For Butter or Worse
Do we have a butter deficiency in our diets? Can it help with longevity and with chronic pain? According to Sally Fallon the founding President of the Weston Price Foundation and author of the Nourishing Traditions Cookbook, we very well might. According to Fallon at the turn of the 20th century the average American ate about eighteen pounds of butter per year. Today, a little over a hundred years’ later Americans eat about 5.5 pounds per year. The main reason for this reduction has been the demonization of saturated fat in the past 70 years and its implied association with heart disease, which is the number one reason for death in the U.S. Is this association justified? Butter is 70% saturated fat, 25% is monounsaturated fat, and 2.3% is polyunsaturated fat. For people who have elevated Lipoprotein a Lp(a), which is a test for familial hypercholesterolemia and for those with elevated Apolipoprotein B (ApoB), which is the lipoprotein that is most often seen elevated with those with heart disease caution should be noted. Incredibly these two tests are rarely checked on your annual blood test and instead overall cholesterol is often the sole misplaced reason for the recommendation for statin medications and what unnecessarily drives the fears of patients nationwide. Butter could elevate HDL and LDL, but the HDL is more protective of the arterial walls and the LDL has different components and it is the VLDL cholesterol which more of a problem than LDL and butter does not elevate the VLDL.
Butter can be made from cows, sheep, and goat’s milk. Ideally you would want to use milk from animals that have been grass fed. This results in a much stronger nutritional profile and provides protection from any perceived negative effects from the saturated fat. Butter is one of the few foods that contains all the fat-soluble vitamins including vitamin A, D3, E, and K2. A few years ago, I wrote a newsletter on K2 and its importance in maintaining bone health by taking calcium out of the blood and putting it into our bones. The vitamin A in butter is in the form of retinol and was the first vitamin discovered. This is the active form of vitamin A, and unlike vitamin A from beta carotene from sources like carrots needs no conversion process. It is not a coincidence that retinol sounds like retina which is the back portion of the eye. It has been known for a long time that retinol is good for eyesight. One tablespoon of butter gives you 11% of your daily need of vitamin A. Vitamin A, and vitamin E from butter function as antioxidants against free radicals which cause premature aging. The D3 in butter is the natural activated form of vitamin D unlike the less useful vitamin D2 that is added to milk.
Butter also contains over four hundred different fatty acids and 11% of that is short chain fatty acids. One of those short chained fatty acids is called butyric acid, which is protective against inflammation in the large intestine, and is sold as a supplement for colon problems. Another fatty acid is conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) and linolenic acid which gets converted into EPA and DHA, the omega three fats like those found in fish, and MCT which are medium chain triglycerides. These fats help decrease body fat and maintain a healthy weight. CLA is protective against cancers such as breast, colon, stomach, prostate, liver, and colorectal cancers. Butter contains iodine, and lauric acid which is helpful against viruses, and lecithin which is protective against cholesterol. Coconut oil and breast milk are the only other sources of lauric acid.
What else might you look for when buying butter? Unbelievably there are at least fifteen distinct kinds of butter: unsalted, salted, sweet cream (mostly in America from pasteurized cream rather than cultured cream), European style (higher butter fat content), cultured, ghee, clarified, drawn, whipped, spreadable, light, organic, whey, raw cream, and compound butters. There is trivial difference between clarified and drawn as both are melted and skim out solids. Whipped might have added air or nitrogen to the butter. Spreadable may have an added vegetable oil such as canola oil. Whey butter is a byproduct of the cheese industry and is lower in fat. Compound butter usually has added herbs to it.
If it is pasteurized it will still have most of the nutritional benefits but if it is cultured or naturally fermented it will have even more benefits. The pasteurization process will denature some of the proteins in the butter and could cause a milk allergy. Cultured butter from grass fed animals is better with a higher percentage of butter fat, and a more complex flavor. Calves fed pasteurized milk develop stiff joints. If fed raw milk or cream, they get better. It is believed that there is something called the Wulzen factor or (stigmasterol) a plant fat that reverses the stiffness. It is also found in molasses. If the butter is produced from grass fed cows the color will be yellowish. A whiter color would indicate that the butter was produced from a cow that had less access to grass in its diet.
Ghee is a form of butter that has had the water removed (about 20% is water) by heat. This has several advantages. By removing the water, it also removes the lactose and the casein in the milk making it less allergenic and reducing the chance of rancidity. It also has a higher smoke point than butter. If you intend to cook at a higher temperature, it would better to use ghee. The smoke point for butter is 350 degrees and for ghee it is 450 degrees.
Salted vs Unsalted Butter. Salted butter will have about 90-100 mg of salt in a tablespoon of butter. It is recommended by the American Heart Association that salt should not exceed 1500 mg per day. If you are someone with high blood pressure you will want to avoid the salt. Unsalted butter can be left on the counter unrefrigerated for 3-4 days, however if it is not consumed that quickly you might want to use salted butter because the salt will function as a preservative against spoiling.
Some people’s genetics are not well suited to consuming dairy and some of the reason is that in their ancestry, milk was not consumed after their weaning from mother’s milk. For others it may be that their immune system has become reactive to the overconsumption of pasteurized milk. The pasteurization process breaks down the lactase enzyme needed for the digestion of milk products and denatures the protein structure in milk.
There are several butter substitutes in the marketplace. If you know you have a sensitivity to traditional butter and ghee then coconut oil, coconut butter, cocoa butter or shea butter would be worth substituting. However, none of them compared equally to the nutritional profile of traditional butter made from a ruminant grass feeding animal. Margarine or some other adulterated vegetable oil (previous newsletter) that has been hydrogenated to take it from a liquid to solid at room temperature should be avoided at all costs. These trans fats are falsely advertised as healthy because they contain no cholesterol but fail to provide anything more than a sensory imitation of the fat we innately crave. Worse than that, they cause our bodies (liver) stress because we simply do not have the capacity to metabolize this man made food properly.
In the past several years, many people have been putting butter in their morning coffee. Originally touted by Dave Asprey who started Bulletproof coffee this strategy is useful to tamper the effects of caffeine and provide some fat calories. It is also recommended for maintaining a ketogenic diet which limits the amount of carbohydrates in someone’s diet. The ketogenic diet would be another subject beyond this newsletter but like all diets, it has its benefits for certain people at certain times and best avoided by diabetics.