There are few foods more comforting and versatile than butter. Although butter has been renounced by the medical and health community for years, it isn’t all bad. It’s true that butter is predominantly a saturated fat, and there is strong evidence that correlates the overconsumption of saturated fats with obesity and heart disease. However, maybe we aren’t giving butter a fair chance.
There are actually several benefits to consuming this delectable condiment in moderation. Quality butter is a good source of vitamins and minerals; it also contains butyrate (good for gut bacteria) and beneficial fatty acids like conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) and omega-3. One of its greatest benefits just might be the flavor it adds to your favorite foods!
Butter contains calcium, fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K2, as well as vitamin B12. Calcium and vitamin D are essential for bone growth and maintenance. Vitamin K is crucial for the coagulation of blood, and it also has a role in the carboxylation of osteocalcin, a protein that is produced by osteoblasts, the cells responsible for laying down bone tissue. Vitamins A and E are powerful antioxidants that have functions in supporting the immune system, vision health, and reproduction. Lastly, vitamin B12 helps to build red blood cells and maintain nerve health. It serves as a co-factor for various metabolic reactions, most notably DNA methylation.
Butyric acid or butyrate is a short-chain fatty acid (SCFA) that is mainly produced when dietary fiber is fermented by gut bacteria. Butyrate is a predominant fuel source for colon cells and helps to maintain the health and function of the epithelial lining of your gut. Butyrate has been associated with various health benefits including acting as an anti-inflammatory and improving mucosal immunity, regulating insulin sensitivity, having anti-cancer effects, and possibly even reducing the risk of stroke. Although butyrate is produced from gut bacteria, butter itself is a significant source of butyrate, containing approximately 11 percent.
Now, there is a caveat to some of these benefits: the quality of your butter.
Butter from grass-fed cows has been shown to contain more CLA and omega-3 fatty acids than butter from grain-fed cows. Studies have suggested that CLA may prevent the production and storage of fat and contribute to improved fat metabolism. Studies have also shown specific CLA isomers to prevent plaque build up in blood vessels, which helps to lower blood pressure, therefore contributing to lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease. The same isomers have been shown to have cancer fighting effects by inducing cancer cell death. Finally, CLA has demonstrated anti-inflammatory properties which may be useful in the treatment of inflammatory bowel disease, but further research is required in this area. Omega-3 fatty acids are strongly supported by evidence to benefit cardiovascular health and significantly reduce mortality rates from heart attack or other cardiovascular events.
Keep in mind that butter is a high-calorie food, and we don’t want to go eating sticks of butter at a time, but incorporating quality butter as part of a nutritious and well-rounded diet may not be a bad idea. So this holiday season, consider ditching the margarine and try adding some grass-fed butter to your favorite meals. This doctor approves.
Dr. McLarty is a naturopathic doctor completing her primary care medicine residency at Live Well Clinic. Her focus is women’s health, fertility, and dermatology. For more information, visit www.livewellclinic.org or on Instagram @livewellclinic.
Sources available upon request.