Butter made from the milk of grass-fed cows offers more nutritional value than butter from grain-fed cows.
The same is true of beef; the dietary intake of animals is important in the same way that our own food choices are. To take the analogy of “You are what you eat” a step further, the quality of animal products depends on the quality of their nourishment and environment.
Butter has been around for a very long time, eons before anyone ever heard of saturated fat.
The animals our forebears raised and kept ate mostly grass throughout their lives. The nutritional composition of milk products in ages past, including cream, cheese and butter, reflected the cow’s diet.
Industrialized dairy products like those generally available in supermarkets today come mostly from cattle raised in Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), where the focus is readying animals for production (dairy products) or slaughter (beef) as quickly and inexpensively as possible.
Calves owned by corporations in the dairy industry get milk when they’re young and move on to grass for a few months before being confined to CAFOs, where conditions are crowded and unsanitary. These animals are usually dosed with antibiotics to keep them from getting sick and hormones to speed growth.
Grains like corn and soybeans allow cattle to grow and fatten at faster rates than the grass they’re biologically suited to consume, so they mature in less than a quarter of the time it took 75 years ago, when diets consisted mainly of grass. (1)
The demand for grass-fed dairy products and beef continues to grow. Comparing the nutritional values of grass-fed butter with commercial butter will give you an idea why.
There’s nothing like the smooth mouthfeel and full flavor of real butter.
If you’re interested in finding out whether grass-fed butter is superior, you probably already know butter isn’t the killer it’s been made out to be. The myth about saturated fats causing heart disease and other health disorders dissipates as current research data accumulates. (2, 3)
Turns out the real “fat” villains are trans fats, rather than saturated fats like those found in butter. (4)
Cattle’s ruminant digestive system with four-compartment stomachs is uniquely suited to converting the cellulose in grass to protein and fat, a feat humans can’t manage. (5) The goodies from all that grass end up in dairy products and beef.
When cattle are raised, fattened and maintained on grains, nutrients extracted from feed will be found in the butter, cream, cheese, and milk from those animals, as well as the muscle tissue, or meat.
Grass-fed butter is a rich source of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) (6), a fatty acid useful in accelerating fat loss. CLA has also been shown to have positive effects on patients suffering from cardiovascular disease, cancer, chronic inflammation, and diminished immune response. (7)
If you’re looking to trim down and add muscle, CLA matters; higher levels of the fatty acid work to decrease body fat while increasing lean body mass. (8)
The amount and quality of the vitamin K2 found in butter matters, too. Vitamin K2 is crucial because it de-calcifies the arteries and keeps them clear. (9, 10) Adequate intake of vitamin K2 helps prevent calcium from leaching out of the bones and depositing in the arteries, decreasing the risk of developing osteoporosis. (11, 12)
One study found that for every 10 micrograms of vitamin k2 they consumed, participants’ risk of developing heart disease dropped by 9%. (13)
Another European trial determined subjects with the highest vitamin K2 intake decreased their risk of heart disease by 57%. (14)
Butter from grass-fed cows is among the richest sources of vitamin K2, along with natto (a fermented soy product), goose liver and egg yolks. (15)
For many years medical professionals have marked high cholesterol as the most reliable predictor for developing heart disease, but now chronic inflammation looks like the forerunner. (16, 17) There can be many causes of chronic inflammation (18), some of which can be moderated by nutritional strategies like following an anti-inflammatory diet.
Reduction of existing inflammation can help cut your risk for a host of health concerns, including arthritis, inflammatory bowel diseases, obesity, heart disease, anxiety disorders, diabetes and osteoporosis. Grass-fed butter is loaded with butyrate, a fatty acid with anti-inflammatory properties. (19)
A Better Heart with Butter
We’ve already touched on the benefits of CLA, vitamin K2 and butyrate found in abundant quantities in grass-fed butter, all of which help protect against heart disease and other serious health disorders.
Grass-fed butter is also rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which help cultivate good cardiovascular health and have other positive effects on overall health and wellness. Cold water fish supplies many populations with adequate levels of omega-3 fatty acids, but if you don’t live in a place where fresh fish is readily available, grass-fed butter may be your best reliable source of omega-3 fatty acids. (22)
The number of cattle in America raised on grass is small compared to other parts of the world like Australia, where grass-fed butter is the norm. One Australian study showed participants who ate the most high-fat dairy products like butter, cream and cheese enjoyed a 69% lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease than those who ate the least. (23)
Margarine made with trans fats has been linked to higher rates of coronary heart disease in men (26), so if you eat real butter, you made the right choice.
Take yourself another step up the ladder of better nutrition: treat yourself to grass-fed butter and cut your risk of developing heart disease and a respectable list of other modern disorders. Remember, the cardiovascular disease epidemic is recent; butter has been around forever.
Summary: Grass is the natural nourishment for cattle. If you’re going to eat butter, it’s worth the extra money to get the good stuff.
- http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/77/5/1146.short http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1386252