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There’s been a lot of anti-butter propaganda in the past. For the longest time, people even thought margarine and vegetable oils were healthier options (not so much). So is butter bad for you or not?
Without going all Paula Dean on you, there are a lot of reasons to enjoy butter and eat it often. Synthetic versions of food simply can’t compete with the original.
Is Butter Good or Bad Fat?
Much of the recent conversation about healthy fats has centered around plant-based fats. There’s a lot of emphasis on olive oil and avocado. Experts still tend to recommend polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats from plants over animal fats. Options like soy, canola oil, and corn oils are touted as healthy.
And while coconut oil has recently gained in popularity, mainstream experts still don’t recommend it. The American Heart Association officially recommended against it in 2017 because it’s high in saturated fat. You may have noticed from all of the coconut oil recipes on my site that I don’t agree with their conclusions.
Very recently there’s been a gradual return to natural animal fats, like butter, ghee, tallow, and lard. Thank goodness! These types of fat aren’t as dangerous as dietitians and other health “experts” told us in the past.
The Right Type of Butter
So, is butter bad for you?
Depending on how it’s sourced, it can be one of the healthiest fats you could eat. Butter from grass-fed cows is what you’re looking for. Dairy products from feedlot cows don’t have the same levels of nutrient levels, like vitamin K2 and omega-3 fatty acids.
Look for grass-fed unsalted butter, salted butter, or clarified butter (ghee). A high-fat diet isn’t necessarily bad, either. That is, as long as the fats are healthy and from naturally raised sources.
It’s only when a higher fat diet is combined with processed foods and lots of carbohydrates that you’ll have problems. There are plenty of reasons to enjoy butter, guilt-free!
Butter and Heart Disease
But doesn’t butter clog your arteries and increase the risk of heart disease?
No, not so much.
A 2010 meta-analysis of nearly 350,000 people found no link between saturated fat and heart disease. A Japanese cohort study followed 58,000 men for an average of 14 years. In the end, the researchers didn’t find a link between saturated fat intake and heart disease. Actually, it was the opposite. The more saturated fat the men ate, the less likely they were to have a stroke.
A 2016 analysis in PLoS One looked at butter and the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and overall death. Researchers found butter didn’t cause heart disease. And those who ate butter were actually less likely to have diabetes.
Cholesterol and Butter
Butter is widely known as a good source of dietary cholesterol. Most people who avoid it are doing it for that reason. But cholesterol is a necessary antioxidant. Our body makes cholesterol if it has too many free radicals. These free radicals tend to come from damaged or rancid fats in deep-fried and processed foods.
So, it isn’t butter that increases the risk of atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease. It’s the damaged fats and processed foods.
People like to talk about “good cholesterol” (HDL) and “bad cholesterol” (LDL). But it’s not that cut and dried. LDL cholesterol is only a problem when we have small, dense particles. Large, fluffy LDL particles don’t lead to blockages and heart attacks.
Butter and the Brain
Our bodies use cholesterol to repair damage in the body and will make it if we don’t eat enough. It’s also vital for healthy brain function. The brain houses 20% of our body’s cholesterol. Without it, we’re more likely to get neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
Health Benefits of Butter
There’s plenty of evidence behind the benefits of butter. Here are some of the healthy compounds in butter and why they’re so good for us.
Supplies Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA)
Conjugated linoleic acid, or CLA for short, is a good fat found in grass-fed butter, dairy, and meat. In fact, they’re 3-5 times higher than their grain-fed counterparts. I explain exactly why CLA is so great in this post. But in summary, studies show it may do several things to support health:
- Fight cancer
- Reduce inflammation
- Soothe asthma
- Boost the immune system
- Promote weight loss
- Strengthen bones
That sounds like something I want more of! Let’s look at some specifics…
May Promote Cardiovascular Health
Some observational studies found that high-fat dairy products, like butter, support heart health. An Australian study observed adults ages 25-78 for a total of 16 years. The researchers found a possible beneficial link between full-fat dairy and heart health. A 2009 Swedish study found that as dairy fat intake went up, stroke risk went down.
As mentioned, butter is a good source of Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA). In Costa Rica, where cows are mostly grass-fed, a 2010 study showed that people with the highest CLA levels in their tissues had a lower risk of a heart attack.
Butter is also a good source of vitamin K2, which is important for cardiovascular tissue. In an analysis of nearly 5,000 people, those with the most K2 were 52% less likely to get calcification in their arteries. They were also 57% less likely to die from heart disease.
Good For The Joints
Butter is a source of a unique “anti-stiffness” factor. It’s called the Wulzen Factor or stigmasterol. This compound helps us avoid or reduce joint problems like arthritis. The same nutrient helps prevent calcification in other parts of the body. Arteries are one example.
The catch? This special “anti-stiffness” factor is only found in raw, unpasteurized dairy products. Most of us probably aren’t eating a lot of raw butter.
The CLA in butter can also offer relief to those with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). A study of RA sufferers found CLA and vitamin E together decreased symptoms. Study participants had lower white blood cell counts, balancing an overactive immune response. It also reduced their morning joint pain and stiffness.
Other studies show CLA is beneficial for a wide variety of inflammatory conditions. So, it makes sense it would help with joint pain.
Supports Gut Health
Butter contains a short-chain fatty acid (SCFA) called butyrate. Our gut bacteria also make butyrate and other SCFAs. Butyrate is the preferred energy source for the cells lining the gut and actually got its name from butter!
Here are just a few of the ways butyrate supports gut health:
- Improves electrolyte absorption
- Lowers inflammation
- Restores the gut lining
- Lowers oxidative stress
- Improves intestinal motility
May Help With Cancer
Butter has nutrients that may help protect against cancer, including the ones already mentioned:
- Short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) – May reduce the risk of colon cancer.
- Vitamin K2 – May help reduce the risk of liver cancer and increase cancer survival rates.
- CLA – May help prevent certain cancers, including breast, colon, colorectal, gastric, prostate, and liver, according to cell studies.
- Cholesterol – Low cholesterol can actually increase the risk of some cancers.
High cholesterol protects against infections and is crucial to a strong immune defense. You see, butter is healthy after all. Of course, more studies are needed and we don’t tend to consume large amounts of butter at a time. But from the look of things, butter is protecting against, not contributing to disease.
Butter For Stronger Teeth
It turns out teeth can heal… (say what?).
Butter is a good source of fat-soluble vitamins that are necessary for many aspects of health. These vitamins, A, D, E, and K2, are especially important for oral health. They help teeth remineralize by aiding in the absorption of minerals. The famous dentist Weston A. Price discovered vitamin K2 is crucial for oral health.
Many people these days struggle with underlying thyroid problems. It turns out the movement away from butter (along with some other factors) could contribute to the problem.
The specialized medium chain fatty acids in coconut oil make it a thyroid superfood. And when they’re combined with butter, it creates powerful thyroid support. Butter has Vitamin A and a highly absorbable form of Iodine, both of which support healthy thyroid function.
Great For Children
Most kids love butter, and I’ve seen many kids even take a bite out of a stick of butter. It turns out they’re on to something important. Butter is a source of many nutrients kids need for proper growth.
One of those is preformed vitamin A, which can only be found in animal foods. Plants, like carrots, have carotenoids that first have to be converted to true vitamin A in the gut. And most of us don’t make that conversion very well.
Vitamin A is crucial for growth and development, eye health, heart health, and the immune response. It’s also important for the maintenance of several organs and tissues of the body.
Of course, not all kids can do dairy products. In that case, there are other foods they can eat to boost calcium levels. I’m not worried about butter leading to weight gain or obesity. Again, it’s the carbohydrates that are usually to blame.
Bottom Line: The Source Matters
Pasteurized, store-bought butter is a step up from any vegetable oil product. But grass-fed raw butter is the best choice. That is if you can find it. Pasteurized grass-fed butter is the next best option.
This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Michelle Sands, ND. She is double board certified in Integrative Medicine and Naturopathic Medicine and is also a Board-Certified Holistic Nutritionist, and competitive endurance athlete. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.
Do you love butter? How do you eat it? Share below!