Butter: A traditional, prized food
For millennia, traditional cultures across the globe subsisted largely on animal foods rich in naturally occurring saturated fats. One such saturated fat, butter, has been a staple in the diets of native Swiss villagers, Eskimo tribes and the Tokelau of New Zealand; prized for its life-sustaining and health-promoting properties.
In his observations of these aboriginal cultures untouched by western civilisation, Dr Westin A Price noted their well-formed structural features and dental arches, optimal physical proportionality and the absence of degenerative diseases; all indications of robust health. Dr Price’s work was foundational in destabilising the long-held misconception that saturated fats, including butter, are “bad”. How could a food that has sustained mankind for thousands of generations become the villain?
Big Fat Lies: The Saturated Fat Myth
Prior to 1900, heart disease was rare and saturated fat consumption was high. Come 1950, however, incidence of heart disease rose exponentially. What changed during this time? Disinformation falsely promulgated saturated fats as “bad” as modernisation brought industrialised vegetable oils to the market. As a result, society traded the traditional, natural animal fats for factory-produced polyunsaturated fats in the form of margarine, vegetable shortening and partially hydrogenated vegetable oils.
The war against saturated fats was instigated by a paper written in the 1950s by Ancel Keys who hypothesised a link between saturated fat and the incidence of heart disease; subsequently persuaded the American Heart Association to issue the country’s first ever guidelines targeting the saturated fats of meat and dairy. There was a lot to question, however, and cross-analysis from researchers later discovered his evidence was cherry-picked and flawed; the continued dismissal of saturated fats and the ongoing rise in heart disease standing as a testament to the paper’s falsehood.
As lipid scientists argued, the real culprit was the new, factory-made fats that society turned to; specifically, the highly sensitive polyunsaturated fats in these products. The industrial process of hydrogenation (extracting oils from plants) requires heating the seeds to extremely high temperatures that cause their fragile, unsaturated fatty acids to oxidize; creating highly toxic trans-fat compounds. Trans fats are unnatural, man-made and destructive to your health.
So, it wasn’t the naturally occurring saturated fats that increased rates of heart disease, rather, the introduction and increased utilisation of industrial seed and vegetable oils that concurred the increase in heart disease.
Nature doesn’t make bad fats, factories do. So, avoid processed fats cultivated in factories and eat natural fats like butter, found in healthy animals.
Saturated fats are critical to your health
As evidenced by the healthy, disease-free, traditional cultures who subsisted primarily on saturated fats found naturally in animal foods, saturated fats are in fact life-sustaining and health-promoting!
Saturated fats are critical to our human physiology; constituting at least 50% of our cell membranes. Saturated fatty acids play a vital role in:
Heart Health – Despite everything we have been told, saturated fat is very heart-protective and plays several key roles in cardiovascular health. Firstly, it reduces the levels of a substance called lipoprotein (a) that strongly correlates to risk of heart disease. Secondly, the fat around the heart is highly saturated and the heart draws on this reserve of fat in times of stress.
Brain Health – Our brains are 60% fat and the Myelin Sheath that surrounds the nerves in the brain and ensures their proper function is made entirely of saturated fat and cholesterol. Saturated fatty acids are the most crucial molecules to brain development and cognitive performance as they are necessary for the proper utilisation of essential fatty acids such as omega-3 which is retained better in a saturated fat-rich diet.
Immune Health – Saturated fats lauric and myristic acid found in butter, play key roles in immune health as they have potent antimicrobial properties. Insufficient saturated fatty acids in our white blood cells impairs their ability to recognise and destroy foreign viruses and bacteria. We need a constant dietary supply of these saturated fatty acids throughout our entire life to keep the immune system vigilant against the development of cancerous cells as infections.
Benefits of Grass-fed Butter
Grass-fed Butter is rich in saturated fats so boasts of all of these benefits, plus, a host of other health-promoting nutrients including trace minerals selenium, zinc and iodine which are beneficial for fertility, immunity, and thyroid health, respectively. Other key nutrients and their benefits include:
Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA) – CLA helps to reduce belly fat, protect against cancer and support muscle growth
Butyrate – Butter is the richest available food-source of the essential nutrient Butyrate which has been proven to improve GI function, reduce gut inflammation and improve intestinal mobility (digestion).
Vitamin A (Retinol) – Butter is rich in highly absorbable Vitamin A which is crucial to regulating hormones and improving thyroid and adrenal function.
Vitamin D & K2 – Grass-fed butter is an excellent source of vitamin D and K2 which are both critical to bone health by increasing calcium absorption and bone density. Moreover, in order for calcium to be effectively incorporated into the skeletal structure, at least 50% of dietary fats should be saturated.
Cholesterol – Cholesterol in butterfat is elemental to the development and optimal functioning of the brain and nervous system (the brain uses 25% of our cholesterol). Mothers milk is high in cholesterol, almost 40% saturated fat, and contains over half of its calories as butterfat; a testament to the life-sustaining properties of butter.
Butter can take the heat!
When we are cooking, we want to choose heat-stable fats. Of the three main types of fatty acids—polyunsaturated, monounsaturated and saturated—saturated are the ones you want to roast, bake, sauté and grill with. Why? Because they are more resistant to the damage caused by heat, known as oxidation.
Thanks to their chemical shape, saturated fats have no room for oxygen to squeeze in and even high heat can’t force these tough molecules to become more accommodating. Conversely, polyunsaturated fats have two places where oxygen can chemically react, which makes oxygen billions of times more likely to combine with the fat molecule, breakdown, oxidise, become rancid and lose nutrients. Hence, their introduction onto the food scene in the 1950s was the real catalyst for increased rates of heart disease thereafter.
Why grass-fed matters
Cows ruminant digestive systems are designed to break-down grass, not grains. Pasture-raised dairy cattle are therefore healthier, leaner animals that don’t require antibiotics, resulting in superior quality dairy with a healthier balance of fatty acids. Grass-fed, organic dairy will have a healthy omega-3 to omega-6 ratio close to 1:1, whilst conventional, grain-fed dairy will have disproportionately higher inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids than heart-healthy omega-3. Cancer-protective, conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), is found to be 4x higher in pastured dairy, than grain-fed counterparts. Moreover, grass-fed dairy products boast 3x more antioxidants, vitamins and minerals including vitamin E, A, K2, calcium, magnesium and potassium.
Organic, grass-fed dairy is also good for the environment, too! Organic agricultural practices preclude the use of toxic chemicals or synthetic fertilizers that contribute to environmental pollution whilst reducing runoff and cultivating healthier soil. Working in harmony with Mother Nature, organic, sustainable farming methods contribute to sustaining healthy waterways, soil, animals and natural ecosystems. Not to mention, higher quality, more nutritious dairy.
Organic Times Butter is what I choose because it is made in New Zealand from free-range dairy cows that graze on organic pasture all year round. Raising cows as they were intended to live, naturally, reflects high animal welfare standards and embraces environmentally sustainable organic production.
What if I’m lactose intolerant?
Good news! As butter is the product of separating the cream from the milk, it has little-to-no lactose (milk sugar) present. Similarly, ghee/clarified butter has most of the lactose removed along with the milk solids, so both are more digestible for people who don’t tolerate casein or lactose.
Go for grass-fed butter!
Whilst the mainstream media is unlikely to follow this reproach on saturated fats, I encourage you to consider our evolution and the diets that have unequivocally sustained traditional cultures for centuries. Saturated fats found in butter are essential to our physiology; having specific benefits to energy metabolism, immunity, intestinal and metabolic health. As they play such a pivotal role, our bodies will contain large amounts of saturated fat whether our diets embrace them or not…so it makes little sense to avoid them based on fearmongering that was incited by an article that has since been disproven.
So, do your health (and tastebuds) a favour and look towards the menu of traditional fats that includes Organic Times organic, 100% pasture-raised, nutrient-rich, grass-fed butter. I recommend 1-2tbsp a day as a part of a well-balanced, wholefoods diet.
When Bachelor of Health Science in Nutritional and Dietetic Medicine student, Gabriella Elgood @wellnesswithgabriella shared our organic grass-fed butter on Instagram, saying “Only butter I buy and use! The best”, we wanted to know more.
Gabriella told us that she had tried many brands of high-quality butter and they just don’t compare. According to her, she knows our butter is from well-raised, pasture-fed cows because of how yellow the butter is and when cooked in a pan, it melts straight away and begins to burnish, which is a sign of its purity.
Her words were like music to our ears, especially when they were coming from a self-proclaimed wholefood foodie with a passion beyond passion for health and nutrition. So, we asked her to write a blog article for us, sharing her knowledge and insight into Butter.
See more of Gabriella’s love for health and nutrition at @wellnesswithgabriella
For further reading, head to:
- Book: Nourishing Diets: How Paleo, Ancestral and Traditional Peoples Really Ate by Sally Fallon Morell