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Posted on: October 16, 2018 at 4:00 pm
Last updated: October 23, 2018 at 12:45 pm

Everything is better with butter! How many times have you heard that before? People’s perceptions of butter haven’t always been positive, though. Falling under the “saturated fats” umbrella, butter has gotten a lot of flak for apparently skyrocketing cholesterol levels, clogging arteries, and increasing risk for heart disease.

Between government recommendations and cardiologists’ advice and mainstream media influence and personal opinions, the overall stance on butter seems split. However, some doctors and scientists believe that you shouldn’t be demonizing saturated fats. New research even says we got cholesterol all wrong and debunks the myths of saturated fat. [1,2]

If saturated fat is not as bad for our health as we’ve been led to believe, then where does that leave beloved butter on the good-or-bad spectrum? Based on the evidence, the pros of butter seem to be outweighing the cons.

Is Butter Bad for You or Is Butter Good for You?

What is butter? The rich and flavorful dairy product used for spreading, cooking, or baking is milk fat that has been churned and separated from the milk’s other components such as protein and carbs. [3] Despite the negative light that governments and corporations have shone on butter over the last few decades, its 10,000-year history is not unlike its flavor – rich.

“Thirsty from a long, hot journey, the weary herdsman reached for the sheepskin bag of milk knotted to the back of his pack animal,” wrote Nicole Jankowsky covering an NPR story about the history of butter. [4] “But as he tilted his head to pour the warm liquid into his mouth, he was astonished to find that the sheep’s milk had curdled. The rough terrain and constant joggling of the milk had transformed it into butter — and bewilderingly, it tasted heavenly.”

On top of tasting divine, the Weston A. Price Foundation has come into the public eye for its stance of why butter is better. The foundation believes that butter actually has, is, and continues to protect those who consume it against many illnesses and diseases. Published on January 1, 2000, their in-depth and evidence-based defense of butter proves that they saw something the average consumer could not. In it, they claim that butter can benefit: [5]

  • Heart disease
  • Cancer
  • The immune system
  • Arthritis
  • Osteoporosis
  • The thyroid gland
  • Gastrointestinal health
  • Weight gain
  • Children’s growth and development

Healthy Butter Nutrition Facts: Spread the Word

Although that article was written almost two decades ago and butter has served a social, cultural, economic, and traditional purpose in various cultures, why someone would question whether butter is still an essential staple of the Western diet is understandable. We would like to argue that it is…

Not only is butter rich in nutrients and full of healthy fats, but research has also proven that it can help fight against heart disease and obesity. If you’re still on the fence, then keep on reading to find out the answer to this question: Is butter good for you?

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1) Butter Is Rich in Vitamins

  • Butter’s highest vitamin content is vitamin A. Studies have shown that vitamin A can help preserve your ability to see at night (i.e., night blindness) and help protect your vision, especially as you age. This powerful vitamin also helps boost your immune system which helps fight against infections. [6-9]
  • Vitamin D, which is also found in butter, has been shown to boost weight loss due to its appetite-suppressing effect and lower overweight people’s risk of developing heart disease. [10-12] Researchers have also found that vitamin D can help improve symptoms of depression. [13] (It starting to seem like everything really is better with butter.)
  • Another powerhouse in butter is vitamin B12, a nutrient that studies have shown to slow down mental decline in early-stage dementia patients as well as improve bone health and preventing osteoporosis. [14,15] More importantly, this nutrient may even help improve heart health thanks to its ability to decrease homocysteine levels (i.e., an amino acid in the bloodstream) which can rise when you have a vitamin B12 deficiency. (We should also note that butter should not be your only source of B12. Relying on butter alone will not give you sufficient amounts of this important vitamin.) [16-18]
  • Interestingly, butter can be rich in vitamin K, a nutrient that you’ll be hard-pressed to find in modern Western diets. It’s even better if you consume butter that comes from grass-fed cows because it has an even higher vitamin K content. [19] Plus, this nutrient can help fight against coronary heart disease, prostate cancer, and an increased risk of bone fractures. [20-22]

2) Butter Contains Short-Chain Fats Ruminant Trans Fats

“Milk fat contains approximately 400 difference fatty acid, which make it the most complex of all natural fats” said study author Helena Lindmark Månsson in a 2008 study published in Food & Nutrition Research. [23] “Almost 70% of the [milk] fat… is saturated of which around 11% comprises short-chain fatty acids, almost half of which is butyric acid.”

One form of butyric acid known as “butyrate,” which is found in butter, can help reduce digestive inflammation – even in individuals who have Crohn’s disease. [24]

Also known as “dairy trans fats,” ruminant trans fats are actually healthy, at least compared to processed food trans fats. One of the more popular ruminant trans fats is CLA, or conjugated linoleic acid.

Scientists have conducted laboratory studies showing that CLA may help protect animal and human cells against melanoma, colorectal, breast, and lung cancer. [25-27] Another study suggests that CLA may even be a powerful healthy fat for fat loss. [28]

Major Health Benefits of Butter

Filled with all of those vitamins and healthy fats, it’s challenging to see why some people want to shut butter down. Of course, it’s always important to consume foods like this one in moderation. But to steer entire populations away from a historically healthy food seems a little over the top. Especially seeing as it’s been proven to help fight against two of North America’s greatest public health crises.

Butter and Heart Disease

It is true, butter contains significant levels of saturated fat. However, contrary to many cholesterol-rising and heart-disease-inducing claims, researchers are finding more health positives than negatives.

A meta-analysis study of 60 controlled trials published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that saturated fats actually increased participants’ levels of HDL, otherwise known as good cholesterol, which lowers the risk of heart disease. [29]

Another study published in the same journal found that saturated fats increased LDL or “bad” cholesterol. [30] However, to the researchers’ surprise, the saturated fats continued to convert those LDL particles into large ones, which scientists have yet to prove are associated with heart disease. [31]

Butter and Obesity

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Another one of the anti-butter narratives is that it’s not good for your health due to its high calorie count and fat content. On the contrary, a 2012 review published in the European Journal of Nutrition might make you question that belief. [32] Obviously, if someone is having a main order of butter with a side of toast instead of a main order of toast with a side of butter, they’re going to run into problems.

However, researchers found that when individuals ate normal amounts of butter in combination with a healthy diet, believe it or not, “high-fat dairy products (like butter) were linked to a reduced risk of obesity.” [3]

New Butter Beliefs?

Whether you are pro-butter, anti-butter or still on the fence, we hope you have found this resource helpful. Consuming excessive amounts of butter – no matter how deliciously rich it is – is not a wise lifestyle choice. But, as you have seen, adding a healthy amount of butter to a balanced diet can have immense benefits for your body and mind. What would be a healthy amount?

“The American Heart Association recommends limiting the amount of saturated fat you eat to less than 7% of your total daily calories,” wrote Dina Spector for Business Insider. [33] “So, if you eat around 2,000 calories a day, that’s 16 grams of saturated fat. There are around 7 grams of saturated fat in one tablespoon of butter.”

When it comes to the best type of butter to eat, organic and grass-fed is best. However, as it can sometimes be significantly more costly, consuming organic butter is just fine. Oh, and for anyone who has lactose or dairy protein sensitivities, ghee is a great healthy alternative.

Is everything better with butter? Who knows… Only you can decide that for yourself. We humans are stubborn after all. After seeing all of those health benefits listed along with the scientific studies to back them up, there is one thing we know for sure: butter is not your enemy.

[1] Bjarnadottir, A. (n.d.). 5 Studies on Saturated Fat – Time to Retire the Myth? Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/5-studies-on-saturated-fat

[2] Vascular Team. (2017, June 29). Your Diet and Heart Disease: Rethinking Butter, Beef and Bacon. Retrieved from https://health.clevelandclinic.org/your-diet-and-heart-disease-rethinking-butter-beef-and-bacon/

[3] Arnarson, A. (2014, November 3). Butter 101: Nutrition Facts and Health Effects. Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/foods/butter

[4] Jankowski, N. (2017, February 24). Spread The Word: Butter Has An Epic Backstory. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2017/02/24/515422661/spread-the-word-butter-has-an-epic-backstory

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[5] Fallon, S. & Enig, M. G. (2000, January 01). Why Butter Is Better. Retrieved from https://www.westonaprice.org/health-topics/know-your-fats/why-butter-is-better/

[6] Basic Report: 01145, Butter, without salt. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/132

[7] Sommer, A. (2008, October 01). Vitamin A Deficiency and Clinical Disease: An Historical Overview | The Journal of Nutrition | Oxford Academic. Retrieved from https://academic.oup.com/jn/article/138/10/1835/4669996

[8] Wu, J., Cho, E., Willett, W. C., Sastry, S. M., & Schaumberg, D. A. (2015, December). Intakes of Lutein, Zeaxanthin, and Other Carotenoids and Age-Related Macular Degeneration During 2 Decades of Prospective Follow-up. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26447482

[9] Stephensen, C. B. (n.d.). Vitamin A, infection, and immune function. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11375434

[10] Alarie, F. P., Doré, J., & Tremblay, A. (2008, July 17). Calcium plus vitamin D supplementation and fat mass loss in female very low-calcium consumers: Potential link with a calcium-specific appetite control | British Journal of Nutrition. Retrieved from https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/british-journal-of-nutrition/article/calcium-plus-vitamin-d-supplementation-and-fat-mass-loss-in-female-very-lowcalcium-consumers-potential-link-with-a-calciumspecific-appetite-control/623D71E0A965E910C48903089FA7B56C

[11] Z., A., F., K, H., K., J., . . . Berthold. (2009, March 25). Vitamin D supplementation enhances the beneficial effects of weight loss on cardiovascular disease risk markers | The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition | Oxford Academic. Retrieved from https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/89/5/1321/4596773

[12] Judd, S., & Tangpricha, V. (2008, January 29). Vitamin D Deficiency and Risk for Cardiovascular Disease. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2726624/

[13] Jorde, R., Sneve, M., Figenschau, Y., Svartberg, J., & Waterloo, K. (2008, September 11). Effects of vitamin D supplementation on symptoms of depression in overweight and obese subjects: Randomized double blind trial. Retrieved from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1365-2796.2008.02008.x

[14] Oulhaj, A., Jernerén, F., Refsum, H., Smith, A. D., & Jager, C. A. (2016, January 06). Omega-3 Fatty Acid Status Enhances the Prevention of Cognitive Decline by B Vitamins in Mild Cognitive Impairment. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4927899/

[15] Tucker, K. L., Hannan, M. T., Qiao, N., Jacques, P. F., Selhub, J., Cupples, L. A., & Kiel, D. P. (2005, January). Low plasma vitamin B12 is associated with lower BMD: The Framingham Osteoporosis Study. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15619681

[16] Keene, K. L., Chen, W. M., Chen, F., Williams, S. R., Elkhatib, S. D., Hsu, F. C., . . . Sale, M. M. (2014, August 06). Genetic Associations with Plasma B12, B6, and Folate Levels in an Ischemic Stroke Population from the Vitamin Intervention for Stroke Prevention (VISP) Trial. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25147783/

[17] Markišić, M., Pavlović, A. M., & Pavlović, D. M. (2017). The Impact of Homocysteine, Vitamin B12, and Vitamin D Levels on Functional Outcome after First-Ever Ischaemic Stroke. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5382296/

[18] Leishear, K., Ferrucci, L., Lauretani, F., Boudreau, R. M., Studenski, S. A., Rosano, C., . . . Strotmeyer, E. S. (2012, May). Vitamin B12 and Homocysteine Levels and 6-Year Change in Peripheral Nerve Function and Neurological Signs. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3326240/

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[19] Schurgers, L. J., Geleijnse, J. M., Grobbee, D. E., Pols, H. A., Hofman, A., Witteman, J. C., & Vermeer, C. (1999). Nutritional Intake of Vitamins K1 (Phylloquinone) and K2 (Menaquinone) in The Netherlands. Retrieved from https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/13590849961717

[20] Gast, G. C., De, N. M., Sluijs, I., Bots, M. L., Beulens, J. W., Geleijnse, J. M., . . . Van, Y. T. (2009, September). A high menaquinone intake reduces the incidence of coronary heart disease. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19179058

[21] Nimptsch, K., Rohrmann, S., & Linseisen, J. (2008, April). Dietary intake of vitamin K and risk of prostate cancer in the Heidelberg cohort of the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC-Heidelberg). Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18400723

[22] Cockayne, S., Adamson, J., Lanham-New, S., Shearer, M. J., Gilbody, S., & Torgerson, D. J. (2006, June 26). Vitamin K and the prevention of fractures: Systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16801507

[23] Månsson, H. L. (2008). Fatty acids in bovine milk fat. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2596709/

[24] Di, A., Morera, R., Ciccocioppo, R., Cazzola, P., Gotti, S., Tinozzi, F. P., . . . Corazza, G. R. (2005, November 01). Oral butyrate for mildly to moderately active Crohn’s disease. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16225487

[25] Parodi, P. W. (1997, June). Cows’ milk fat components as potential anticarcinogenic agents. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9187617

[26] Wang, L. S., Huang, Y. W., Sugimoto, Y., Liu, S., Chang, H. L., Ye, W., . . . Lin, Y. C. (n.d.). Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) up-regulates the estrogen-regulated cancer suppressor gene, protein tyrosine phosphatase gamma (PTPgama), in human breast cells. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16475675

[27] Amarù, D. L., & Field, C. J. (2009, May). Conjugated linoleic acid decreases mcf-7 human breast cancer cell growth and insulin-like growth factor-1 receptor levels. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19266226

[28] Blankson, H., Stakkestad, J. A., Fagertun, H., Thom, E., Wadstein, J., & Gudmundsen, O. (2000, December). Conjugated linoleic acid reduces body fat mass in overweight and obese humans. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11110851

[29] Mensink, R. P., Zock, P. L., Kester, A. D., & Katan, M. B. (2003, May). Effects of dietary fatty acids and carbohydrates on the ratio of serum total to HDL cholesterol and on serum lipids and apolipoproteins: A meta-analysis of 60 controlled trials. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12716665

[30] Dreon, D. M., Fernstrom, H. A., Campos, H., Blanche, P., Williams, P. T., & Krauss, R. M. (1998, May). Change in dietary saturated fat intake is correlated with change in mass of large low-density-lipoprotein particles in men. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9583838

[31] Packard, C., Caslake, M., & Shepherd, J. (2000, June 30). The role of small, dense low density lipoprotein (LDL): A new look. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10856769

[32] Kratz, M., Baars, T., & Guyenet, S. (2012, July 19). The relationship between high-fat dairy consumption and obesity, cardiovascular, and metabolic disease. Retrieved from https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00394-012-0418-1

[33] Spector, D. (2014, February 21). 6 Reasons You Should Be Eating More Butter. Retrieved from https://www.businessinsider.com/facts-about-butter-2014-2

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