Superfood: Butter is healthy?

Okay, I've got good news and I've got bad news for you. The good news is that you read me right. Butter in all its buttery deliciousness is a health food. 

The bad news is that we've been misled by the political and medical community for decades. Fat is not the enemy when it comes to heart disease. In fact, certain kinds of fat are protective against many health problems. The real enemy when it comes to obesity, diabetes, and heart disease (really, inflammation in general) is sugar and artificial transfats.

In the mid 1950's a scientist and epidemiologist named Ancel Keys developed the "low-fat, heart-healthy" diet from a largely untested hypothesis and got the backing of the US government to promote it to the American population. Many of the studies that support the high-carb, low fat diet for health are now being disproven as being scientifically unsound and having flawed research methodologies, including his widely touted Seven Countries Study. To read more about the history of how our current dietary recommendation have come to be, I highly recommend Nina Teicholz's book, The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet or Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes. It should be noted that while Ancel Keys lived to the ripe old age of 100, even he didn't adhere to his own advice and ate calf liver and Canadian bacon (which are both chock-full of saturated fats) as part of his regular diet. 

So what does this have to do with YOUR health? Well, turns out that when fat gets taken away from the diet, it needs to be replaced with something else for flavor and texture. Which is where sugar comes into play. The 1950's is when we started seeing a boon of processed foods enter the food market so it suddenly became easy to take out the fat, hide the sugar and slap a "Heart Healthy" or "Low Fat" label on it and get folks to think they are eating healthier. The problem with foods that have little fat and are loaded with sugar is that 1) you don't feel satisfied or satiated from a meal because you need the fat for sustained energy so you eat more sugar-heavy food to feed the hunger 2)your body experiences the blood sugar highs and lows that create fat and inflammation that contribute to so many of the modern disease processes that plague our world today.                                          

The tricky part is that sugar comes in so many different forms. Start reading your labels, and start reexamining your habits. Sugar can be found in the form of breads, pastas, and pastries. A 12-ounce can of soda contains 39 grams of soda. Harvard says that drinking 1-2 cans of soda a day increases your risk of Type 2 Diabetes by 26%, increases your chance of dying from a heart attack by 20% and increases your chance of developing gout by 75%.  Americans are now eating sugar at all-time high rates. We are consuming 150-175 pounds of sugar a year; this means that we are consuming sugar a rate that is equivalent to 1/4-1/2 pound of sugar a day! I don't think any of us wake up in the morning thinking "Let's see how much sugar I can eat today". We are consuming this much sugar because it is all hidden  in our processed foods. Now, my intention in writing this blog post is not because I want you to obsess about your "diet", but I do think that we should all be aware of what we put in our bodies and develop a consciousness and a connection to our food that we have lost in this culture of eating dinners in front of the tv, grabbing meals on the go and eating for convenience instead of for pleasure. 

Aside from all the processed food loaded with sugar, we can also thank the 1950's for the introduction of margarine, which is still being advertised as a heart-healthy product by the American Heart Association (AHA). Margarine is one of the products that were developed when scientists started hydrogenating vegetable oils for better consistency and longer shelf life. All these products are now known to contain transfats and partially hydrogenated oils which studies have shown to increase tumor and cancer rates in labs animals. [2, 3] 

"But won't eating all the bacon and butter (aka saturated fats) increase my cholesterol numbers and make me fat, give me heart disease, and put me at risk for diabetes?" The first thing I'm going to tackle is saturated fats and the relationship that it has to fat. It's really unfortunate that the English language has such a limited vocabulary around this. The fat that is on our bodies is NOT created by consuming fat. The research is now indicating that "the consequence of consuming dietary sugars and starches above levels that can be directly oxidized is that a great proportion is converted to fat (i.e. de novo lipogenesis)". In fact, it is possible to induce serum profiles that indicate insulin resistance in healthy men just by overfeeding them carbohydrates. Dietary fat, such as bacon and butter is actually needed for several important processes in our bodies including the utilization of certain vitamins, long-term energy storage, and for healthy bile, steroid and cell membrane health. 

As far as heart disease, diabetes and the connection to saturated fats goes, the link is getting flimsier and flimsier as more research not tainted by corporations is being conducted. The position that reducing saturated fats for health is now being widely questioned by the medical research community because (surprise surprise!) the research to support this claim is not holding up. In fact, recent analyses have found that saturated fats are unrelated to risk of disease. Actually, by putting research participants on a low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet, researchers were able to improve blood serum levels that are consistent risk markers for diabetes and heart disease such as triglycerides, glucose, insulin and serum cholesterol. 

Intrigued? I will be going into much much more detail during my cleanse and nutrition lecture series in February 2015, including the specific components and vitamins in butter that make it a health food and not a vilified guilty pleasure. I will also be going into great details about what is good fat vs. what is  bad fat and how to incorporate this wisdom into your daily dietary choices. 

THE BOTTOM LINE

You need to eliminate trans-fats and sugars in all of its different forms. But the good news is that saturated fats from good sources are good for you. If you want to make some easy choices for health in 2015 and beyond, do yourself a favor and throw out that margarine, canola oil and "I Can't Believe It's Not Butter".  And don't limit the good fats, raw butter, nitrate-free bacon and delicious local whole fruits and vegetables. Find ways to eliminate sugar in your life. Chances are, if you are eating a diet that is not scared of fat, you will crave the sugar less and less. 

RECIPE: HOW TO MAKE HOMEMADE BUTTER

 

You're going to need:

- high quality whipping cream or heavy cream (It's the same thing)

- a blender or a standing mixer

- a mesh strainer

- ice cold water

The ladies of Claravale Farms

The ladies of Claravale Farms

1) Purchase a high quality heavy cream or whipping cream. I like the raw cream from Claravale Farms. You can find them at the Wednesday downtown Santa Cruz Farmer's Market or at any New Leaf in the dairy section. A good non-raw alternative is Strauss Farms which can be found at New Leaf or Whole Foods. 

2) Pour cream into your mixing device. Mix on high. The cream will go through some changes as air is being incorporated into the cream.

- First, It will first look like the whipped cream that we all know and love.

- Then it will look a little "dry" and "curdy".

- Finally, the solid fats will suddenly separate from the liquids and it will look like butter swimming in some buttermilk.  

3) Stop your churning when the cream reaches the point of separating and use the mesh strainer to strain off the buttermilk. You can save the buttermilk to use for some fresh homemade salad dressings, or some yummy custard desserts. 

4) Return the butter to your mixing device. At this point, if you are using a standing mixer, it is best to switch from the whisk to the bread kneading attachment. You will continue to see buttermilk form as you mix. Continue to strain the buttermilk off. At the point where no more buttermilk is coming off the butter, give your butter a taste test. This whole process takes about 20 minutes.

5) The last step is to "wash" your butter. This is to keep the butter from going rancid. Just add the cold water to your mixing device (the water is cold so you don't melt your butter) and mix it for 2-3 minutes and again, strain off the liquids. 

6) Enjoy your delicious butter! My favorite way to use it up is scrambling it with some eggs in the morning, sautéing up some vegetables al dente, or browning my steak with the butter. 

FURTHER READING:

[1] Added Sugar Intake and Cardiovascular Diseases Mortality Among US Adults article from the Journal of American Medical Association

[2] Dietary Fat and Mammary Cancer I. Promoting Effects of Different Dietary Fats on N-Nitrosomethylurea-Induced Rat Mammary Tumorigenesis article from the Journal of National Cancer Institute

[3] Effect of Different Levels of Dietary Trans fats or corn oil on azoxymethane-induced colon carcinogenesis in F344 rats article from PubMed 

[4] Effects of Step-Wise Increases in Dietary Carbohydrate on Circulating Saturated Fatty Acids and Palmitoleic Acid in Adults with Metabolic Syndrome article from the Public Library of Science

[5]Good Calories, Bad Calories: Fats, Carbs and the Controversial Science of Diet and Health book written by Gary Taubes

[6] Majory Types of Dietary Fat and Risk of Coronary Heart Disease: A Pooled Analysis of 11 Cohort Studies article from The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition

[7] Now Saturated Fat is Good for You? blog post written by Christiane Northrup, MD

[8] The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet book written by Nina Teicholz