Butter (and other saturated fats) is a health food!

Stick of Butter (Western Pack)

Stick of Butter (Western Pack)

By Cat, Jun 23, 2014 (Photo, right, from Wikimedia Commons)

Headlines around the world are announcing “Butter is Back” after articles published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine (1) and Medical News Today (2) in March of this year were lauded in Time Magazine (4), and now, on the NBC’s Today Show (5, includes video). These follow the publication of an article in the New York Times (3) by researcher Dr. Fred Kummerow, who has been studying the effect of different lipids (including fats and cholesterol) on health for 80 years. He was the first to alert people to the problem of trans fats in margarine and vegetable shortening, in 1957!

I’ve been writing for a long time about the misunderstanding concerning saturated fats in general and butter in particular, since the late 1970s – there are several articles on this blog (see list below) and on my personal website about this as well.

One caveat: To be most healthful, butter should be from the cream of grass-fed/pasture-raised cows. Most national brands feed their cows grain/soy feed that is likely GMO. The best butter is homemade, from the raw or cultured cream of grass-fed cows.

So, where did ‘science’ go wrong in pointing the finger at saturated fats, and why?

The bottom line on fats and processed foods

  • Minimally processed saturated fats from both plant and animal foods are good for you and DO NOT promote heart attacks. These fats include fresh, full-fat dairy (not ultra-pasteurized dairy), raw cheese, chicken skin, home-rendered lard, fats in marbled meats, duck or goose fat, and coconut oil.
  • Highly processed oils like corn, soy and canola oil that are rich in poly-unsaturated fats are rancid in the bottle (oxidized), and produce oxidized cholesterol, a main culprit in arterial damage that leads to heart attacks.
  • Processed foods, in general, are not good for your health. They are made with too much sugar; highly processed grains and flours; highly processed, rancid fats; and questionable additives like preservatives, colors and flavorings. These foods: reduce insulin and leptin sensitivity that lead to obesity and/or diabetes; promote imbalances in other hormones; damage vital organs like the liver, pancreas and spleen over time; cause inflammation in the gut and elsewhere in the body; and more.

It’s important to note that not all carbohydrate foods are bad for you; it’s only the ones that are highly processed  that cause problems, especially when they are a main part of the diet. Highly processed foods include, but are not limited to:

hamburger buns, sodas, white bread, cookies & cakes, donuts, breakfast cereals, margarines and vegetable fat spreads, vegetable shortening, diet sodas, commercial ice cream and other frozen desserts, boxed breakfast cereals (cherrios, wheaties, etc.), canned soups and broths, frozen pizza, TV-dinners and other boxed, frozen meals, and more.

Healthfulness of good fats

Minimally processed animal fats found in dairy, eggs, meat, organ meats, and cheese contain a mix of fats including not just saturated fats, but also mono-unsaturated and poly-unsaturated fats. The saturated fats (such as those in butter, home-rendered lard, and coconut oil) are needed by the body for many functions:

  • antimicrobial
  • anti-tumor
  • liver support (especially the short-chain fats)
  • boost metabolism
  • strengthen the immune system
  • turn cell membrane receptors (such as insulin or adrenaline receptors) on and off (cell signaling)

The conclusions drawn from 20th century studies on fats and heart health were wrong on at least 2 fronts:

Front #1: To study saturated fats (pre-1957), they used vegetable fats that were hydrogenated, rather than natural saturated fats such as those found in lard or coconut oil. And, as it turns out, those hydrogenated vegetable fats were not hydrogenated to saturated fat, but rather partially-hydrogenated to trans fats, which we now know to be responsible for the negative effects on heart health that the researchers incorrectly blamed on saturated fats like butter.

Front #2: They observed the effect of different types of cholesterol on the heart’s arteries and determined that LDL cholesterol was responsible for the accumulation of plaque in the arteries, that eventually leads to obstructions and heart attacks. But they now know there are at least two types of LDL:

    • Small, dense LDL – the actual culprit in arterial plaque; and
    • Large, fluffy LDL – ‘benign’ and not the culprit in arterial plaque.

Guess which one increases with butter and other saturated fats in the diet? The large, fluffy ones.

What the articles in Time and Today don’t tell you is that the fluffy LDL produced by saturated fats is far from benign; they perform essential functions in the body:

  • Their main function is to carry fatty acids to the cells that need them for energy, and other functions at the cellular level;
  • Their secondary function is to help heal damage to the arteries caused by free radicals and other oxidizing agents.

The Unhealthfulness of Processed Foods

The main problem with processed foods is the use of extremely high heat/pressure or radiation to isolate or preserve the food. For example:

  • High heat/pressure extraction of oils from corn, soy, canola and other seeds: This process requires high pressure which generates high heat, and causes oxidation (rancidity) of the extracted oils, even before they are bottled. This oxidation produces free radicals  and becomes oxidized cholesterol after consumption. Clarification note: the fats in these seeds are not, in themselves harmful; it’s the high-heat/pressure extraction of them from the seeds that causes the harm.
  • Pasteurization of raw foods including dairy, fruit and vegetable juices, pickled foods, and so on, involves exposure of the food to heat (or high heat in the case of ultra- and UHT-pasteurization), which causes oxidation and formation of free radicals. It also alters proteins in the food, which can result in allergies and/or inflammation of the digestive tract.
  • Irradiation of foods also produces free radicals. This method is used to treat some luncheon meats, ‘raw’ almonds, and more.
  • Pressing grain through mechanical extruders to form breakfast cereals of different shapes exposes the grains and their oils to high heat. This exposure creates free radicals which go on to create more free radicals; the oxidized fats become oxidized cholesterol after consumption. NOTE: dry pet food is also treated in this way and causes the same problems for your pets.

Other factors affecting the healthfulness/safety of processed foods:

  • GMO ingredients are not required to be labeled as such, but there is strong evidence that the GMO aspect has negative consequences to your health. Many GMO foods are engineered to resist the harm of herbicides/pesticides applied to the crops or to the seed; this application of systemic toxins also poses a significant health risk.
  • Additives including preservatives, coloring and flavoring affect the healthfulness of the processed food. Many of these additives have never been subjected to long-term testing; many produce allergic response in some people, and this is not taken into consideration.

For more information

Cat’s articles on The EssentiaList

Cat’s articles on Cat’s Kitchen


  1. Annals of Internal Medicine (annals.org/article.aspx?articleid=1846638)
  2. Medical News Today, March 18, 2014 (medicalnewstoday.com/articles/274166.php)
  3. New York Times, December 16.2013 (nytimes.com/2013/12/17/health/a-lifelong-fight-against-trans-fat.html?_r=1&)
  4. Time Magazine, June 12, 2014 (time.com/?pcd=hp-magmod#2863227/ending-the-war-on-fat
  5. NBC Today: Ending the war on butter: Are fatty foods really OK to eat? June 12, 2014 (today.com/health/ending-war-butter-are-fatty-foods-really-ok-eat-2D79795749)
  6. Mercola, Butter is Back  (articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2014/06/23/butter-trans-fat.aspx)

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