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Butter—from grass-fed, organically raised cows—is a wonderful, healthy food. To understand why, you have to unlearn a great deal of what you’ve been taught about saturated fat. So let’s get a couple things out of the way: One, yes, butter has some saturated fat. Two, who cares?
The “dangers” of saturated fat have been wildly exaggerated and were never based on any real science, as we’ve learned from the last decade or so of research. To remove healthy foods such as butter, avocado, eggs, coconut oil, or palm oil from the diet simply because they contain some saturated fat is, in my opinion, extremely unwise—not to mention unjustified by the research data. Let’s also remember that 30 percent of the fat in butter comes from monounsaturated fat (the same kind that’s in olive oil).
Now that that’s out of the way, here’s the good stuff about butter. It’s a rich source of vitamin A, which is needed for many functions in the body, including healthy immunity and vision. Butter also contains all the other fat-soluble vitamins—E, K, and D. Vitamin D deficiency is being called a “silent epidemic” by many nutritionists these days because most Americans don’t get nearly enough of this cancer-fighting, bone-building nutrient.
When you eat products that come from healthy, grass-fed animals, you’re getting the benefits of the animal’s diet. Real feed for cows is green grass, not grains. Foods like butter that come from grass-fed cows are rich in the fats proven to be healthful, including omega-3s, which are virtually absent from grain-fed livestock.
Food that comes from grass-fed animals also contains conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a particularly healthy fat that has demonstrated anticancer properties. Butter, milk, and meat from grain-fed animals contains virtually no CLA, while food from grass-fed animals is a rich source of this health-promoting fatty acid.
Years ago, I was lucky enough to interview the late lipid biochemist Mary Enig, PhD, considered one of the great experts on fats and the author of Know Your Fats. Among other things, Enig pointed out that the fat in butter inhibits the growth of pathogens. That’s because butter is a source of several kinds of antimicrobial fatty acids, including lauric acid, which disables many pathogenic viruses. Butter also contains glycolipids, which have anti-infective properties, as well as the aforementioned CLA, which has anti-cancer properties.
Dr. Enig concluded her textbook discussion on butter with the following words: “Butter is definitely a fat with health-potentiating properties.” I couldn’t agree more.