The Butter Rollercoaster

For most of my life I was told that butter was bad for me. My mother would rarely cook with it. My dad preferred margarine. There was always some in the fridge, but it was for things like pancakes or corn on the cob. My mother was just following what she was told by her betters, i.e., the government and government funded health “experts.”

Is Organic Butter Really Worth the Extra Money?

What a surprise it was when I started following the paleo lifestyle and learnt that grass-fed butter was actually pretty good for me. I’ve been using it as one of my main cooking ingredients ever since. I almost always go for organic though.

Scientific research from six years ago, found in the Annals of Internal Medicine, backed up what paleos had been arguing for some time. The war on natural saturated fats like butter was wrong. There was not a strong case to be made that it was unhealthy.

So all was good in the world for paleo/ketos right? Maybe not. The following year, Harvard’s School of Public Health dumped on the Annals study. Although admitting that conventional guidelines had been wrong for decades – low fat good/fat bad – senior author Frank Hu stated “Our research does not exonerate saturated fat. In terms of heart disease risk, saturated fat and refined carbohydrates appear to be similarly unhealthful.” Where did Hu et al. get their data from? The long running Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study. By the way, I don’t think I pointed out in previous posts that the Health Professionals Study was created by Harvard’s School of Public Health.

What’s a paleo/keto to think about all of this? Good, bad, neutral? I’ve noted the potential limitations in the Nurses’ and Professionals studies elsewhere. After all, they are surveys that pull together meta-data. Observational medical research can only offer clues about the causes of disease, rather than definitive proof of links between risk factors and health.  Also, how could such surveys tease out the differences between grass-fed butter and and French Fries cooked in cotton seed oil? Both are high in saturates. I’m not saying the surveys are useless, but I’m very sceptical that such data can be used to single out butter for ridicule. After all, there are a lot of saturated fats out there and the Harvard article only maligns butter in the headline. One might argue that the study in Annals, which started all the hubbub, is equally suspect. It doesn’t look that way. Go to the link and look at the breakdown in Data Synthesis.

Fortunately for the layman, there has been more research in the world of saturated fat. The most recent one, published last month in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, states the following:

The recommendation to limit dietary saturated fatty acid (SFA) intake has persisted despite mounting evidence to the contrary. Most recent meta-analyses of randomized trials and observational studies found no beneficial effects of reducing SFA intake on cardiovascular disease (CVD) and total mortality, and instead found protective effects against stroke. Although SFAs increase low-density lipoprotein (LDL)-cholesterol, in most individuals, this is not due to increasing levels of small, dense LDL particles, but rather larger LDL which are much less strongly related to CVD risk. It is also apparent that the health effects of foods cannot be predicted by their content in any nutrient group, without considering the overall macronutrient distribution. Whole-fat dairy, unprocessed meat, eggs and dark chocolate are SFA-rich foods with a complex matrix that are not associated with increased risk of CVD. The totality of available evidence does not support further limiting the intake of such foods.

Conclusion

Given that orthodox health experts have been giving Westerners horrible advice for decades (fat bad/carbs good, calories are calories, smoking is good for you, etc.), I always become suspicious when the same soi-disant experts attack anything that could upset their status quo. That’s not to say there’s a conspiracy or that these people are necessarily lying. These are probably well meaning scientists who have invested their whole careers arguing certain things. To fundamentally question that is psychologically difficult. Some could also suffer from confirmation bias. They see what they want to see.

In any event, paleo/keto, including butter, has been very good to me. The traditional Western diet made me fat and unhealthy. Now I’m thin and healthy despite my diabetes. I certainly won’t be giving up butter any time soon (grass fed and organic of course).

Finally, yes, it is true. Experts did suggest that smoking is good for you:

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