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Is Butter Back?

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butter

Should you avoid butter completely because it has saturated fats or should you add it to your coffee in hopes of becoming smarter?

Is butter bad for you or good for you? If you have been following the media reports, you’ve seen this go back and forth over the years. Time magazine went so far as to make a cover story about it recently.

The main argument for butter is that it is high in essential nutrients and important fatty acids. The main arguments against it are that it may raise the risk of cardiac death and contains toxicants. Let’s look at each of these

time

Nutrients in butter

Enthusiasts have said: “Butter is a rich source of easily absorbed vitamin A . . . Butter also contains all the other fat-soluble vitamins (D, E, and K2), important trace minerals, including manganese, chromium, zinc, copper and selenium.

Butter also provides the perfect balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fats.“1
Butter does contain these nutrients, but as always, the devil is in the details.

One pat of grass-fed butter contains the following:

chart
minerals
fats

There likely is some omega 3 fat in grass-fed butter, since trace amounts are found in grass-fed milk. But the actual amount per serving is less than 1 milligram. Too small to be measured.

Butter does contain saturated fat and cholesterol. Yet neither of these are essential nutrients. They both play important roles in our bodies, but they are not essential because we can manufacture them as we need them. We do not need to get either from our diets.

Butter does contain some nutrients, but it is not a significant source of any.

Toxicants in butter

Mammals like humans and cows are routinely exposed to more toxicants like pesticides than their bodies can eliminate. Much of what can’t be detoxified bioaccumulates in fat. Butter is a concentrate of the pesticides that the cow was exposed to over the span of its life.3

Organic butter is lower in some pesticides, but in many cases the difference is insignificant.

butter-chart

The pesticide DDE, for example, is a probable cause of breast cancer and neurodegenerative diseases.4

The graph below shows the range of DDE found in conventional butter on the left and organic butter on the right. The highest levels found are on the blue bars: 1.6 mcg/100 grams for commercial butter, 1.5 mcg/100 grams for organic butter. The orange represents the lowest levels found: 0.3 for commercial and 0.2 for organic.

The range is nearly identical. To think that any specific batch of organic butter is lower in DDE than commercially produced butter is statistically unlikely.5

residue-butter

Grass-Fed vs Organic

Some toxins like dioxins may be higher in grass-fed butter than in commercial butter. Dioxin raises the risks of nearly all types of cancers in both men and women. The top three sources of dioxin in the diet are beef, butter, and full-fat milk. It may take 8-13 years for the body to eliminate dioxin. Grain fed beef and dairy products are LOWER in dioxin than grass fed.6

Is saturated fat in butter dangerous?

In 2014, a review led by Dr. Chowdhury7 inspired Time’s provocative cover story. Yet these very scientists said their work was preliminary and had limitations.

Now Chowdhury’s paper has been called ‘misleading,’8 because they only compared saturated fat against processed carbs, not against other types of fat.

For example, there was no risk if you replaced 5% of the sugar in your diet with 5% more saturated fat from coconut, butter, or lard. There was no health benefit, but also no risk. What the study failed to do was compare what would happen if you ate 5% more butter and 5% less sunflower oil or fatty fish.

What has been called the most significant study to date9 on how saturated fats affect health answers that very question.

It turns out that for every tablespoon of butter you replace with 4 walnuts, you will reduce your risk of death by 26%.

Here’s a graphic summary of findings from it:

butter-chart-2

This can be especially confusing because hardcore paleo writers have been warning about the dangers of polyunsaturated fats. The theory is that they are chemically unstable and they trigger inflammation. Although these ideas are plausible, they are ideas nonetheless. Whenever evidence – such as studies about death risk – comes into conflict with ideas, you listen to the evidence.

I’ve been wary of the high saturated fat message all along. This is why I did not jump on board and encourage you to eat high amounts of coconut oil or butter. I did not think the evidence was strong enough just yet.

Saturated fat is not a ‘bad’ food, and you should not attempt to avoid it completely. However, evidence like this makes it clear that you would not want to go out of your way to add coconut oil to your shakes or add heavy amounts of butter to your meals or your beverages.

Here’s the rub. We have access to more types of food and more ideas about food than ever before. It is entirely possible to be on an extreme food plan that makes perfect sense. You can have peers that share your belief and create an experience of being in the know – being above those who still hold more conventional views. This plan can make you feel well and can improve your health. Yet despite all these positive trappings, biology is unforgiving.

There is a sad story about one of the earlier butter coffee advocates. Seth Roberts was the pioneer of the quantified self-movement, which is where we got great technologies like the Fitbit.

He extolled the benefits of high dose butter in a video10 dated August 11, 2010. He makes a convincing argument that his reaction times have gone up with his high intake of butter to a degree that other dietary hacks did not achieve.

If you move to 11:00 into the video, a cardiologist warns of the risks for heart disease with high dose butter, and the crowd laughs at him. In April of 2014, Seth passed away from heart disease just after turning 60. His mother wrote about it on his blog11. Of course many factors besides butter could have contributed to Seth’s unfortunate early death but nonetheless, cases like this make it clear that it is wise to be wary of any extreme diet.

Will the evidence about fat change? Yes, but not likely by a significant degree. We may find that the risks are somewhat smaller or larger than expected, or that some type of polyunsaturated fats are even better than others, but a complete reversal is considered unlikely.

What are your best sources of polyunsaturated fats?

  • Cold water fish
  • Fish oil
  • Shellfish
  • Walnuts and walnut oil
  • Sunflower seeds and sunflower seed oil
  • Canola oil, non-GMO12 (Is Canola Oil Safe?)
  • Sesame seeds and sesame seed oil
  • Chia seeds

When it comes to vegetable oils, use whole seeds or nuts as a first choice. Choose oils that are cold pressed, GMO-free, organic and minimally processed.

Soy and corn oil are also high in polyunsaturated fats, but it’s hard to find any that are GMO-free and not chemically processed.

http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2010/12/07/why-is-butter-better.aspx

1 – http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/custom/2244512/2
2 – http://www.whatsonmyfood.org/food.jsp?food=BU
3 – http://www.breastcancerfund.org/site/pp.asp?c=kwKXLdPaE&b=84567
4 – http://www.whatsonmyfood.org/level.jsp?food=BU&pesticide=910
5 – https://www.aphis.usda.gov/animal_health/emergingissues/downloads/dioxins.pdf
6 – http://annals.org/article.aspx?articleid=1846638
7 – https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/2014/03/19/dietary-fat-and-heart-disease-study-is-seriously-misleading/
8 – https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/2016/07/05/different-dietary-fat-different-risk-of-mortality/
9 – https://vimeo.com/14281896
10 – http://blog.sethroberts.net/2014/05/10/cause-of-death/
11 – http://drchristianson.com/is-canola-oil-safe/

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Dr. Alan Glen Christianson (Dr. C) is a Naturopathic Endocrinologist and the author of The NY Times bestselling Adrenal Reset Diet.

Dr. C’s gift for figuring out what really works has helped hundreds of thousands of people reverse thyroid disease, lose weight, cure diabetes, and regain energy. Learn more about the surprising story that started his quest.

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