Buttering Up Your Health… with Real Butter
For many years, butter was replaced by margarine on the menus of health-conscious consumers. But like many dietary taboos, that’s beginning to change. A little butter is better than the fake stuff, says Daily Health Newscontributing medical editor Andrew L. Rubman, ND. Butter is a natural food that supports good health, while margarine is a processed product chemically fashioned from refined polyunsaturated oils. Don’t take this as license to drench your vegetables in pools of butter or slather it on your toast with abandon — but unless you have health challenges such as a serious digestive or metabolic disorder, Dr. Rubman says to go ahead and use the real thing!
Butter with Benefits
Butter consists of butterfat and trace amounts of milk proteins and water. You may be surprised to hear that butterfat is butyric acid, which is basically the same substance that mothers produce to nourish their babies, Dr. Rubman explains.
Butter’s beneficial components include…
- Antioxidants. Beta-carotene, selenium and other antioxidants shield the body from free-radical damage.
- Butyric acid. This short-chain fatty acid supports colon health.
- Conjugated linoleic acids. CLAs fight cancer, build muscle and boost immunity.
- Iodine. Butter is rich in iodine, which is essential to thyroid health.
- Lauric acid. A medium-chain fatty acid, lauric acid encourages the body’s immune system to fend off yeast and other infections.
- Lecithin. This phospholipid protects cells from oxidation and may contribute to cholesterol metabolism.
- Vitamin A. Butter contains the readily absorbable form of vitamin A, which is a must for eye and endocrine health.
- Vitamin D. This vitamin helps your body absorb calcium to maintain strong bones and plays a role in reducing your risk for chronic diseases such as osteoporosis, heart disease, and colon and other cancers.
- Vitamin E. Anti-inflammatory vitamin E speeds wound healing, promotes skin health, enhances immunity and may protect against a host of illnesses, including diabetes, heart disease and Alzheimer’s.
- Vitamin K. Proper blood clotting and bone health are among the benefits offered by fat-soluble vitamin K.
But What About the Fat?
The biggest rap against butter is its high fat content. Butter bashers argue that saturated fat and cholesterol in butter contribute to heart disease, but Dr. Rubman disagrees — and the research bears him out. In a study published in the May 2010 The Lancet, scientists point out that countries with the highest saturated fat consumption have lower cardiac mortality rates than countries that consume the least fat. For example, the French enjoy three times more saturated fat than the Azerbaijanis but have one-eighth the rate of heart disease deaths. The Finns eat half as much fat as the French, but the death rate from heart disease is three times greater in Finland. In research from the UK, 2,000 men with heart disease who cut back on saturated fat for two years had no fewer heart attacks than men who did not cut back.
Saturated fat and cholesterol have been falsely demonized by manufacturers of cholesterol-lowering statin drugs, observes Dr. Rubman, noting that since butter is typically used in small amounts, this can be a good place to get the fat your body needs, not only for optimal health but for life itself. Every cell in your body contains saturated fat and cholesterol, which contribute to proper digestive function, growth and other essential processes. According to Dr. Rubman, for best health, most people should follow a diet that contains approximately 15% to 30% fat, including some saturated fats. How much saturated fat depends on factors such as caloric expenditure and digestive efficiency — the more calories you burn, the more saturated fat you can appropriately consume.
Go with Organic
You are best off with organic butter made from the milk of grass-fed cows, Dr. Rubman notes — since conventional butters often contain dangerous pesticides, antibiotics and added growth hormones. Indeed, the Pesticide Action Network North America ranked non-organic butter as one of the top 10 foods most contaminated with persistent organic pollutants (POPs), toxic chemicals linked with breast cancer, immune system suppression, nervous system disorders, reproductive damage, hormone disruption and more!
Besides containing toxins, non-organic butter also is less nutritious than organic butter… less creamy… and less tasty. Is there any reason to buy any butter that’s not organic? Well, organic butter is more expensive than conventional butter — but the difference in a household’s overall budget is truly small, especially now that national grocery chains, such as Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, are offering their own organic store brands.
Butter is a staple of the human diet that people have safely and happily consumed for thousands of years, and Dr. Rubman says we should no more ban it from our lives than we should ban mother’s milk. It should be enjoyed in moderation, a pat here and a pat there — but enjoyed it can be… and that’s more than can be said of margarine or other butter substitutes.