets, consuming very different foods. One group received 90% of their calories from fats, one group received 90% of their calories from protein, and the last received 90% of their calories from carbohydrates. The group consuming 90% fats lost the most weight. The group consuming 90% carbs actually managed to gain weight despite only eating 1000 calories.
Eating a moderate amount of butter is becoming a fully accepted part of a balanced diet. It’s limiting your sugar intake that might be what truly saves your life.
Butter is better for you than margarine alternatives
Like many Americans, you’ve probably grown up imagining the stuff found in that incredulous tub was no different than what you churned for hours on an elementary school field trip.
When you look into your tub of margarine, you see a pleasant yellow color, the one you’ve always associated with butter. But, what if I were to tell you that without artificial coloring and other added chemicals, that same wanna-be butter would instead be a sickly gray goo with a questionable odor?
Butter is made from churning the fresh, fatty cream of a cow’s milk. We humans have been doing it for many years. Margarine is something completely different.
Margarine is made out of vegetable oil, which would be liquid at room temperature if it weren’t for the hydrogenation process. This process is what turns the fats in vegetable oil into trans fats, which have a rigid structure that causes them to interact abnormally with cell membranes. This is what causes the body to produce more of that “bad” LDL cholesterol, while suppressing the production of “good” HDL cholesterol.
But margarine’s appearance and chemical make-up aren’t the worst part.
In a study performed on men who had either experienced a heart attack or were angina sufferers, half replaced their animal fat intake with safflower oil (similar to sunflower oil) and safflower margarine. The other half continued their normal diets.
The expected conclusion, based on the guidelines we’ve received for decades about ‘proper nutrition’ from health experts, would be that the men who eliminated animal fats would see more positive results. But that’s not at all what happened.
Instead, the men who ate the safflower-infused foods were nearly twice as likely to die from the ailments that plagued them than those who continued consuming animal fats.
Personally, after learning all of this, I’ve sworn off margarine forever.
Promotes weight loss
Butter is made up of short and medium chain fatty acids, which are burned quickly for fuel rather than being stored in the fat deposits of the body. It also provides a stronger feeling of satiety (feeling full), which can decrease cravings and stop you from overeating.
Also contained within butter are high concentrations of a group of chemicals known as conjugated linoleic acid. Body builders often take this in supplement form to help accelerate their weight loss goals. And, some research suggests it could be cancer protective.
The body needs around 20 grams of saturated fats per day, and a single piece of toast with butter spread thinly across it contains roughly 3 grams of fat, and around 36 calories.
And just to show some proof about weight loss, a compilation of several studies concluded an inverse relationship between high fat dairy foods and obesity/ cardiometabolic diseases. Meaning, these foods did not contribute to either obesity or heart conditions in any way.
Enhances brain function
The best way to ensure a healthy brain is to provide it with the proper energy supply. While the brain only takes up a small percentage of our overall mass, it requires 20% of our metabolic energy. Fats serve as an excellent source of fuel, and can become an alternative energy source to glucose that the brain and body may actually prefer.
Saturated fat is actually one of the primary components that make up brain cells – this makes it crucial for the brain to function properly.
In fact, a study on dementia discussed in Psychology Today showed that people who ate diets with higher saturated fat content reduced their chances of developing dementia by 36%.
Butter can improve bone and joint health
Butter promotes anti-stiffness, also known as the Wulzen factor. By eating butter, you can protect against the calcification of your joints – but only when the butter you consume is not pasteurized. This was confirmed when calves were fed pasteurized milk and developed joint stiffness.
As described earlier, vitamins A and D encourage the proper calcium absorption the body needs. For instance, countries whose people elect to drink skim milk often suffer from osteoporosis at higher rates than those who choose the more natural whole milk. As a good source of both of these vitamins, butter can provide this health benefit.
Butter is also a source of iodine. Consuming butter on a more regular basis can prevent goiter in mountainous areas where seafood might be a little more difficult to come by. The vitamin A found in butter is necessary for a properly functioning thyroid gland.
In a study on the prevalence of asthma in young children, those who consumed butter daily had a lower chance of having recent complications.
Plus, butter simply makes food taste better!
This seems somewhat obvious, but butter actually does improve the food you’re eating. It seems to make everything more palatable.
While this is hardly a commentary on nutritional value, I will argue that allowing yourself to occasionally enjoy a dab of butter on some whole wheat pancakes or spreading it across a piece of whole grain toast, is a proper return to what’s considered normal for the human body.
Don’t get carried away, though. I’ve run into a few vile creations from the sick minds of the fast food industry (seriously, a butter burger?) that have left me pretty shaken. But if you’re smart, you can figure out ways of using butter that are perfectly healthy methods of improving the flavor quality of your meals.
So there you have it. Butter has evidently been nothing more than an unfortunate victim in the unethical ‘War on Fat’. The real villains all along have been sugar and processed foods, and they’re finally being exposed for what they really are.
As always, your diet should be well-balanced and consistent, containing the levels of fats, proteins, and carbs appropriate for your dietary needs. An abundance of butter may not be something to include in every meal, but don’t buy into hype by missing out on all that butter has to offer.
Do you still fear butter? Let me know in the comments below!