Why Butter Is A Health Food

butter health food

Butter is a health food. There, I said it. I don’t just love butter because it tastes better than margarine. I don’t just love it because I think it’s a healthier alternative than margarine. I actually believe, bones to britches, that butter is good for you.

The other day someone left this comment on a Facebook post of mine, “Only an idiot would believe butter is actually a health food. Yes, it’s better than margarine, but it is by no means good for you.” Only an idiot? Really?

Name-calling aside, let’s use our brains. Shall we? What makes butter a health food?

Butter is More “Heart-Healthy”

After years of being told that margarine was more “heart-healthy” than butter, we’re now discovering in long-term studies that the science simply just doesn’t back up the claim.

For more on that, read Butter vs. Margarine: The Showdown.

Butter Contains Cancer-Fighting Fats

Butter is rich in the short and medium-chain fatty acids that deter tumor growth.

We used to believe that high fat diets promoted tumor growth. Now we know that it’s not the high-fat diet per se, but the kind of fats in that diet. A diet high in the wrong kinds of fats promotes tumor growth. A diet high in the right kinds of fats deters cancer growth.

In this study, researchers showed that both Oleic acid and Myristic acid have cancer-fighting properties. Both of these fatty acids make up a large percentage of the fats found in butter.

Butter from grass-fed cows is also rich in Conjugated Linoleic Acid — a strong cancer-preventing fatty acid.

Butter Protects Against Degenerative Arthritis

Dutch researcher Wulzen found that it [raw butter fat] protects against calcification of the joints — degenerative arthritis — as well as hardening of the arteries, cataracts and calcification of the pineal gland.

Unfortunately this vital substance is destroyed during pasteurization. Calves fed pasteurized milk or skim milk develop joint stiffness and do not thrive. Their symptoms are reversed when raw butterfat is added to the diet.


Butter Promotes A Healthy Brain & Nervous System

Butter is high in cholesterol. This is a good thing!

That’s because our brains and nervous systems need cholesterol to develop properly. While the brain can make its own cholesterol, it also pulls cholesterol from the blood plasma (which comes from your diet) when it needs more (source).

It’s also essential for growing children.

Mother’s milk is high in cholesterol and contains over 50 percent of its calories as butterfat. Low fat diets have been linked to failure to thrive in children — yet low-fat diets are often recommended for youngsters! Children need the many factors in butter and other animal fats for optimal development.

Did you know your brain is more than 65% fat?

The protective coating on your neurons — called myelin — is also high in fat, measuring at 70%. One of the most common fatty acids in myelin is — you guessed it — oleic acid. And, as I mentioned above, butter is an excellent source of oleic acid.

Butter Protects The Gut

Butterfat contains glycospingolipids, a special category of fatty acids that protect against gastro-intestinal infection, especially in the very young and the elderly. For this reason, children who drink skim milk have diarrhea at rates three to five times greater than children who drink whole milk. Cholesterol in butterfat promotes health of the intestinal wall and protects against cancer of the colon. Short and medium chain fatty acids protect against pathogens and have strong anti-fungal effects. Butter thus has an important role to play in the treatment of candida overgrowth.

In Short, Butter Is Awesome

This list barely scratches the surface.

It doesn’t even address butter from grass-fed cows — which is high in vitamins A, D, & K-2. Those critical fat-soluble vitamins are absolutely essential for proper development of bone structure and play a critical role in traditional pre-conception and pregnancy diets for just that reason.

For more on that, pick up a copy of my book, Beautiful Babies: Nutrition for Fertility, Pregnancy, Breastfeeding, & Baby’s First Foods. The book has a foreword by Joel Salatin, the pasture-based farmer of Food, Inc. fame, and it’s currently a national best-seller.

butter is a health food

Do you love this image as much as I do? Thanks go to Craig Fear of Fearless Eating for the image.

Where To Buy Grass-Fed Butter

If you can’t snag raw butter from grass-fed cows from your local dairy, consider making homemade butter.

If that seems like too much work, you can find outwhere to find butter from grass-fed cows here.

(top photo credit: litlnemo)


  1. says

    Butter is utterly scrumptious!

    I love it too and eat loads of it, and always seek out the kind that comes from grass fed cows.

    Its flavor simply can’t be beat! It’s delectable melted over veggies or used as a spread, and is definitely one of my favorite go-to fats for cooking. Besides adding flavor and richness, it also imparts the loveliest, most silky texture to sauces and gravies, and a generous knob added to soups and stews is an absolute must in my book. :)

    Oh, and the cholesterol butter contains is vital and fantastic for healthy hormone production, because cholesterol a crucial precursor for a number of steroidal hormones such as progesterone, testosterone, estrogen and others.

    Butter derived from the dairy of cows grazed on rapidly growing grass is one of the most delicious nutrient dense foods going, and was even considered among some traditional cultures to be sacred.

    I call that a major powerhouse superfood!

    Thanks for another great post, Kristen!

  2. says

    I just like the phrase “bones to britches.” Haha!
    Seriously, someone thinks you’d have to be an idiot to think butter is good for you? What rock has that person been hiding under? Geez.

  3. says

    Thank you! We eat loads of it every day and when people ask me how I stay so skinny I tell them to eat real butter! lol

    At least now I have something to point people to when I hear another “But it’s low fat!” Ugh :))

  4. Summer says

    I can get Kerrygold at Costco in a 3 pack for 6.29. That Amazon site is selling it for 5.99 for 8 oz, plus 19.99$ shipping!!!

    I used to buy Sjmor Icelandic butter, which I thought was great, until my Whole Foods stopped carrying it. I’ve been on Kerrygold ever since, but I’m starting to wonder if it’s 100% grass fed. I think I might try ordering something new through Tropical Traditions.

    • KristenM says

      I’m pretty sure Kerrygold is 100% grass fed during the grassy season. The rest of the year, they supplement with alfalfa hay and some grains. I think that’s a perfectly traditional practice for dairy cultures in northern climates or high altitudes, so I still buy their butter sometimes.

      Personally, I stock up on the Organic Valley Pastured Butter whenever it’s available. It sells for about $3.29 for 8oz. at my local grocery store.

      • Megan says

        I don’t think Organic Valley Pasture Butter is RAW. If one doesn’t get all the health benefits from pasteurized dairy, why pay more for this product? Hate to think you’re being hoodwinked.

        • KristenM says

          You’re right; it’s not raw. I’m not being hoodwinked.

          As I wrote in my comment to Lane below:

          “Pasteurization removes the ‘Wulzen factor’ above, as that’s only found in raw cream. And, it removes some of the probiotic benefit. But as far as the kinds of fats, the vitamins, etc. goes, that’s not affected by pasteurization at all.”

          • MaryB says

            I pick up my Kerry Gold at Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods in my area for $2.99 per 8 oz. I agree, the Amazon link price is outrageous!

            • KristenM says

              Yeah. I include the link for those who can’t find ANY grass-fed butter locally. They may find it wise to buy it in bulk online. I believe the shipping is high because it needs to be refrigerated.

  5. tim says

    great article. i wish more people realized the health benefits of butter. but most of this information is not readily available. as a pharmacists i have to try and convince people everyday that cholesterol and the foods that contain the cholesterol will not kill them and is actually healthy. coconut oil is another one.

  6. says

    Awesome article! I wish more people could get over the phobia of butter that’s been pushed down Americans’ throats for so many decades. I cook everything in grass-fed butter or lard with butter being the preferred. For me, butter intake is replacing my sweet tooth because my cooking is so much richer and tastier, leaving me rarely craving anything sweet afterwards!

  7. Kathy garriott says

    My daughter and her husband are wanting to start their family. Her Dr. Told her she needs to be taking folic acid. What can you tell me about this? They are wanting to do everything as healthy as they can. I just bought Beautiful babies for them. Thanks

    • Michelle Faulkner says

      Kathy, I have a long time friend that used to work for the March Of Dimes. They have research that indicates women who have sufficient levels of folic acid prior to conception actual help in reducing the chance of birth defects.

  8. says

    We just found out that the source of my toddler’s constant belly aches and random vomiting is a milk allergy, and since I’m still nursing her that means no milk products for me either. Really mourning the loss of butter the hardest over here. While we can live without other dairy products there is nothing I can find that is as delicious as real butter. (And yes, she also reacts to ghee and milk fat, tried that. Sad!)

      • Jill says

        Amy, have you tried ghee or clarified butter for your daughter? It is easy to make at home with butter, gently simmered to separate the milk solids from the butter oil. What you end up with is JUST the oil, with non of the milk solids. Also, have you tried raw milk? My son suffered years of eczema as a little boy until we figured out that it was PASTEURIZED milk causing the problem. Switching to raw milk made his eczema vanish in days (after several years of constant suffering). The other thing you might want to research is the GAPS diet protocol, which has the ability to reverse food allergies/sensitivities by “healing and sealing” the gut wall (correcting leaky gut/dysbiosis). Blessings to you!

        • Jill says

          Oops, just noticed that she also reacts to ghee–sorry I missed that! I will say that a REALLY good quality olive oil (like Chaffin Orchards) is heavenly to dip bread into, and with a little balsamic added in it’s even better. Maybe some experimenting will turn up some new favorites for you!

        • Amy says

          I am wondering how you found out the eczema was caused by the pasteurized milk? My 22 year old daughter suffers from extreme eczema and nothing has helped, she has tried eliminating gluten and meat and added chiropractic, fish oil,probiotics, and all kinds of vitamins, as well as bocoup topicals, but still has such extreme
          symptons that they are limiting her life experiences, it is painful to shower and she has much bleeding and scaring on all areas of her body. she gets temporary relief from the steroid shot she gets from her dermatologist, but she is trying to stay away from those as the dangers are many. We are thinking about food allergy testing,and are wondering if others have found the
          trigger to their eczema through this diagnostic path?

    • Jack says

      Hi Dori. This study is what is called an “epidemiological” study. This type of study tries to “correlate” an observation with an outcome. Always remember, “Correlation does not imply causation”. In this particular case, the study tries to correlate “High fat dairy” with breast cancer survival. The Kaiser study used food frequency questionnaires to determine dietary intake. These questionnaires require that the respondent have accurate recollection of what and how much they’ve eaten over long periods of time. Can you remember what you ate a month ago Thursday? Was the study controlled for sugar? Since many products containing “high fat dairy” are loaded with sugar, the results of the study would be seriously skewed unless that confounding variable was factored out. There are many other variables that would have to be controlled, but seldom are. In short, this kind of study is the weakest kind of science and does little more than confuse not just you, Dori, but even those who conduct such studies. It would be a huge leap to conclude from this study that butter causes poorer breast cancer survival. My advice to you is to ignore media-hyped epidemiological study results in general and this one in particular. No conclusions about cause can ever be drawn from such studies. Simply eat food the way nature gives it to us, eat sensible amounts and you will enjoy good health.

  9. Lane says

    Even with grassfed butter what’s the impact of pasteurization? Doesn’t that wipe out many of the health goodies in it?

    • KristenM says

      Pasteurization removes the “Wulzen factor” above, as that’s only found in raw cream. And, it removes some of the probiotic benefit. But as far as the kinds of fats, the vitamins, etc. goes, that’s not affected by pasteurization at all.

  10. Peter says

    Butter is made from cream. Margarine is made from……well lots of stuff some is OK as it’s just canola or whatever but all that other stuff they put in it that I can’t pronounce-not good!

    Stick with butter.

  11. says

    With the ridiculous laws up here in your northern neighbor it would probably be easier to buy cocaine than raw milk. Having said that, now that I actually have I have run into a perplexing problem.

    I tried to make butter from the rich cream this Jersey produces with my electric beater. It made awesome whipped cream. I scooped some out and put it on my homemade chocolate mousse, but the butter would not fall out.

    Your article reminded me that I had some left souring in my fridge so I looked at your instructional page and I tried again.

    This time I used my Cuisinart Smart Stick, which has a bowl attachment. I beat it till it was almost to hot to hold and still no butter!

    I am totally perplexed. Have you ever seen anything like that?

    • says

      Jim, I have never whipped cream to make butter. I put it into a glass jar with a tight fitting lid and shake it to separate the butter from the whey. It works every time for me.
      Hope this helps.

      • says

        Awesome! Thanks Lynda that did it, maybe I should listen to what I am told next time 😉 Now that you mentioned it I am reminded that this is how the owners of the Jersey said they make butter.

        • Beccolina says

          Yup. My dad remembers his grandfather telling him how they used to hang a covered bucket of cream under the wagon on the way west. The jiggling from the wagon made butter, ready in time for supper, and no tired arms!

  12. Farmer Dean says

    Butter is also known to increase fertility,and in some countries it is used to treat infertility. Butter is an amazing nutrient dense food, just make sure it is coming from pasture raised, organic cows (so you know it’s Non-GMO, antibiotic and hormone free). Raw is always best if you can get it so that the enzymes and cultures are alive. When in doubt cook with butter instead of vegetable oils.

  13. says

    Love this – you know I think the fixation on red wine and resveratrol as the secret behind the French paradox was misplaced. The French’s mysterious ability to eat well and not have heart attacks was simply due to enjoying butter in their cooking!

  14. Kristi Cooke says

    Only an idiot would call you an idiot for saying butter is a health food – lol! He/she should have done their research!

  15. Lisa says

    Given a choice of a last meal….real buttered homemade bread.

    I come from a European upbringing. Butter was always what we used on everything. We never used mayonnaise on sandwiches. It was always left out, non refrigerated. I still keep my butter that way.

    I don’t get why the paleo diet frowns upon butter. They’re missing out.

  16. Sherra Howard says

    I think if people knew how margarine is manufactured, it would make them not want to eat it. I grew up half of my growing up years in a farm situation and ate butter made on the farm and drank milk you had to shake up before drinking. As a young woman with a heart defect I was born with, my heart related levels on all tests (except ekg) were great. Started eating margarine as a young woman and by the time I got to my forties, triglycerides and such were too high. I learned about hydrogenated oils and I want to throw up at the thought of eating margarine products. I never thought eating butter was bad for you. Glad to hear science is catching up! (lol)

    • margaret says

      It is bad for your heart. I also have farm relatives and wouldn’t you know a very healthy family, slim and trim and healthy as ox’s, oldest brother has heart attack at 62, Dad has heart attack that kills him at 83, youngest brother dies at 51 from pancreatic cancer, oldest sister at 59 gets pancreatic cancer, and Mom at 86 died Wednesday of pancreatic cancer. So tell me that a diet high in fat is healthy. They may have eaten it, but they worked hard, it will cause problems even when you think it won’t.

  17. Joni says

    I know how you feel. I said more or less the same thing at work back in the early 90’s and they said,
    “How can you be so stupid.”

    A a couple weeks ago when I said how much butter I eat.
    They said, “What did you say?!!”

  18. Joni says

    I just read a write up on canola and it is not what we were told either. It was made to lubricate machinery
    during world war 2. It is really rape seed.

    Check it out. It belongs right along with veg oil

  19. qudsia khanum says

    I totally agree with you. That’s why me and my family and most people in Pakistan only give food cooked in butter to children and moms specially for some months after delivery.

  20. says

    I loved this article, but it kicked off the ‘conflicting information’ alarm once again. The timing of your piece could not have been better. You might be familiar with “Edible Communities”, the network of magazines that publish ‘localized’ editions across the nation. I just yesterday picked up the Spring 2013 edition in which the regular column, ‘Myth vs Fact’ tells us that indeed margarine is healthier than butter! Of course, no well-informed foodie believes this, but it did create a chuckle or two. The only backup they use is some needless guidelines from, of all sources, the NIH! … We have known for years that butter and all other animal fats contain life-sustaining elements but that they should also be consumed moderately and as part of, you guessed it, a well-rounded, well-balanced caloric intake.

    • KristenM says

      That’s why I used to be super-careful about saying “butter from grass-fed cows.”

      But it’s a mouthful, and most everyone just says “grass-fed butter” or “grass-fed milk” anyway. So, I started saying it, too because people know what I MEAN even if I’m not grammatically correct. :)

  21. hp says

    Milk is the King of foods and nothing else even comes close.

    If a person is fortunate enough to have fresh milk available from a local farm, such a person is indded blessed.

  22. Jason Harrison says

    Just because a food contains known beneficial chemicals, doesn’t imply that as a whole, or as consumed, that it is beneficial to one’s health.

    (“as consumed” = in combination with other foods or as incorporated into a more complex product.)

    Eg., almost all foods contain water, water is a necessary component of all healthy diets, therefor all foods containing water must be beneficial to ones health.

    I’m not even sure that you can decide, without a set of complex studies, that a particular food is beneficial to health all of the time. Certainly at least there must be limits of consumption. And issues of grass-fed, gmo, hormones, antibiotics, pasteurisation, etc all point to the issue that the benefits of a food can be decreased or even reversed.

    So, I’m not convinced. Anyone who is not skeptical of claims of “this food is beneficial for you” needs to be more careful of the next wave of superfoods that we’ve been eating all along.

    Call a knee-jerk reaction, but I find any animal sourced food to be much more likely to be damaging to our health, through known components (IGF-1, xenohormones, transport of dead bacteria across the small intestine via saturated fat, oxidation and denatured proteins, etc). Trying to add up all of the benefits without addressing the (avoidable) dangers is probably suffering from confirmation bias.

    • joyce wang says

      while i am not as eloquent and articulate as you are, that’s exactly what my reaction is reading this as well as some of the other bloggers online that promote beef, butter, cream and bacon, etc. i must have asked 50 times these real food bloggers just how much of xxx can you eat to not cause unwelcomed results and so far as you may have guessed i have not received one answer. i don’t even expect a perfect answer, simply just a reasonable logical guesstimate would help. i too believe there is no such food in the world that you can eat as much as you want and see absolutely no negative side effects even drinking excess water can cause some illness. if i can’t figure out how much i can eat a certain food there is no way i will be eating it let alone feeding it to my family including my babies

      • Greg says

        You just have to eat it in moderation. Like you said anything can be bad for you if too much is eaten, but surely you don’t check every single type of food you eat for the limit on how much can be eaten, so why give butter extra harsh judgement, especially when it’s a natural food?

  23. Chris says

    Numerous studies on food and nutrition mean you can defend most foods as a “health food” if you try hard enough and cherry-pick.

    So you consider yourself a health-conscious person and want to justify that butter is healthy because you like it. It’s ridiculous – butter isn’t particularly healthy. It just isn’t as bad as people think it is, in moderation. Why can’t we just like butter because it tastes good?

  24. Joanne says

    Would love to post this on Facebook for all my butter loving family and friends! It was music to my ears since I mostly eat bread for the butter!

  25. says

    A good place to get started on your clean eating journey is to start putting more water into your body. We often underestimate the benefits of drinking water and even go as far as considering other liquids to be equivalent to drinking water. This myth needs to be put to rest! All liquids are not water and they cannot be used by your body the same way water can be. Juice contains sugars, coffee contains caffeine, milk contains fats and proteins, and the list goes one. All these need to be assimilated by your body differently than plain water does. Keep in mind that the body is mostly composed of water.

  26. Dinah says

    I have always loved butter but ate margarine because I was taught that it was better for you than butter. Then about ten years ago, an old doctor told me that I should eat butter instead of margarine. He told me that margarine was about one molecule away from being plastic and it was horrible for your overall health. I was happy to hear that and have been eating butter ever since.

  27. pat says

    couple wks ago read on how to make mayo finally found whey powder now can’t find receipe do you have it?

  28. margaret says

    Butter is made from animal fat. High in cholesterol and high levels of saturated fat. Margarine on the other hand is higher in good fats, poly and mono helping to reduce LDL’s. All margarine’s are not made them same however, need to look for the lowest calories that taste the best, grams of fat, sat. and trans(0 is best) low % Daily Value for cholesterol.
    I prefer to take this information from a R.D L.D. at the Mayo Clinic than someone who does not have the training of a expert.

  29. Ella says

    My Dad eats margarine to be healthy and it drives me nuts because he thinks it’s a healthy product!!! It’s amazing how ill informed people are about basic nutrition because of the amount of false advertising and misinformation out there by the companies who make this crap.

  30. Michael says

    It’s all about moderation!! And here is another little tidbit of information…margarine is 1 chemical compound away from being PLASTIC!!! Also, bugs won’t even stay on it to eat it, if it is kept outside…

  31. Lynin says

    Wow! For every “study” or argument there’s a counterargument out there. I could cite instances of people eating lard and butter all their lives and having arthritis, heart disease, etc. although I do eat some butter/grape seed oil now.

  32. Yoed Cameron Santos via Facebook says

    As a family we go through pounds of butter a month. We are healthy and not overweight. Kids are very active. No margarine, no fakes…

  33. Frederica Huxley via Facebook says

    Got swayed in the ’70s to use margarine – always found it foul, so didn’t use anything until I learned that butter is very good!

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