Food Freedom Friday Edition 175 - Butter Is Better

The New Canadian Food Guide was released recently and it encourages the consumption of vegetable oils and soft margarine over high fat dairy products and coconut oil. If you have been reading along for a while, you might be wondering ‘What the f!@#$?’

I wanted to share my perspective on the question - Butter or margarine: which one is better? I will summarize my answer for you in one little word. Butter. I wanted to delve a little deeper into why

I grew up in a margarine family. My mom was diagnosed with gall bladder disease and told to follow a low-fat diet and margarine (fortified with vitamin D – even better) was simply considered a healthier choice (the doctors said it was, so it must be so). I probably never tasted butter most of my childhood and when I finally did, I realized margarine has this weird faux-sweet taste and a really plastic mouth feel - yuck.

Margarine is simply not food and despite the dogma about fats, especially saturated ones, butter is not bad for you, and in fact, has many healing and healthy properties to it.

What Is Margarine?

Margarine was originally invented in France as a less expensive alternative to butter, so the flavour would be accessible to the masses. I find it ironic that the French, who are known to be food purists and their entire cuisine is based around whole, real foods, would alter a whole food in such a way!

Almost all margarine begins as a refined vegetable oil, which is chemically extracted at high temperature, causing the oil to oxidize and become rancid. This high heat also destroys the vitamin E in the oil, an important nutrient for hormonal balance and vital for preserving the naturally occurring essential fatty acids (omega 3’s and omega 6’s).

To make margarine, the oil must be hardened.  This is done by hydrogenation or bubbling hydrogen through the vegetable oil at high temperature. This process transforms the liquid oil to a solid at room temperature and makes it more shelf-stable. When the carbon bonds of the oils are saturated with hydrogen, the product becomes a hydrogenated oil.

Margarine packaging proclaims the product contains polyunsaturated fats. However, the processing or hydrogenation removes the flexibility of these oils and creates trans fatty acids, no matter what the label says. These man-made fatty acids that can worsen a number of conditions.

Health Risks of Trans Fats

Research indicates that trans fats are linked to:

·       Obesity

·       Allergies

·       Diabetes

·       An increased risk of cardiovascular disease

·       An increased risk of colon cancer and possibly breast cancer

·       An adverse effect on the brain and nervous system, disrupting cell membranes and changing the way neurons communicate

The final margarine product may also contain nickel, cadmium, lead and other very toxic heavy metals.

Laws have changed in North America over the last decade or so to make it mandatory for companies to label trans fats on products and reduce their trans fat content. However, there are labelling loopholes that still allow certain amounts of these man-made atrocities to be in the foods you may buy.

Since the early 2000s, the amount of trans fats in margarine or butter-like spread has improved, but it’s still not enough – the only safe amount is zero.

Margarine has been studied and shown to affect health in numerous ways:

·       Increases the risk coronary heart disease and overall risk of death.

·       Margarine increases total cholesterol and LDL (this is considered the bad cholesterol) and lowers HDL cholesterol (this is considered the good cholesterol).

·       Increases the risk of cancers.

·       Can change the quality of breast milk.

·       Decreases immune response and increases inflammation.

What Is Butter?

Butter is made by churning the cream that rises to the top of the milk. The churning of this cream catalyzes a chemical reaction that causes the cream to harden slightly, giving it the buttery consistency. Butter is a good fat that contains a number of natural fatty acids and fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamin A, D, E and K.  These are not found to any degree in margarine (unless synthetic versions are added). Unlike margarine, butter does not contain trans-fatty acids or toxic heavy metals.

Butter and Cholesterol

Butter's effect on cholesterol was a smart little maneuver of propaganda by the anti-fat contingency. Only about 15% of our cholesterol level is affected directly by diet. The majority of your cholesterol is manufactured within the body by the liver and serves as  the raw material for the adrenal stress hormones (cortisol and adrenaline) and the sex hormones (testosterone, estrogen and progesterone). The body often reacts to stress by producing more cholesterol in order to make more stress-fighting hormones. The observations of many integrative practitioners indicates that a balanced body, good blood sugar control and a healthy gut are the keys to normalizing cholesterol.

Butter and Saturated Fat

Emerging research allays the long-held fears about saturated fat and its wrongfully perceived deleterious effects on health. Studies support that saturated fat has little effect on stroke risk too. High-fat diets have also been used therapeutically in a number of contexts, such as the ketogenic diet, to encourage many beneficial health effects.

Further research concluded that butter consumption had little to no association with all-cause mortality, cardiovascular disease or diabetes, and researchers felt their findings “do not support a need for major emphasis in dietary guidelines on either increasing or decreasing butter consumption.”

 “Current dietary recommendations on butter and dairy fat are largely based upon predicted effects of specific individual nutrients (e.g., total saturated fat, calcium), rather than actual observed health effects. Our findings add to a growing body of evidence on long-term health effects of specific foods and types of fats. Conventional guidelines on dietary fats have not accounted for their diverse food sources nor the specific individual fatty acid profiles in such foods. Different foods represent complex matrices of nutrients, processing, and food structure, which together influence net health effects.”

In essence, food is much more than the sum of its parts. You can pick apart the nutrients or make-up of certain foods, but that does not always imply how the food as a whole reacts within the digestive tract and the body.

Buttery Nutrients

Butter is nutrient dense and contains:

·       Vitamin A, which is essential for a healthy immune system, growth and vision, and supports mucous membranes

·       Vitamin D, which is crucial for bone health, immunity and hormone production.

·       Antioxidants, Vitamin E and selenium

·       Calcium

·       Butyric acid, a short-chain fat that reduces inflammation in the digestive tract, and can help with inflammatory bowel diseases (Chrohn’s disease, colitis and diverticulitis), as well as irritable bowel syndrome and constipation.

·       Dr. Weston Price identified a factor in butter that is essential for proper growth and development of the bone structure. He called it 'activator X' or ‘factor X’ - and what he was identifying is now thought to be Vitamin K2, which is crucial to bone health as it allows calcium to move from the bloodstream into the bone matrix.  Dr. Price was able to reverse severe tooth decay in children by feeding them one meal containing quality butter.

Choosing Your Butter

As with many other foods, quality and source matter. When choosing animal products, I recommend choosing pastured or grass fed and finished and organic. This is not only better for your health, but for the health of animals and the health of the environment as well. Organic, grass-fed butter offers more nutrients than conventional butter. The BEST butter is raw butter from grass-fed cows, preferably organic. Next is pasteurized butter from grass-fed cows, followed by regular pasteurized butter from supermarkets. Even the latter two are still a much healthier choice than margarine or spreads.

·       Milk from grass-fed cows is higher in anti-inflammatory omega 3 fats.

·       Organic milk has a lower ratio of omega 6 to omega 3s. While both fats are essential, higher ratios (in the neighbourhood of 16:1 or 20:1) promote inflammation.

·       Organic milk is richer in conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a fat that can lower the risk of heart disease, aid with weight loss and help modulate the immune system

·       Organic milk has been shown to contain higher omega 3s, higher CLA and a lower omega 6:3 ratio than conventional products.


A few terms you may come across during your search for the best quality, grass-fed butter

Cultured Butter

Cultured butter is traditionally made from fermented, or soured, cream. It is not actually the butterfat that ferments, but rather the trace amounts of lactose sugars present. In modern society, though, most commercial cultured butter is “cultured” by the incorporation of bacterial cultures. “European style” butter is cultured butter.

Sweet Butter

Historically, sweet cream butter came from fresh cream, rather than soured or fermented cream. Relative to cultured butter, it is rather “sweet.” These days, this often simply another way to describe unsalted butter. Sweet butter is better for cooking, as most recipes assume the use of unsalted butter. Also, since salt is a preservative, sweet butter tends to be fresher (since it has to be, having no preservatives).

Clarified Butter

Heat butter until it melts, let it cool and settle, then skim off the top layer of whey protein and pour off the butterfat, leaving the casein proteins on the bottom – you’ve got clarified butter.


Ghee is basically pure butterfat, rendered down and stricken of all lactose and dairy proteins. It can be considered ultra-clarified butter in that it reaches a temperature high enough to cook off the water and brown the milk solids, which imparts a nutty flavor to the finished product. Properly made, ghee can stay on the counter for about a year without going bad.


Accept NO substitute! “Butter flavor” does not equal butter, nor does “buttery spread.” That is marketing, not nutrient-dense and heart-healthy butter! Don’t be fooled by deceptive ingredient lists either- butter should contain cream, milk and salt.

Butter is an amazing, nutrient dense, healthy food that can form part of a well-formulated nutrition plan. Fake, man-man, toxic vegetable/seed/crop oils simply do not match up!

Michal Ofer