Is butter back? And what about grass-fed makes it better? Let’s answer these burning questions with nutrition Expert Nick Biase.
Recent high fat diet trends such as ketogenic and “Bulletproof Coffee” raise claims that grass-fed butter is good for you and will help you lose fat. These claims are based on the idea that fat makes you feel full. Therefore, by eating less and by replacing carbohydrates with fat, you will adapt your metabolism to burn more body fat.
In truth, eating fat does make us feel satiated and we need fat in our diets. However, protein along with fiber that comes from whole grains, legumes, and fruits provide similar effects of feeling full.
Let’s first discuss butter, with a claim taken directly from Bulletproof’s website:
“Bulletproof Coffee’s nutrient profile doesn’t stack up against, say, an avocado and a couple whole eggs.”
Logically speaking, if you’re always trying to get more bang for your buck, then why wouldn’t you consider the nutrient density of food? In reality, butter doesn’t offer much but a little bit of Vitamin A, whereas equal servings in calories from avocados and eggs supply a wide variety of vitamins and minerals.
But Bulletproof says that doesn’t matter so long as you’re eating these foods during your other mealtimes. That seems confusing.
So again, what makes butter so special?
Butter enthusiasts claim that the saturated fat and cholesterol in grass-fed butter provide the necessary precursors to make your hormones in your body and provide a slow burn of steady energy. The buttered coffee folks claim that it’s an upgrade over traditional carbohydrate-filled breakfast fare.
Carbs in traditional breakfast fare? It’s probably safe to assume they’re referring to toast, cereal, and possibly doughnuts. True, these choices may leave us feeling less satisfied and set us up for hunger pains in a short while.
But what about eggs? You know, the other well known traditional breakfast fare, which actually has 9 times more the amount of cholesterol than butter, along with a bunch of other essential nutrients. And assuming “traditional breakfast fare” is white bread and sugary cereal, what say we swap those out for whole grain options like whole wheat, oats, or fruit?
I offer this solution because, hands down, there’s much more research supporting the reduction of cardiovascular disease risk through diets which replace saturated fat, such as that found in butter, with unsaturated fat from foods like avocados, nuts, and olive oil, as well as diets with fiber-filled whole grains. Also important to note are that risk factors actually increase when saturated fats are consumed in conjunction with refined carbohydrates and added sugars. This evidence is why our nutritional guidelines encourage limiting saturated fat intake to be less than 10% of our total Calories.
So where did all those ‘butter is back’ claims come from?
While there has been some research indicating butter and other dairy products are not to blame for increased CVD risk, these studies merely indicate that saturated fats have no significant effect. However, these studies do not indicate an advantage to eating more saturated fat in pursuit of health improvements.
Those studies just simply don’t exist.
To be clear, elimination of dairy fats is not being advocated, but rather the pursuit of moderation. Go ahead and enjoy a breakfast sandwich done better on a whole wheat English muffin, eggs cooked with avocado oil, light shredded cheese, and uncured applewood smoked bacon. Comparable to the 430 calories in Bulletproof coffee, but with so much more good stuff.
So what about this grass-fed thing, is it really better?
Butter from grass fed cows in comparison to conventional butter has the roughly the same amount of Calories and fat:
Approximately 100 Cals per tbsp and 12g of total fat, 7g which are saturated fat.
How they differ is that grass-fed has slightly more Vitamin A and Omega-3 fatty acids. However, let’s discuss this before anyone starts labeling butter as a “superfood.” The amount of Vitamin A in one tbsp supplies 10% of the daily value whereas a medium carrot gives you about 57%.
As for the Omega-3 content, yes there’s more, but no where near what you’d get from a serving of fatty fish like salmon which provides 3 important fatty acids: ALA, EPA, DHA. Although there’s limited evidence cited in reference to the amount of Omega-3 contents of grass-fed butter, many articles refer to a single study which finds “half a liter of milk from grass-fed cows provides approximately 191 mg ALA and 14 mg EPA.”
Let’s do the math. If it takes approximately 9 liters of milk to make 1 pound of butter, 1 pound equals 4 sticks, eight servings per stick, then you’ll receive:
|Salmon 3.0 oz||ALA 126mg||EPA 733mg||DHA 938mg|
|Grass-fed Butter 1tbs||11mg||9mg||0|
|Conventional Butter 1tbs||16mg||0||0|
Perhaps it’s a good idea to stick with that salmon, unless you are planning on having 11 tablespoon of butter today.
With that said, the main takeaway is that butter is not the devil, but it certainly doesn’t deserve a halo either. Health is all about life in moderation, so singling out specific foods as either the hated culprit or superfood du jour isn’t helpful.
Just keep it balanced, folks.
Nick Biase, RDN is a San Diego-based registered dietitian nutritionist specializing in sports nutrition and wellness. Nick is a Marine veteran, fitness enthusiast, home brewer, and a firm believer that you can keep both 6-packs. To develop your nutrition game plan with Nick, make a visit to Nutrition Cadre.