First we were wrong about chocolate. Then eggs. Seems us nutrition folk are eating our words once again, this time with an unlikely candidate – butter.
Being pure dairy fat, it seems doubtful butter could ever be considered a health food. A tablespoon of butter contains a whopping seven grams of saturated fat, about half the recommended upper limit for most people. Saturated fat, which raises harmful LDL cholesterol, was always the obvious bad guy.
The first clue that butter might not be as bad as previously thought came in 2010, when the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published a meta-analysis of 21 studies examining the effect of saturated fat on risk of cardiovascular disease. Recommendations to limit saturated fat were made after studies found a clear link between saturated fat and increased levels of LDL cholesterol. However this meta-analysis showed that despite the increase in LDL cholesterol, saturated fat didn’t affect the risk of heart disease.
This prompted a second look at saturated fat. You see, there are different types of saturated fat. Stearic acid, found in chocolate, has no effect on LDL cholesterol. The type of fatty acid found in coconut oil, lauric acid, doesn’t seem to affect cholesterol either. It’s the palmitic and myristic acids found in animal foods like butter, beef, cheese and milk that seem to raise LDL cholesterol. But even then, it’s not cut and dry. Some argue that because part of the increase in LDL is the result of an increase in LDL size, and larger particles are associated with a lower risk of heart disease, the fats may not be as harmful as they appear.
Some even go so far as to suggest there may be health benefits from eating butter when it comes from organic, grass-fed cows. Butter from grass-fed cows has a high omega 3 fatty acid content compared to industrial butter. It also contains vitamin A in a highly absorbable form. If you purchase cultured butter, it even contains probiotics. Other nutrients found in butter include vitamin D, vitamin K, lecthin and selenium.
So what does this plant-based dietitian think about all this? Excessive intake of animal foods dramatically increases risk of chronic disease, but if broken down, the correlation is much stronger for animal protein versus animal fats. Continue to limit animal foods, but when you do, don’t feel guilty indulging in a little bit of butter or a fattier cut of meat if it’s organic and pastured. About a year ago, I stopped using margarine (I was using Earth Balance) and switched to organic butter. I use coconut oil and extra-virgin olive oil above butter, but in applications where these fats won’t work, I think a small amount of organic butter is fine, and certainly tastes better. And dad, if you’re reading this, a small amount does not mean an inch thick layer on your bread!
- 1 large head cauliflower, cut into florets (about 6-8 cups)
- 1-2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 8 ounces 100% whole wheat spaghetti
- 2 tablespoons organic butter
- 1 medium red onion, diced
- 1 large clove garlic, minced
- 6 anchovy fillets
- 1 cup halved cherry tomatoes
- 2 tablespoons capers, rinsed
- Zest of 1 lemon
- Juice of ½ lemon
- ⅓ cup chopped parsley
- Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Spread cauliflower florets evenly across a large baking sheet. Drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil and season with salt and black pepper. Place in the oven and roast until browned and tender, about 40 minutes, tossing halfway.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Once boiling, add spaghetti and cook until al dente. Reserve ½ cup starchy cooking water and drain.
- Heat butter in a large skillet on medium heat. Once melted, start whisking. The butter will start to bubble and foam and in about 2 minutes, you will start to see browned bits on the bottom. Continue cooking about 30 more seconds while whisking. Once lightly browned, add onion, stir and cook until translucent. Mix in cherry tomatoes, cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and anchovy, breaking apart the anchovy with a spatula, and cook 2 minutes. Add capers and stir. Remove from heat. Toss in spaghetti, parsley, lemon zest and juice and reserved starchy cooking water. Toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper. Serve with parmesan cheese, lots and lots of it.