Editor’s Note: We’ve gone on a search-and-rescue mission to find amazing stories and essays published in earlier print editions of Rootstock. Today’s throwback, “Better Eat Your Butter!” was written by Sally Fallon and Jane Siemon for the Fall 2006 edition of Rootstock.
When you think of something made with butter, you probably think rich and delicious. Yet you also probably think of that butter something as being fattening and hard on the heart. Butter has been given a bad rap during the last 50 years. The media and the food industry, for their own gain, have seized on some weak evidence to promote the butter substitute, margarine. Yet margarine is a highly processed food requiring sophisticated machines and chemical additions to what was, in the beginning, a vegetable oil. Butter is simply processed by churning the cream and straining out the buttermilk. It has been made for centuries in people’s homes. Butter is a natural food.
Fats from animal and vegetable sources are a necessary part of the diet. They provide a concentrated source of energy for the body to use. Natural fat also provides the building blocks for cell membranes, hormones and prostaglandins. Fat acts as a carrier for the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. Dietary fats are needed for the conversion of carotene to Vitamin A. Butter is an American’s best source of the fat-soluble vitamins and the type of fat butter has to offer, helps our bodies in many important ways.
All fats are not alike
Heart disease is a modern phenomenon. Before 1920 it was a medical rarity. In 1920, a young internist named Paul Dudley White brought a new machine to America, the electrocardiograph, to reveal blockages of the arteries, and he had to search to find patients who could benefit from his machine. During the next forty years the incidence of coronary heart disease rose dramatically so that by the mid-sixties, heart disease was the leading cause of death among Americans. Today it causes at least 40% of all US deaths. We have been told, especially by the media, that the consumption of saturated fats, animal fats and especially butter, is the cause of the epidemic.
Historical data contradict this premise. From 1910 to 1970, the proportion of animal fat in the American diet has declined from 83% to 62% and is even less in the last 30 years. Butter consumption plummeted from 18 pounds per person to 4 pounds per person. At the same time, the percentage of dietary fat from vegetable fats in the form of margarine, shortening, and refined oils increased about 400%. The consumption of sugar and processed foods increased 60%.
Price is right
Studies by Dr. Weston A. Price during the 1930’s and 40’s revealed important traditional wisdom on dietary fats, but it was quickly forgotten. As an American dentist and scientist, he traveled all over the world, in different climates, and studied what native people ate and how that affected their health and teeth. Native peoples, as defined in his studies, were people who supplied all the food they consumed by growing it themselves or gathering it from nature. Butter and animal fats were a staple in many native diets. He found their health to be excellent, their babies born without deformities and their children the perfect picture of fitness and health. Their teeth had little to no decay even though they did not brush them. Their bones were strong, their faces and nostrils broad, their jaws broad with perfectly formed teeth. They did not need braces. When he would travel to a nearby village where a trading post had been established he would find refined foods had also entered the culture. When white flour, sugar and vegetable oils entered the diet, tooth decay became rampant, and diseases and physical deformities became common. In the next generation, faces and nostrils were narrow, jaws were too small for teeth which erupted crooked or one on top of another.
One of the first places he visited was a remote Swiss Village in the Alps. The villagers grew rye as their grain, and grazed cattle and sheep on the mineral-rich grass watered by melting glaciers on the Alpine slopes. Their diet consisted largely of cheese and butter, coarse rye bread and small amounts of veal and mutton. During the warm months, they would also eat the greens of herbs growing natively. These villagers had almost no tooth decay. Their children were robust and healthy, running barefooted in frigid mountain streams. Furthermore, there was no TB in the village, even though TB was an immense problem in the rest of Switzerland. Every spring, when the butter was a deep yellow, from the fresh spring grasses, the priest would hold a ceremony in which the butter was put in a bowl with a wick set on the altar and lit to honor its life-giving properties. Weston Price concluded that butter was the best source of fat-soluble vitamins for vitamins for American diets.
Butter and sex.
Butter from grass fed cows is a rich source of fat-soluble vitamins. These include Vitamin A, D, and E. Vitamins A and D are catalysts to mineral absorption. You can starve minerals if you do not have Vitamin A and D present, even though they may be plentiful in the diet. It has long been known that vitamin A and D are necessary for calcium absorption. Butter naturally contains these fat-soluble vitamins as long as the milk cows feed on green grass. Vitamins A and D are essential for growth, for healthy bones and the proper development of the brain and nervous system. Vitamin E is also abundant in butter and necessary for the formation of sex hormones. Many studies have shown the importance of butterfat in maintaining normal reproductive powers. Its absence results in nutritional impotence, the failure to bring out male and female sexual characteristics. As butter consumption in America has declined, sterility rates have increased. In test animals, substitutes for butter, such as margarine, fail to promote growth or sustain reproduction.
Why is butter so good for us?
Vitamin A from butter is more easily absorbed and utilized that from any other source. The deeper the yellow in butter, the higher its content of Vitamin A. This deep yellow color comes from cows grazing on rapidly growing grass in the spring and fall. One of the most interesting factors present in the butter and organic meats of grazing cows is the X factor, as named by Weston Price. He found the X factor was a more potent catalyst than vitamins A and D for mineral absorption. Cows fed cottonseed meal or soy-based feeds have no X factor in the butterfat of their milk. It only occurs in the butterfat of cows eating rapidly growing green grass in the spring and fall. The X factor is not destroyed by pasteurization.
The cholesterol question
Butter has cholesterol in it, which has been unfairly condemned for many years. Cholesterol is not a fat. Breast milk of mothers contains 55% fat and also high levels of cholesterol. Cholesterol and saturated fat are essential for the growing baby to have proper brain and nerve development. In the early years, the myelin sheath around the nerves is formed and contains high levels of cholesterol. This myelin sheath is like insulation around the nerve. Cholesterol is also needed to produce a variety of steroids that protect against cancer, heart disease and mental illness. Cholesterol is also the precursor to the sex hormones.
Essential fatty acids
Butter contains about 15% short- and medium-chain fatty acids. This type of fat is directly absorbed into the small intestine to the liver, where it is converted to energy. These fatty acids have anti-microbial, anti-tumor and immune system-supportive properties. Butter from grass fed cows also contains conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) which has strong anti-cancer properties.
Fats and poison
A frequently voiced concern to the consumption of butter and other animal fats is that they tend to accumulate environmental poisons. Fat-soluble poisons such at DDT do accumulate in fats. Antibiotics and growth hormones are water-soluble and are in the water fraction of milk. The best way to deal with these concerns is to use organic dairy products. Any animal whose milk is certified organic is fed food raised without pesticides or herbicides and cannot receive antibiotics, growth hormones or chemical parasiticides. Their diet is of organically raised hay and grains, and pasture. Organic farmers rely on healthy soil to produce crops without pesticides. They apply natural minerals in the form of crushed rock from different parts of the country to give the soil minerals. A well-balanced soil results in a healthy pasture, which results in a healthy cow with healthy milk and butter full of necessary nutrients.
Eat for health
Our choice of fats in out diet is extremely important to our health. Avoid butter substitutes such as margarine, shortening, and refined vegetable oils. Choose organic butter from pasture-fed cows, a natural food that requires only simply to be churned to be produced. Other good choices of natural butterfat include organic cream, whole fat cheeses, cream cheese and sour cream from pasture–fed cows.
Have you ever noticed how children love butter and cheese? Their instincts lead them to these health-giving foods. Feel good again about using organic butter, knowing that it is wholesome and essential for you and your whole family.
Sally Fallon is the Founder of A Campaign for Real Milk (www.realmilk.com) and President of the Weston A. Price Foundation (www.westonaprice.org). She is the editor of the Foundation’s quarterly magazine Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts and has published articles in a number of alternative health publications. A resident of Washington D.C., Fallon is the mother of four healthy children.
Jane Siemon is a trained dietitian with more than twenty years experience as an organic dairy farmer. She has a Bachelor of Sciences degree from Colorado State University, and has taught sustainable living techniques for twenty-five years, and Food and Nutrition for five years. Siemon is a member of Natural Food Associates.