Nutrition - is butter best?

Tuesday 08 May 2018

This blog was inspired by a newspaper article in the Times last week with the title, ‘Welcome Back Butter’. The article was focusing in recent research about fats. Which fats are best and which should be avoided.

Fats have gone through a tough time in the past, and were traditionally a food to be avoided if possible, particularly saturated fats (animal fats). Well, all of this has now been turned on its head and we are actually now encouraged to include the good fats in our diet, including saturated fats in moderation. These are now thought not to be detrimental to our health after all. This includes butter as opposed to the popular spreads from tubs that can be used straight from the fridge.

Which fats should we avoid?

The fats we are told to avoid are the Trans fats. Trans fats are produced primarily for the food industry. They are produced by pumping natural vegetable oils with hydrogen to make them solid or semi solid (will spread from the fridge). This is done by treating the natural oil with a nickel catalyst and using high temperatures which denatures the oil. When oils are denatured the chemical structure of the oil is changed from a natural form to an unnatural one, because of the chemical reactions that take place. The hydrogenation process converts what are known as cis double bonds, present in the oi, into trans double bonds This is where the term Trans originates. They are used by the food industry to increase the shelf life of processed foods by preventing rancidity in the food. The problem is that our digestive systems are not designed to cope with these chemically changed fats and so eating them can create problems in the body.

According to Chris Woollams in his recently revised book, ‘Everything you need to know to beat cancer’, Trans fats increase tissue inflammation in the body and interfere with normal cell function. This is because they form Free Radicals which are very unstable molecules. They react with other molecules within the cell to try and make themselves gain stability. This causes a domino effect in the cell in a cascade of reactions finally resulting in damage to the DNA of the cell which can increase the risk of cancer and other chronic diseases. According to the Harvard School of public Health, Trans fats increase the bad cholesterol in our bodies known as LDL’s (low density lipoproteins) and decrease our good cholesterol HDL (high density lipoproteins). Furthermore, they block the production of chemicals that prevent inflammation and that benefit our hormonal and nervous systems. It is worth remembering that the anti-oxidants from the fruits and vegetables in our diet offer some protection against the harm that Trans fats can do,  particularly neutralizing the free radicals and the damage that they can do. That is why it is important to eat a diet high in fruits and vegetables to ensure plenty of anti-oxidant protection.

Trans fats are used extensively in the food industry in processed/convenience foods from cakes and biscuits to pizza and ready meals. The food industry is aware of the nutritional implications and is trying to now produce foods which do not contain trans fats. I believe that Marks and Spencer’s stopped using them a while ago. To be sure of avoiding them, always read food labels.

So why is butter now back in vogue? Butter is after all a saturated fat which we have in the past been told to avoid. But new research is now contesting this. The recent research published in the BMJ combined data from several previous studies with a total of 339,090 participants. It found that with saturated fats there was no clear association between the development of diseases and its consumption, but eating industrialised Trans fats was associated with an increased risk of ill health. Nutritional therapists and naturopaths who have studied food and the effect on our health champion butter as it is a natural food with no trans fats. It is digested and utilized in the body naturally. It should be part of a healthy balanced diet.

Let us remind ourselves why fat is an essential part of a healthy diet.

• Fat provides vitamins A,D,E and K.
• They are essential for good brain function and help to lift mood. (The human brain is 60% fat).
• The good fats provide the essential fatty acids omega 3 and omega 6. These are called essential as we cannot make them ourselves but they are essential for good health particularly for good hormone balance.
• The membranes of our cells rely on fat to function well.
• It is a good source of energy.
• It forms a protective layer under our skin.

So we know now that Trans fats should be avoided and why, so where should we get our fats from?
• Coconut as butter, milk, cream and flesh.
• Olive oil, ideal for stir fries and oven roasted vegetables as well as salad dressings and a dipping sauce flavoured with herbs.
• Rapeseed oil for stir fries and oven roasted vegetables. I also use it for cooking instead of margarine. If the recipe asks for 100g of margarine I use 100g of rapeseed oil. It is easier to blend than butter and gives good results.
• Avocados and their oil. You can have avocado as a snack, mixed in a salad, or mashed onto toast. An avocado added to a smoothie gives a very creamy consistency and is a good addition for someone with a reduced appetite who needs a calorie boost in an easy to take way.
• Nuts, seeds and their butters and oils (do not cook with these oils but use them for salad dressings or to add flavour to other foods). Note that commercial peanut butter does contain trans fats. A tip is that if the oil separates from the peanut butter then that is ok to use but if not it will have been hydrogenated.
• Oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines and tuna.
• Butter, look for traditionally made or cold pressed.
• Ghee.

So the  bottom line here is that we should avoid trans fats and any foods that contain them and embrace natural fats from vegetable as well as animal sources.

Chocolate Avocado Mousse
1 banana
3 tbsp of cocoa powder or unsweetened cocoa powder.
1 avocado peeled and stone removed
2 tbsp of honey
1 tsp of lemon juice
1 tsp of vanilla extract
2 tbsps of chilled water

Simply blend altogether in a processor or blender until creamy and smooth.  Put into little cups or ramekins and chill before serving.

Blog originally written by Caroline September 2015 - checked April 2020

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