Believe in Butter! And ditch the margarine.

The butter versus margarine debate still exists. Who do you trust more, cows or chemists?

A little history

The origination of butter scales back thousands of years to the early domestication of animals. Margarine, on the other hand, was first developed in the 1800s as an affordable substitute to butter. Fast forward to the 1900s and margarine’s ability to spread on toast boosted its popularity ranking among food lovers. After World War II, a butter shortage further increased the presence of margarine in kitchens. By the end of the 1970s, partial hydrogenation of vegetable oils became more and more common in foods, especially margarines, because they extended the shelf-life of this popular “health food.” See http://www.soyinfocenter.com/HSS/hydrogenation1.php for more information about the history of hydrogenation.

The confusing complaint

The popularity of margarine grew as people were convinced that the saturated fat and cholesterol in butter was causing heart disease.  Since margarine is made with vegetable oils (partially hydrogenated, also known as trans fat), no saturated fat or cholesterol is present, then therefore it must be healthier for our hearts. The problem here: saturated fat and cholesterol are not as harmful to our heart as partially hydrogenated oils are. This is when knowing your ingredients becomes more crucial than reading advertisements. It is proven that the polyunsaturated and monounsaturated oils found in margarine (due to their plant-based oils) are good for our hearts however, the package they are delivered in is not so fantastic. Poly- and monounsaturated fats can be obtained naturally in the diet from foods void of partially hydrogenated oils such as olive oil, avocados, fatty fish, nuts and seeds, and olives.

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Believe in Butter

Still a little unsure about butter? Consider these facts for a moment:

  • Butter comes from cows and margarine comes from a laboratory.
  • Butter contains one ingredient, milk (unless it is salted then it contains milk and salt). Margarines often contain over ten ingredients, some of which can only be pronounced if spoken slowly.
  • Butter contains cholesterol which is necessary for cellular function. Margarine contains no cholesterol because it is derived from vegetable oils.
  • Butter contains vitamins A, D, E, and K, all of which are required for optimal health. Additionally, these are fat-soluble vitamins that are only absorbed when consumed with the fat that butter provides. Margarine contains none of the vitamins unless a synthetic form is added.
  • Butter has a natural balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids whereas margarine contains a higher concentration of omega-6 fatty acids.
  • Butter contains zero partially hydrogenated oils. Margarine does. Partially hydrogenated oils increase LDL cholesterol while lowering HDL cholesterol and completely ruin the marketed benefit of using margarine for heart health.

Your best butter

I recommend choosing butter from grass-fed cows because it contains a higher levels of cancer-fighting CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), vitamin E, beta-carotene (vitamin A precursor), and omega-3 than butter from cows raised in factory farms. Additionally, grass-fed cows are free of antibiotics and hormones. Remember that when choosing a Real Food diet, the closer your food comes from nature, the better.

Grass-fed beef is best

It’s time to jump on the “grass-fed beef wagon” and begin reaping the benefits of this power protein source. “But why? What’s the big deal? Does it taste better? Is it healthier?”, you ask.

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But why?

When considering the why of making a change, it is important to also understand the reason to move away from what was being done before. In this case, if you aren’t eating grass-fed beef then you’re eating corn-fed beef. Corn-fed beef comes from cows that are fed corn (most commonly genetically modified crop) with the purpose of fattening them faster so they can move them to slaughter faster. These cows are usually raised with hormones and antibiotics while they are being fed their corn-based diet. Since cows are a ruminant, they are designed to eat grass, not corn. And when cows are fed corn, many unhealthy digestive problems begin to occur. Now think of your food chain. When you eat beef from a cow that has been raised on corn, the negative effects of the diet are passed on to you. For a more detailed explanation of the effects of a corn-based diet in cows, check out Michael Pollan’s interview with Frontline at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/meat/interviews/pollan.html

What’s the big deal?

The big deal is your health and wellness. What you eat directly impacts how you look and feel both inside and outside. Grass-fed beef has numerous nutritional benefits in comparison to corn-fed beef.

  • Greater fatty acid profile of omega-3 fatty acid and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA)
  • Greater levels of precursors to vitamin A (carotenoids) and vitamin E (tocopherol)
  • Greater levels of cancer-fighting agents glutathione and superoxide dismutase
  • Lower fat content

Does it taste better?

Personally, I can’t tell a huge difference in taste but some people will say grass-fed beef tastes better than grain-fed beef. Flavor preferences are personal and you won’t know until you try it. Grain-fed beef has more marbling because the fat content is higher as a result of the cow’s diet. My suggestion: Purchase 1 pound of ground grass-fed beef and cook in into hamburger patties so you can get a true idea of how your taste buds respond to it. If you use it for pasta sauce or for meatloaf, there are too many other ingredients that can mask the flavor of the beef and make it difficult to determine if you notice a difference.

Is it healthier?

As I mentioned above, the nutrition benefits of grass-fed beef outweighs its grain-fed competition. Benefits of CLA include anti-carcinogenic effects by reducing cancer cell replication and inducing cancer cell death. CLA also has a positive effect on blood lipid profiles as well as blood sugar levels. CLA intake also contributes to a healthy body composition by reducing body fat while supporting retention of lean muscle mass. Although obtaining omega-3 in the diet is optimal when consuming fatty fish, incorporating alternative sources is helpful to create dietary variety. There isn’t a significantly greater amount of omega-3 in grass-fed beef compared to grain-fed but if you want red meat in your meal, grass-fed is still your best option. Grass-fed beef also has greater levels of beta-carotene (precursor to vitamin A) and alpha-tocopherol (an isoform of vitamin E). Vitamin A is required for vision, bone growth, cell division and regeneration, and maintenance of skin and membrane integrity. Vitamin E is an antioxidant responsible for destruction of free radicals in the body that may contribute to chronic diseases. Are you convinced yet that grass-fed beef is healthy?! Hang on, there’s more! Remember the cancer-fighting agents, glutathione (a protein that functions as part of an enzyme system) and superoxide dismutase (an enzyme), that I mentioned earlier? Glutathione is an awesome antioxidant that protects cells in your body from free radicals and prevent damage to DNA. Superoxide dismutase, in union with a second enzyme, catalase, work as another antioxidant to seek and destroy free radicals.


Bottom line.

At the end of the day, your food choices are yours to own. You can choose quality real food or you can choose the next best thing. Grain-fed beef isn’t going to kill you, but it doesn’t offer you the nutrition that grass-fed beef does. It is becoming more and more popular in grocery stores but can almost always be found at your local farmer’s market or through an online source. Bottom line is that you should always do what works for you and what you feel is important for your health and wellness.

 

Bhattacharya A, Banu J, Rahman M, et al. (2006). Biological effects of conjugated linoleic acids in health and disease. Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry. 17(12):789-810.

Daley C, Abbott A, Doyle P, et al. (2010). A review of fatty acid profiles and antioxidant content in grass-fed beef and grain-fed beef. Nutrition Journal. 9:10.

McAfee A, McSorley E, Cuskelly G, et al. (2011). Red meat from animals offered a grass diet increases plasma and platlet n-3 in healthy consumers. British Journal of Nutrition. 105: 80-89.