Don’t Be Afraid of Butter! Five Reasons Butter Is Good For You

Don’t Be Afraid of Butter! Five Reasons Butter Is Good For You

Don’t be afraid of butter!

Butter is easily one of the most controversial foods. The dominant public health message is that you need to avoid butter despite mounting evidence to the contrary. This is a crime because butter is not only delicious but it has noteworthy health benefits when eaten as part of a well-planned diet.

This article will give you a rundown on the benefits of butter and set your fears at rest by explaining why scientists are so down on butter.

No Respect For Butter

The belief that butter is bad is rooted in the fact that it is high in saturated fat. The theory that saturated fat causes heart disease is so deeply ingrained that expert scientists continue to ignore the evidence that is right in front of them. Where does this bias come from?

In simple terms, it’s rooted in the belief that high levels of low density blood cholesterol levels (LDL) lead to the buildup of arterial plaque, resulting in atherosclerosis or heart disease. In some populations, saturated fat raises LDL cholesterol levels. However, there are two kinds of LDL cholesterol: Large particles that are considered benign and do not raise heart disease risk and small particles that are harmful and do raise heart disease risk.

Saturated fat raises the large, fluffy LDL and has no effect on small LDL. Additionally, high density cholesterol (HDL), which helps remove plaque and is considered “good,” increases when you eat saturated fat. Most important, the strongest, largest studies show no association between saturated fat intake and heart disease risk. For example, a meta analysis of 347,747 people from Harvard found “no significant evidence for concluding that saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.”

Furthermore, some studies have found that diets high in dairy products or butter don’t raise heart disease. One large review of 600,000 people showed no negative effect of butter intake on cardiovascular health. Nonetheless, the authors appeared biased against their own findings, encouraging people to swap out margarine and seed oil for butter because these foods “appear to be healthier choices.”

This advice ignores the fact that mounting evidence shows harmful health effects of diets high in seed oils. A 2013 study found that when people substituted polyunsaturated fat (such as seed oils) for saturated fat, death rates increased from heart disease and all-cause mortality. Additionally, a high intake of polyunsaturated seed oils is strongly associated with obesity and insulin resistance, suggesting that the recommendation to swap out saturated fat for seed oils is faulty and not based on strong scientific evidence.

No One Eats Butter In Isolation

Another contributing factor to the fear about butter is the focus on nutrients or distinct, isolated components of food and how they affect health. For example, most people don’t eat butter in isolation. Rather, meals are complicated mixtures of food that contain an assortment of fat, protein, carbohydrates, micronutrients and fiber. The exact combination dictates how the body processes and responds.

No one is consuming saturated fat by itself. People eat it in fatty meat, cheese, ice cream, whole milk, yogurt, or butter to name a few. The food matrix (or what these foods are composed of) varies greatly. Your body is going to process ice cream, which has added sugar, differently than it will cheese, which is fermented, has no sugar, and contains protein.

Another example is butter versus cream. They contain the same amount of fat and fatty acids. Butter is just cream that has been churned. However, the fatty acids in cream is enclosed by a membrane called Milk Fat Globule Membrane (MFGM) that contains proteins. MFGM appears to decrease the cholesterol-raising effects of the fatty acids in cream.

When cream is churned into butter, it loses much of this membrane. This is believed to be the reason that eating butter raises LDL and HDL cholesterol levels whereas cream or cheese does not. Mainstream thinking views the increase in LDL as dangerous, however, more important for determining heart disease risk than your LDL number is the ratio between LDL and HDL. Because butter raises both LDL and HDL, the ratio stays the same.

In addition, the fact that a food increases blood cholesterol doesn’t necessarily mean you should avoid it entirely. Remember that LDL values alone aren’t a strong predictor of heart disease. The number and type of LDL particles are a better indicator (small, particles are linked to a higher risk and large, fluffy to a lower risk), and the ratio of LDL to HDL are two more relevant for determining heart disease risk. The number of LDL particles can be measured with an advanced lipid panel that includes tests for LDL-p and Apo-B.

Finally, triglyceride levels, which are typically elevated in response to a diet high in a combination of refined carbohydrates and fat, are thought to be a stronger predictor of heart disease than cholesterol levels. Now consider that people traditionally eat butter (a high-fat food) with high-carbohydrate foods such as bread, baked goods, pancakes, or potatoes and you can see how butter intake might get associated with an unhealthy, inflammatory diet. Instead of eliminating butter or replacing it with seed oils, reducing intake of refined carbs and processed foods in general is a better choice.

The Bottom Line: Health and heart disease don’t come down to whether you eat butter or not. They are the result of a complex interplay of factors including stress, genetics, lifestyle, and diet. When it comes to diet, a few things stand out: Choose natural fat sources (for example butter or olive oil versus manmade trans-fats), go for variety, opt for foods in their least processed form, and plan fat intake in the context of the two other macronutrients, protein and carbs.

Now that we’ve gotten some of the concerns about butter out of the way, let’s look at some of the benefits of butter.

Benefit #1: Butter Has Bioavailable Vitamins A, D, E, and K2

The vitamins A, D, E, and K2 are fat soluble, which means they are most easily used by the body when consumed with dietary fat. Butter naturally contains these vitamins in a form that is easily digested and absorbed. Why are these nutrients so important?

Vitamin A is necessary for proper functioning of the thyroid gland, and along with vitamin D, it plays a role in the absorption of calcium for strong bones and teeth. Vitamin K2 also plays a powerful role in calcium metabolism, helping to prevent calcium being deposited in the arteries, which leads to heart disease. Vitamin E is an antioxidant that helps the body to manage inflammation.

Benefit #2: Butter Contains Conjugated Linoleic Acid

Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) is known as a ruminant trans-fat that has a variety of health-promoting properties including fighting inflammation and improving metabolism. CLA is sold as a supplement for fat loss and one study in humans found that taking it led to a significant decrease in body fat and increase in lean mass in overweight adults. Additionally, CLA has been shown to have cancer fighting properties and is thought to be a treatment for tumors.

Benefit #3: Butter Provides Butyrate

Butyrate is a short chain fatty acid that is used by bacteria in the GI tract for food. Basically, it feeds the beneficial bacteria that help counter inflammation and regulate metabolic rate. In animal studies, butyrate supplementation prevents fat gain on an unhealthy diet designed to induce obesity. It also lowers metabolic markers like triglycerides (which are associated with heart disease) and insulin. The presence of butyrate is one reason that eating dairy may help prevent fat gain, while improving metabolic health.

Benefit #4: Butter Has A High Smoke Point & Is Good For Cooking

We touched on how polyunsaturated fats like seed oils are associated with an increased risk of obesity and insulin problems in the beginning of this article. Polyunsaturated fats are easily oxidized or damaged in response to heat, which is harmful to cells and DNA, increasing disease risk. This is one reason you don’t want to cook with them.

On the other hand, butter and other high saturated fat foods such as coconut oil are good alternatives for cooking because they are heat stable and won’t oxidize at high temperatures.

Benefit #5: Butter May Encourage Optimal Body Composition

Many people think of butter as a fattening food. But just because a food is high in fat doesn’t mean it will make you fat!

In fact, because of the rich nutrition profile of butter and the delicious, creamy texture, it confers a feeling of satisfaction and can improve the taste and palatability of less-desired “fat loss” foods like broccoli, legumes, or leafy greens. In addition, butter contains medium chain triglycerides, which are a unique type of fat that are metabolized by the liver and elevate energy expenditure. Consuming MCTs may be helpful when trying to lose body fat on a lower carb diet because the MCTs can be used for energy when carbohydrate stores are low.

For example, in a relatively old study, subjects who ate a low-carb, high-fat diet of which 66 percent of the fat was from butter lost a significant amount of body fat and improved blood pressure. Men in the trial lost an average 3.2 kg of body fat, whereas women decreased 2.3 kg of fat. Unfortunately, we don’t have other studies testing the effect of a diet high in butter on body composition, but we do know that diets high in whole fat dairy tend to lead to better weight management and body composition than those that avoid dairy or choose low-fat dairy foods.

We’re not going to go so far as to classify butter as a “fat loss food,” but if you are mindful of portions (so that you don’t overeat calories), it’s reasonable to include butter in a healthy diet when trying to optimize body composition.

Take Away Points

When it comes to butter, common sense is in order. Don’t go overboard but don’t shun butter either. Eating it daily is probably just fine as long as you:

Go for a range of dietary fats: For saturated fat, eat butter, cheese, yogurt, and tropical oils like coconut oil. For monounsaturated fat, opt for nuts, seeds, and avocados in whole form. For polyunsaturated fat, limit your intake to fatty fish and grass-fed meat. Nuts and seeds contain some polyunsaturated fat so if you are eating those foods, you’ll easily get your fill of omega-6 fat.

Say not to refined carbs. Processed carbs like bread, crackers, cookies, chips, etc., should be avoided.

Consider trying a low-carb, high-fat diet if metabolic health (insulin or blood sugar), heart disease (triglycerides), or obesity are a concern.

Choose foods in their least processed, most natural form: Whole protein (meat, fish, eggs, dairy, beans), whole-fat diary, boiled grains, vegetables, fruit, nuts, and seeds.

One important point: Butter from pasture-raised cows (usually organic) has a much higher concentration of health promoting compounds like CLA, vitamin K2, the healthy omega-3 fats EPA and DHA, and butyrate. This is important: Besides the fact that pasture-raised cows are treated better than those raised in industrial feed lots, studies show that countries where cows are largely grass-fed have a high intake of full-fat dairy and reduced risk of heart disease.




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