Until the early 1950s, fat was just a normal part of the average person’s diet—people were not overweight and heart disease was relatively rare. Then came Ancel Keys, a nutritionist from the University of Minnesota. Keys published a six-country study in 1953 and a follow-up seven-country study in 1970 that supposedly correlated fat consumption with an increased rate of heart disease and obesity. With his political force, Keys was able to bulldoze his own personal agenda on optimal diets, which became the government platform for our current nutritional guidelines—and generated our fear of eating fats, including butter. However it was later discovered that Keys had left out all the data in the studies that didn’t support his agenda, and he ignored research that suggested opposing conclusions.
Butter is actually one of the world’s most ecological superfoods—you don’t kill an animal to obtain it. It is a part of breast milk. It is nutrient dense and a perfect brain food, because the brain runs on either glucose or ketones (which are biochemical leftovers from fat breakdown). Like the rest of the body, the brain can readily move from one source of fuel to the other.
It is theoretically believed that within certain types of brain cells, glucose is the preferred fuel for some activities of cellular function, but clinical experience is demonstrating that our bodies can turn protein or fats into glucose through a process known as gluconeogenesis. This means that people can live quite happily eating proteins and fats without the need to eat carbohydrates at all.
When we eat simple carbohydrate foods such as sugary snacks, soft drinks, and most commercial foods, our blood sugar concentration rises quickly, but is usually short-lived because our pancreas begins insulin secretion to pull excess glucose out of our bloodstream. But if the pancreas is too aggressive and forces the blood sugar concentration too low, we develop hypoglycaemia.
In hypoglycaemia our brain has reduced access to glucose and if we require high mental activity during our day to day activities, our brain cells experience an energy shortage and change over to a ‘go-slow mode’. We then feel spaced-out, weak, confused, nervous, fuggy and stressed. Our ability to focus and think suffers. Auditory and visual information processes more slowly and we feel the need to eat food that will give us a hit—you guessed it, carbohydrate foods. However, some of us push ourselves into adrenaline fight-flight responses as well through our will power. Following this we can then feel drained and ‘out-of-sorts’, sometimes for days—it’s no fun having to work and live in this oscillating state.
Carbohydrate-based fuelling from plants is a self-perpetuating cycle, for it runs out quickly, and every time carbohydrates are eaten they take precedence over fat-burning. Fat-based fuelling is much more sustainable because it allows access to a large store of energy without having to frequently refuel every few hours. Skipping meals presents no problems to alertness nor energy levels, and blood sugar is maintained without exaggerated swings. All this means stable energy, mood, and alertness as a reward.
As we increase butter consumption (and other saturated animal fats), our bodies initiate a cyclical process of using both ketones and glucose (and glycogen stores) when performance is needed. In a way, this is similar to our electric/petrol cars that are programmed to change from one fuel source to another when performance is required. With a higher fat diet, insulin production is reduced and insulin sensitivity increases, and this allows excess fluid to be released. Weight drops both from fluid release and metabolism of glycogen stores—we become thinner.
In this day and age, changing to the understanding that butter is really a healthy food can be a real challenge for most people. For generations we have been programmed and conditioned to view butter and other saturated fats as bad. We all agree however that breast milk from a healthy mum is a good food source, partly because it is composed of nearly 4% fat in percentage weight.
While milk derived from cows, sheep and goats can be challenging for our digestive system as we age, the saturated fats of the milk are far more friendly (because they have greatly reduced lactose and casein). Dairy butter has vitamins A, E, D, K, antioxidants, selenium, manganese, iodine, chromium, zinc and copper; conjugated linoleic acid, butyric acid, arachidonic acid (for brain function), lauric acid, omega-3—in balance with omega-6, and lecithin.
We’ve all heard that butter is bad for our cholesterol—but it’s just not true. Butter helps increase levels of HDL (the good cholesterol), and actually changes the LDL (bad cholesterol) from small to large LDL, and together these reduce our risk of heart disease. Butter helps you stay full longer which leads to less snacking throughout the day, and eating less ’empty’ carbohydrate calories.
So go ahead and try eating like our great-grandparents did—be liberal with your butter consumption. While it is really hard to get rid of that inner voice telling us that butter is bad, in truth, butter is actually good for us. Start eating more of nature’s superfood and notice that you will cut down on snacking, you will feel better, have more energy and feel happier!
More from Bill on eating fat: