I have a confession: I love butter. Real butter. You know, that yellowy goodness that comes from cream. I love it. I’ve even made my own butter. A number of times. The problem is that sometimes I feel all alone in my love affair. Thankfully, the internet is full of real foodies who also dream in butter.
I know other people who like butter and want to enjoy it, but they can’t love it because of the guilt they feel when they eat it. They will eat butter, but only after making a comment about a “heart attack on a plate” or some other publically accepted cliché about the evils of butter.
What’s the deal? Why are people so anti-butter?
Maybe it’s the cholesterol. It will kill you, right?
Maybe it’s fat. Fat, fat, fat! Fat is bad. Fat makes us fat. Get rid of the fat! Butter be gone!!!!
Maybe it’s not just the fat, but the saturated fat. You know, the leaders of the bad guys.
So you should probably avoid it, right?
That’s what the nutrition world would have you believe. In fact, I’ve recently noticed the following article making the rounds on Pinterest:
It’s a Better Homes and Garden “eat this not that” piece. This particular one gives all sort of “great” (ugh!) substitutions in baking. You know, like swapping out a real ingredient (butter) for a highly processed, full of fake-garbage one. Yeah, like marshmallow cream.
I get so angry when I see things like this. Clearly this is a clever marketing ploy by the company of the gross marshmallow goo. But the problem is people believe it. Good people. REALLY good people. People trying to get healthy. People who are doing their best to feed their kids right. People who have been battling their weight for years wondering just how much “lower” they can make their low-fat diet. People who believe everything that the disastrous food pyramid says they should do.
I’m gearing up to do a whole post on why you should not be afraid of real fats. But until then, can I just talk a little bit about why you (yes, YOU!) should absolutely, positively have NO FEAR of butter?
- Butter has been around for thousands of years—going back to when our ancestors first started domesticating animals. In fact, the first written reference to butter was found on a 4500- year old limestone tablet illustrating how butter was made. (1)
- People around the globe have valued butter for its life-sustaining properties.
When Dr. Weston Price studied native diets in the 1930′s he found that butter was a staple in the diets of many supremely healthy peoples. Isolated Swiss villagers placed a bowl of butter on their church altars, set a wick in it, and let it burn throughout the year as a sign of divinity in the butter. Arab groups also put a high value on butter, especially deep yellow-orange butter from livestock feeding on green grass in the spring and fall. American folk wisdom recognized that children raised on butter were robust and sturdy; but that children given skim milk during their growing years were pale and thin, with “pinched” faces (2).
- Butter is rich in trace minerals, especially selenium, a powerful antioxidant. Ounce for ounce, butter has more selenium per gram than either whole wheat or garlic (3).
- Butter also supplies iodine, needed by the thyroid gland (as well as vitamin A, also needed by the thyroid gland) (3).
- Butter also contains conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) which gives excellent protection against cancer. Range-fed cows produce especially high levels of CLA as opposed to “stall fed” cattle (3).
- Butter is rich in short and medium chain fatty acid chains that have strong anti-tumor effects. Butter also contains conjugated linoleic acid which gives excellent protection against cancer (2).
But doesn’t butter cause heart disease?
Yeah, that’s a myth. A big one, too. Consider this:
Heart disease was rare in America at the turn of the century. Between 1920 and 1960, the incidence of heart disease rose precipitously to become America’s number one killer. During the same period butter consumption plummeted from eighteen pounds per person per year to four. It doesn’t take a Ph.D. in statistics to conclude that butter is not a cause (2).
- Butter is America’s best and most easily absorbed source of vitamin A. Consider that vitamin A is needed for the health of the thyroid and adrenal glands, both of which play a role in maintaining the proper functioning of the heart and cardiovascular system.
- Butter contains lecithin, a substance that assists in the proper assimilation and metabolism of cholesterol and other fat constituents.
- Butter also contains a number of anti-oxidants that protect against the kind of free radical damage that weakens the arteries.
- Butter has been shown to help with growth and development, gastrointestinal health, arthritis, and helps protect the immune system.
- Butter is also a good dietary source cholesterol.
But isn’t cholesterol bad?
In a nutshell, no. Our bodies need cholesterol. A lot. In fact, high cholesterol levels are associated with longevity. Perhaps this is the real reason the French outlive us, not red wine (4).
Cholesterol is not the problem – it is the body’s way of solving a problem. Lowering cholesterol is just addressing a symptom and putting the body further out of balance. Too low of cholesterol is bad. The total cholesterol number is not a good indicator of heart disease risk factor despite what you may have heard from your doctor, but a sign of ongoing inflammation in the body. Real Fat is not the culprit – grains, sugars, and vegetable oils are much worse (5).
In fact, too low of cholesterol can harm you:
- The sex hormones are made from cholesterol. Lowered cholesterol often results in decreased libido and increased infertility and miscarriage.
- Sixty percent of the brain is made of cholesterol! Levels under 180 are associated with increases in depression, dementia and mental illness.
- Cholesterol is not a fat, but is a type of steroid alcohol. It moves at lightening speed. In fact, there is more cholesterol in muscle meat than in fat!
- Cholesterol is used to repair tissue throughout the body.
Blaming cholesterol for clogging arteries is like blaming a policeman for a bank robbery just because he showed up after the crime has taken place. Cholesterol happens to be the last substance the body sends out to rescue the damaged artery (4).
Is all butter created equal?
It’s my opinion that where the butter comes from (and how the animals were treated) do affect the quality of the product (including vitamin content). When looking for good quality butter, raw and cultured is best. This might be hard to find, however. Organic butter is your next best thing, with store-bought butter being at the bottom. But even if you can’t afford (or find) quality butter, commercial butter still outshines the butter “alternatives” any day. What alternatives am I talking about? Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post.