Fresh butter made from non-pasteurized, non-homogenized, whole fat milk from grass-fed cows, contains short and medium chain fatty acids and leads to fewer harmful, small dense LDL cholesterol. This along with minerals manganese, chromium, zinc, copper, selenium, iodine and fat soluble vitamins A, D, E, K2, make butter a healthy option for the heart.
Butter has been a staple of human diet and cuisine across the world for thousands of years. This is hardly surprising. Butter contains traces of essential minerals manganese, chromium, zinc, copper, selenium and iodine. Butter also contains fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K2. These are essential and beneficial for overall body health, including heart health.
Butter, Saturated Fat and Margarine
Why has butter been so vilified in the recent past?
Most of the discussion, starting in the mid 1950s, has been centered around the “saturated fat” content in butter. Early studies on this topic concluded that consumption of saturated fat increased LDL cholesterol levels and thereby increased the risk of heart disease. It was suggested that margarines, made from vegetable fats and containing higher amounts of unsaturated fats, were a better alternative to butter.
With saturated fats going out of favor, our intake of polyunsaturated fats has increased disproportionately. While unsaturated fats (both mono and poly forms) are essential for the body, the proportions are important. Anthropological, epidemiological and molecular level studies indicate that human beings evolved on a diet with equal amounts of omega-6 and omega-3 essential fatty acids.
A high omega-6/omega-3 ratio promotes the pathogenesis of many diseases, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, osteoporosis and inflammatory and autoimmune diseases. Increased dietary intake of linoleic acid (LA) leads to oxidation of low-density lipoprotein (LDL), platelet aggregation and interferes with the incorporation of EFA in cell membrane phospholipids .
Replacing butter with margarine, touted to be healthy, has actually worked out otherwise.
Butter is Good For Your Heart
As it turns out, not all saturated fat is bad for health.
Length of saturated fatty acid chains plays a key role.
Short and medium chain fatty acids are actually good for health – they are easily converted to energy and have low tendency to remain in the blood stream and get accumulated or deposited, as compared to long chain fatty acids. Butter mainly contains short and medium chain fats.
Size of cholesterol particles produced by the body is important.
- Individual FAs typically found in milk products (including butter) were associated with a more favorable LDL profile (i.e., fewer small, dense LDL particles) .
- On the other hand, consumption of dietary trans FAs is associated with a deleterious increase in small, dense LDL .
Over the past 20 years, several prospective cohort studies examined the relationship between milk and milk product intake and the risk of CVD and stroke. The results of most, but not all, studies showed no relationship or an inverse association between the intake of dairy foods and the risk of CVD and stroke . Statistics from The Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare shows that the rate of heart attacks in Sweden has plummeted, for both men and women, just as they have done since 2005, despite consuming butter.
All considered, the fats in butter are beneficially processed by the body. In fact old Ayurvedic scholars knew this too! Clarified butter (ghee) occupies pride of place in Ayurvedic literature as an essential fat to be included in the daily diet and as a base for various medicinal preparations. To quote Charaka, the father of Ayurveda himself, “It (ghee) is the best of all fats, has 1000 potentialities and so, if used properly according to prescribed methods, exerts 1000 types of action.”
Good and Bad Butter
Fresh butter (preferably home made) prepared from fresh, non-pasteurized, non-homogenized, whole fat milk obtained from grass-fed cows is great for your body, including your heart. Packaged supermarket butter is likely to have some amount of trans fat, which is definitely bad for your heart. Even without trans fat, butter made with pasteurized, homogenized milk loses much of the benefits of whole milk.
It is recommended that 30% of our diet should consist of fats, with equal amounts of saturated (short and medium chain), mono-unsaturated and poly-unsaturated fats. Traditional diets, such as the Mediterranean and Indian diets (with butter as a staple ingredient) follow this principle. Over time and due to changes in life style and popular health perceptions, the proportion of trans fats and poly-unsaturated fats has increased in our diet, with an increase in risks to heart health. It is time to go back to our traditional roots and re-establish dietary balance. Including fresh organic butter in our diet instead of trans fats and excessive poly-unsaturated fats can just be that tonic that your heart is pining for!
It tastes better too. Now, who can argue with that?
- Simopoulos, A. P. “Evolutionary aspects of diet, the omega-6/omega-3 ratio and genetic variation: nutritional implications for chronic diseases.”Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy 60.9 (2006): 502-507.
- Sjogren, Per, et al. “Milk-derived fatty acids are associated with a more favorable LDL particle size distribution in healthy men.” The Journal of nutrition134.7 (2004): 1729-1735.
- Mauger, Jean-François, et al. “Effect of different forms of dietary hydrogenated fats on LDL particle size.” The American journal of clinical nutrition 78.3 (2003): 370-375.
- Huth, Peter J., and Keigan M. Park. “Influence of dairy product and milk fat consumption on cardiovascular disease risk: a review of the evidence.” Advances in Nutrition: An International Review Journal 3.3 (2012): 266-285.
Edited by Madhumita