The Virtues of Butter

This post covers part of the Introduction of Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon. Opinions are mine unless indicated otherwise.

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Ah, butter. Don’t we all love it? And yet, so many of us stretch it thin, scraping a fraction of a teaspoon on a slice of toast, or drizzling such a tiny amount on our popcorn that we only get one yummy, buttery bite per handful (okay, thinking of my mom on that one). Some time ago, butter became a no-no food. Sadly, as butter consumption dropped from 18 pounds per person per year in 1910 to only four pounds per person in 1970 (and still remains relatively low today), many people replaced the wonderful golden goodness with the disgusting concoction that we call margarine (and other fake, butter-alternative ‘spreads’), falsely believing it to have health benefits.

My experience with butter is that I have always loved it. I never had any shame in using it. For a time, my mom bought margarine, and I remember telling her that she ought to buy butter…for purely taste-driven reasons, I am sure. I always used as much as I wanted, even though my mom told me to go easy on it. Not that I wasn’t afraid of getting fat like pretty much every other teenage girl, but I just viewed weight management as calories in versus calories out, and I think I instinctively knew that sweets were the thing to cut out.

I did used to buy margarine for recipes that called for it. I naively believed the recipe wouldn’t taste right if I used butter. In fact, I used margarine for all baking (except cookies, where I used shortening), and reserved the expensive butter for spreading on toast, veggies, and the like. That was before I knew margarine was a health hazard. Also, for a short time, I tried one of the ‘healthy’ spreads, supposedly high in omega-3’s with added flaxseed oil in a base of olive oil–what could be bad about that, right? But soon I abandoned that as well…I just didn’t…trust it…anymore.

This last winter, I ate butter every day on my chocolate chip waffles. I figured the butter was healthier than maple syrup, especially since my body can’t handle much sugar. I did ration it a bit…it seemed like I was just going through butter so fast. Then I noticed I was gaining weight. Thought it was the extra calories from the butter, so I switched from the dry waffles and started making moist pancakes, and stopped using butter. In retrospect, it was probably the waffles themselves, not the butter, making me gain weight (because it was so easy to eat lots of them, and then I’d be hungry again soon). Since reading the section about butter in Nourishing Traditions, I’ve begun slathering butter on our pancakes.

In the last year or so, I’ve gotten more gutsy with food, splurging on more expensive items to see if they really were better. I happened to try this Irish butter called Kerrygold…and true to its name, it had a nice golden color. Little did I know the darker color meant it had more nutrients, coming from pastured cows versus grain-fed cows (little did I know that even humanly-treated, ‘all-natural’ cows, don’t necessarily get to eat grass). I thought the butter was good, but wasn’t sure it was worth the extra cost, and having to drive to a separate grocery store. Now I know better. Oh, my, do I know better. It’s so good that I’ll lick the knife afterwards, and this morning I found my son digging into the block of butter with a fork and eating it straight.

The Kerrygold butter my little boy went after with his fork.

If you need a reason to up your butter intake, read this:

  • Butter from pasture-fed cows is the best source of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, K and E, as well as their cofactors (which are needed to make the vitamins effective). Butter is the best source of these vitamins for Americans. Vitamin A is more easily absorbed from butter than other sources. (And vitamin A helps with vitamin D absorption, which is important for strong bones and warding off illness and depression). Also, these fat-soluble vitamins are important for helping our body use the minerals in our diet–without these vitamins, we can become mineral difficient.
  • Butterfat is important for reproduction:
…it’s absence results in “nutritional castration,” the failure to bring out male and female sexual characteristics. As butter consumption in America has declined, sterility rates and problems with sexual development have increased.
  • Cultures that do not consume butter get their fat-soluble vitamins from fish, shellfish, fish eggs, organ meats, blubber, and insects. Since Americans in general don’t eat a whole lot of fish, and almost none of the rest, butter is our best bet for getting these vitamins. Traditional populations consume ten times the amount of fat-soluble vitamins that Americans did in 1930 (I’m sure we are getting even less today).
  • According to Weston Price, these vitamins promote an attractive bone structure, wide palates and uncrowded teeth. (Could have saved me from 8 teeth extractions and 2.5 years of braces, perhaps?)
  • Raw animal fat contains the Wulzen Factor, which prevents degenerative arthritis, hardening of arteries, cataracts, and calcification of the pineal gland.
  • Butter contains short- and medium-chain fatty acids, which are converted into quick energy. These fatty acids also have antimicrobial, antitumor, and immune-system-supporting properties, especially 12-carbon lauric acid which is not found in other animal fats (it’s found in smaller quantities in coconut oil). Four-carbon butyric acid is ‘practically unique’ in butter, and has antifungal and antitumor properties.
  • Contains omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in nearly equal amounts (we should be consuming about a 1:1 ratio).
  • Butter from pasture-fed cows contains conjugated linoleic acid, which has strong anti-cancer properties, and encourages muscle growth and prevents weight gain.
  • It contains cholesterol. (Refer to my previous post on the importance of cholesterol in the diet.)
  • Glycosphingolipids in butterfat protect against gastrointestinal infections. Children who drink skim milk have diarrhea three to five times more often than children who drink whole milk.
  • Butterfat is rich in trace minerals, including iodine, and extremely rich in selenium (amongst other things, selenium is important for reproduction).
That’s not even everything listed in the book, although it’s a good chunk of it. So let’s see, anticancer properties alone is enough reason for me to want to eat butter (seeing as I’m probably genetically predisposed to cancer), but the fact that it’s important for reproduction is another strong reason for me. The Wulzen factor would be an incentive for anyone worried about coronary heart disease as well as anyone who suffers from arthritis due to calcification of the joints. I really want my son to eat a lot to help his brain develop and promote strong bones and good health overall.
Homemade butter.
Butter tastes so good, and it’s good for us, too. (Who knew?) I think I can easily up my intake of butter to 18 pounds a year. 🙂 My son loves it. I think with my husband I will have to sneak it into his food (I don’t know if he’s afraid to eat it or what, but I’ve never seen him put butter on anything). Of course, your doctor probably isn’t going to tell you to load up on butter. Apparently some doctors still think margarine is the healthier choice (this goes back to ‘nutritionism,’ and Michael Pollan will be happy to tell you all about that in his book In Defense of Food). Keep in mind that (according to the documentary foodmatters) only 6% percent of medical doctors have any formal training in nutrition, and the government seems more interested in supporting specific parts of the food industry rather than giving us unbiased nutritional guidelines.

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So, what do you love about butter? What motivates you to eat it?
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16 Comments Add yours

  1. Cassie says:

    Ok here’s my thought- butter is so nutritionally dense, meat is, veggies are, fat is, why would you have grains? When you could fill your plate with the other things that have far more vitamins and health benefits?
    I eat butter for all these reasons. I read about it on MDA about a year ago and I knew it was good for Luke. And I would never switch from grass fed butter after I read all the benefits from it.

    1. Lisa C says:

      Grains are still a good source of certain nutrients. I don’t think all our food needs to be super nutrient dense. It makes sense to me to eat a variety of foods…seems like that’s the easiest way to get everything we need. But I don’t think grains ought to be the base of our diet…more of a complimentary food. The way I’m thinking right now, is that grains should be a secondary choice…the thing you eat when you’ve eaten other good stuff but then are still hungry. That’s what makes sense to me right now.

  2. Cassie says:

    I know we’ll always disagree to a certain extent about the grains. Oh well fun to talk about anyway.

  3. Lin says:

    Cholesterol aside, butter’s biggest trouble is its saturated fat content. Saturated fats are solid at room temperature and are found largely in red meat, high-fat dairy products (like butter) as well as coconut and palm oils. When eaten in excess, saturated fats increase the “bad” cholesterol (LDL) as well as the “good” cholesterol (HDL). Despite the fact that saturated fats raise good cholesterol, they don’t raise it enough for us to warrant you eating it. Saturated fat intakes are associated with increases in heart-disease risk. A healthy range of saturated fat is 10 – 15 grams each day. Just one tablespoon of butter contains over 7 grams of saturated fat!

  4. mb says:

    i love butter!!!!! i am the child of a dairy farmer, so fortunately for me, my parents were stalwart defenders of eating butter ever since i can remember, in spite of all my friends’ families having converted to margarine. we plowed through a whole stick each day, sometimes more. (we would leave it on the table to stay soft, in fact, because it never had a chance to go rancid). and, well, let’s just say we are all the better for the diet we grew up on. both my brothers and i are about the healthiest people i know. my dad as well, who grew up on a diet complete with animal fats. and i am with you too, lisa, on the grain. i think everything in moderation! i guess it’s up to each individual what “moderation” looks like, but 18 pounds of butter per year sounds JUST right to me. lol. i love the flavor of butter, the texture, the way it thickens chowder so wonderfully, the way it “sticks to my ribs” when i am just gnawingly hungry, the way it is a comforting flavor from childhood…. the only thing i would add to your assessment is to emphasize the importance of organic (GRASS FED organic) butter- it’s the fats that accumulate the poisons of conventional farming, so meat and dairy are pretty important places to convert to organic. (speaking of cancer risk.) and let me tell you, it’s hard to find butter that meets all the criteria, so good for you for learning to make your own butter!

    1. Lisa C says:

      Yes, you’re right about organic and grass-fed. Fallon does stress it in her book, I should have stressed that point in my post. Cows need to eat their natural diet in order for their milk to contain maximum benefit. It’s sort of a catch-22 with the animal fat if you don’t have access to organic: you’re getting the toxins along with the vitamins. It’s probably better though, for those who can’t get organic, to just get the best animal fat they can find, rather than avoid it altogether–because our bodies still need those nutrients!

      And how cool is it that your parents were dairy farmers! I have another friend whose parents farmed and she seems also to understand what’s good for her body more than the general population. It’s like people who value growing their own food have a deeper connection with food and intuitively know what’s good for them.

      Oh…and yes, I know how to make butter, but I don’t usually make it. THAT, however, will probably change once I can find myself a raw milk source that isn’t too far from me. I’ve been struggling with that…it’s so frustrating.

      I’m not done talking about dairy yet, though! There’s a whole section on it. 😀

    2. My grandmother was one of nine children that grew up on a farm in Mississippi. They ate bacon, butter, meat, fruit, veggies, and a little freshly ground bread every day. They all lived well into their 80s and 90s and were all very healthy and joyous. That’s what I remember about them most, how happy and positive they were all the time.

      And then they left the farm and started their own children on vegetable oils. Their children were never nearly as healthy and not quite so happy. Then their children (so far from the farm, myself included) were raised on vegetable oils and additives and are nothing at all like my grandparents. The second generation removed from the farm is riddled with problems. Our parents tried to feed us the “healthy” diet of the eighties – one with no saturated fats and full of damaging omega-6s. Lucky for me I discovered butter and Weston Price, like you Lisa, and am much more like my grandparents now than like my parents.

      Great long post about butter! So good to get the word out.

      1. Lisa C says:

        Thank you for sharing your story, Peggy! I love hearing testimonials from real people. I find it far more convincing than the latest science, which can often be skewed.

  5. Carin says:

    I love butter! Nothing better. And it’s so good for you. My body doesn’t tolerate carbs well so I follow a low carb high fat kind of diet, and butter always tops the list. Yum!

    Btw, the reference to Kerrygold made me chuckle- didn’t even realise they sold it over there..

    1. Lisa C says:

      Yeah, well, you know…if it’s good enough, it’s worth paying the price for imported goods. Apparently in the real foodie world, at least out here, it’s gotta be Kerrygold or Organic Valley, which is local. I happen to like Kerrygold better. 🙂

      Isn’t wonderful to know that you can eat more fat and be healthier for it? Even though I’ve never made too much effort to go lowfat, I never would have intentionally tried to do high-fat until I learned the benefits. I read the most fascinating article just yesterday about the whole malnourished on lowfat/high carb diet thing. I’m going to talk about it a bit in a future post, but here’s the link for anyone interested: http://theprimalparent.com/2011/05/29/calorie-restriction-the-quality-of-diet-seems-to-matter/

  6. Cassie says:

    I was talking with my step mom about this post. I was telling her that statistic from the book about people not eating as much butter as before. And she was like yeah because butter is twice the amount as margarine and people couldn’t afford it. That’s what we used when I was a kid and her too. Of course our parents didn’t know any better either but some people really can’t afford to spend that extra amount on real food. I think that’s what is really driving the change in diet. It’s like for us, once we get back to budgeting ( we’ve been slacking) if we only get x amount for groceries per week we will have t give up something to choose to get kerrygold. I mean its at least twice as much. We will but for some people that dollar or two difference means a lot.
    It’s too bad a lot of good food is way more expensive than the really crappy alternative.

    1. Lisa C says:

      I know, it’s a shame that not everyone can afford good food. There are ways around high costs, of course, such as doing a CSA, growing your own, making things from scratch, etc., but even then some people still can’t make it. I feel for those who have to rely on food boxes and they just get processed food. I remember before I was married and struggled financially that I decided whenever I had more money, better food would be my top priority. Fallon includes tips in her book for those on a budget…I haven’t read it yet, but will be sure to cover it in a post sometime.

  7. Janice says:

    Thanks for the post. I love butter. 🙂

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