The Health Benefits of Eating Butter
Good News About Butter in Your Diet
Butter is unhealthy, right? What if I told you it has health benefits—would that change the way you feel about butter?
Memories of butter are often positive. Think of butter-filled holiday meals shared with loved ones, or of spreading butter on homemade bread still warm from the oven. There’s something very comforting about butter enjoyed this way. But for some time now, the pleasure of butter has been heavily tinged with guilt.
How Butter Became a Guilty Pleasure
Butter has been a part of the human diet for thousands of years. In fact, historians date the first-known reference to butter to 4500 years ago. So how did eating butter become a guilty pleasure? Blame modern science.
In the 1940s dietary fat was linked to cancer. In the 1950s eating saturated fat and cholesterol was linked to heart disease. As a saturated fat, butter was doomed. It was labelled a bad food and was ostracized from healthy diets. Taking butter out left a food void, and a “healthy” substitute—margarine–was already waiting in the wings to fill the gap.
Now, it’s safe to say that margarine has never known love the way butter has. Like other replacement foods—think vegetarian meat—it’s one thing parading around as another, never quite living up to the original.
Food Attitudes are Changing
Luckily for those of us who enjoy real butter, attitudes towards food are undergoing a transformation. The 100-mile diet inspired people to look more closely at the wide array of foods available right in their own backyards. Global warming has made us more aware of the environmental footprint of foods shipped halfway around the world. Ever increasing obesity rates have consumers turning away from processed food and embracing unprocessed food.
What is Butter?
Butter is whole, real food, minimally processed. But what about those studies that showed it wasn’t healthy? The 1940s study linking fat and cancer considered man-made fats like shortening, not naturally saturated fats like butter. The 1950s study suggested eating cholesterol caused high cholesterol in the body. But it’s now estimated that only 15% of cholesterol in the body is from consumed food. The rest is made by the body. And neither study addressed the fact that people ate an average of 18 lbs of butter a year in 1920, but only 4 lbs by 1960. In the same timeframe heart disease went from being an uncommon issue to a leading cause of death. It seems pretty clear that butter wasn’t the issue.
The Benefits of Butter
Underneath the saturated-fat label—a scarlet letter of food if ever there was one—butter is a complex compound. Here’s some of what butter has to offer:
- It is a rich source of antioxidants, including vitamin A, vitamin E and selenium
- It contains conjugated linoleic acids, which protect against cancer
- It is a good source of iodine, needed for the thyroid
- Because it’s a nutrient-dense food, it helps to truly satisfy hunger
- It is the best and most easily absorbed source of vitamin A
And from the Weston A. Price Foundation, the best theory of all: butter doesn’t make you fat. Butter contains short and medium chain fatty acids, which are used for quick energy rather than being stored in the body. Fat tissue in humans is composed mainly of longer chain fatty acids.
Sound too good to be true? After all the bad press butter has received over the last seven decades, it’s hard to imagine it as a health food. But considering that eating 18 lbs a year was normal in a time when heart disease was virtually unknown, it seems completely reasonable to enjoy moderate amounts of real butter. And for the love of butter, let’s toss the guilt out with the margarine! Butter is a great food full of good stuff, and it tastes delicious.
Go ahead, be bold: eat butter.