Better butter than any old oils 6

Curls of fresh butter, isolated on white

Until relatively recently, we cooked with traditional saturated fats such as butter and lard. These were then labelled as ‘unhealthy and fattening’ and replaced with plant oils. It turns out that butter was a very wise and natural choice because saturated fat is very stable at high temperatures and also contains many important vitamins.

Did you ever find yourself daydreaming about a nice bit of lard? Maybe you were overcome by a craving for animal fat, slowly melting in a pan? No? Well, understandably so. Large amounts of fat or oil are not considered a palatable food but more than anything else, you could literally watch your arteries clog up and hear your heart gasping for oxygen….. or could you?

You can already tell that we have many questions to ask when it comes to fats. The message about ‘good’ and ‘bad’ fats is emphatic but their definition has become somewhat distorted, heavily influenced by the food and drug industry, the media and a propagated fear of saturated fat. For decades we have been told that we eat too much saturated fat and we should be increasing the amount of polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs) in our diet to harvest their health benefits. It certainly looks like we have succeeded because the average American now consumes around 40g of PUFAs a day in comparison to just 20g in the 1950’s. According to this wisdom, our heart health policy should have been successful but, instead, nearly every condition related to chronic inflammation is on the rise.

Up until the early parts of the last century we cooked with traditional saturated fats such as butter and lard. As it turns out, this was a very wise and natural choice because saturated fat is very stable at high temperatures. It does not contain double bonds in its chemical structure, making it much more resistant to oxidation and damage. It did not take long before the first hydrogenated or trans fats started to appear in the shape, form and taste of margarine. It was the spread and cooking oil of choice for many families in the fifties, sixties, seventies, eighties and even nineties. Hydrogenated fats only began to be frowned upon and largely banned in the 21st century. These artificial, chemically altered fats carry so many health hazards it is almost hard to believe that they were ever approved as fit for human consumption. They only ’got the boot’ because our medical system, which is chronically obsessed with cholesterol, has observed an increase in LDL ‘bad’ cholesterol after the consumption of foods such as margarine.

cookies with chocolate on an isolated white background

It’s not as simple as avoiding highly-processed, hydrogenated, polyunsaturated fats; nearly every cookie, pastry, and ready meal contain one or other of these solidified vegetable oils.

Still, we have not seen empty fridges in our supermarkets because of a lack of margarine! Shelves are full of plant-based spreads, manufactured from hardened vegetable oils largely containing processed PUFAs. Nearly every cookie, pastry, microwave dinner, ready meal and packaged food will contain one or other of these solidified vegetable oils.

I came across an interesting story recently about a large fast food chain that changed the oil in their fryers from hydrogenated to processed sunflower and corn oil. The cleaning company who was scrubbing dirty ovens and cooking utensils had brought it to their attention that these new oils form residues on walls and on equipment that is impossible to scrape off with conventional cleaners. New chemical cleaners had to be invented to deal with this new generation of mutated plant oils. Unfortunately, at present, NOBODY KNOWS what these fats might do to the human body. Another interesting bit of evidence comes from rural China. Women who spend a lot of their time stir-frying with linseed or rapeseed oil have a considerably high risk of developing lung cancer. Responsible for this dramatic side effect are the toxic fumes produced by heating polyunsaturated vegetable oils. In fact, processed PUFAs and plant oils might be even more dangerous than trans fats.

Due to their chemical structure, they are highly unstable and vulnerable to oxidation. These oxidation by-products are highly inflammatory and damaging to healthy cells. In truth, processed plant oils are a much greater risk factor for heart disease, diabetes and cancer than any amount of butter or lard will ever be. As I write, The Guardian has published an article confirming what we have feared all along: recommendations to reduce saturated fat intake to prevent heart disease is not backed up by scientific evidence and should have never been issued. The study published online in the journal ‘Open Heart’, states, more precisely, that, and I quote: “Dietary advice not merely needs review; it should not have been introduced!”


Cheese, butter and animal fat should not be avoided; they are rich in vitamins A, D, E and K, and the fatty acids CLA and butyric acid.

It is staggering to believe that 220 million Americans and 56 million UK citizens have been given unscientific and wrong advice by their health care practitioners for more than 30 years. I am not surprised that many people feel confused and cheated and don’t know what to believe anymore!

Let me try to summarise for you which fats to eat and which ones to give a miss. Firstly, should cheese, butter and animal fat be part of a healthy diet? Absolutely! Should you avoid processed vegetable oils at all cost? Absolutely! Here are a few reasons why it’s smart to eat one of my all-time though much maligned favourites…… butter.

Butter is rich in vitamins A, D, E and K, all of which promote heart health and improve blood viscosity. Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) is found in abundance in butter and shown to help maintain a healthy weight and protect against cancer. Many compounds in butter may also help to combat arthritis, infertility and even asthma. The saturated fat helps to strengthen lung tissue and butyric acid provides soothing and antibacterial protection for your small and large intestine. My first choice would be raw, unpasteurised butter which can be quite hard to get hold of. More readily available is butter from grass-fed cows, which is also excellent as a spread, in cooking or even in coffee!

In a nutshell, here are some of the most important reasons why you should avoid vegetable and plant oils (unless they are raw, cold-pressed and not heated):

Free radicals are rife in processed PUFAs, as are chemical by-products that are highly damaging and contribute to numerous health problems, including cancer and heart disease. Hexane and other solvents are used in the extraction process and industrial chemicals are frequently used for preservation. Processed vegetable oil is grey, so bleach and colour is often added to make it ‘palatable’. Processed and hardened vegetable fats are not natural compounds, your body has no idea what to do with them, they have no nutritional value and only wreak havoc with bodily function!

Natural, saturated fats like butter and other animal fats have been used safely as long as man has had access to them and should form part of every healthy diet. For those who wish to avoid produce of animal origin, coconut oil is an excellent alternative. Rich in saturated fat, it is stable enough to cook with and who wouldn’t mind a bit of exotic flavour during a drab and cold English winter!

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Lola Renton

About Lola Renton

Lola Renton is a leading Nutritional Therapist (BSc Hons) and product consultant with a passion for anything edible. She is a published health writer for national publications and international magazines and a down-to-earth blogger in cyber space. In the confusing and contradicting world of nutrition, it is her aim to set the record straight and serve her followers delicate pearls of nutrition on an entertaining, light hearted plate.

6 thoughts on “Better butter than any old oils

  • Jane

    Please can you tell me what would olive oil be please………….I had always thought of it as a good fat? Thank you Jane.

  • Celia

    what about extra virgin olive oil? Advice is often positive about cooking at high temperatures with extra virgin olive oil.

  • Kyla Williams (Igennus nutrition technical advisor)

    Hi, thank you for your questions regarding olive oil. Jane you are right that olive oil is a healthy fat, mostly consisting of mono-unsaturated omega-9 fatty acids. When heating olive oil, the fats are damaged if temperatures reach around 180 deg C, therefore when frying foods (which is usually over 200 deg C, these fats will be unhealthy as the body cannot recognise them properly. If you are roasting foods for a long time at a lower temperature such as 160 deg C for a long period of time, this would be fine. Olive oil cold on salads however is super healthy! Extra virgin olive oil is simply the first press from the olives, without the use of excessive heat during the pressing process, so it is the healthiest option, however can still be easily damaged by heat. I hope this helps to clarify everything about olive oil.

  • Bob

    What about fryinging with cold pressed rapeseed oil. I thought it was ok to use that due to the high smoke point

  • Kyla Williams (Igennus nutrition technical advisor)

    Hi Bob,

    Yes, cold pressed rapeseed oil does in fact have a high smoke point, which has given this oil a lot of media attention over the last couple of years. Rapeseed oil does however contain high levels of polyunsaturated fats, which have a low oxidative stability, meaning that when heated, they can easily produce harmful carcinogenic compounds.

    When considering an oil for its quality for cooking, you need to consider both the smoke point (ideally higher than the temperature you are cooking to) and also the fat oxidative stability. An easy way to check for any oil’s stability is to read the label for the types of fats listed. On the label, the fats should be listed as polyunsaturated (not heat stable), monounsaturated (fairly heat stable) and saturated (most heat stable). Rapeseed oil contains more polyunsaturated fats than olive oil, therefore is likely to oxidise easier.

    Coconut oil and butter on the other hand are high in saturated fat, contain a small amount of monounsaturated fats and are very low in polyunsaturated fat, making them very stable fats to use when cooking. What ever oil you are using, to limit oxidation, if you are adding foods such as onions and garlic straight to the pan, the high antioxidant content of these foods will help to protect the oil from producing harmful compounds.

  • Meg Amor

    Aloha. I have been waiting for 30 years for the so called health industry to realize butter is better. Finally I am seeing articles like this. Thank god. We need proper far in our diet. It’s what gives food it’s taste and stops is over eating. Not to mention how much our body needs it for a multitude of processes. Yay. :-). Good to see this article. I’ve never used anything but butter and olive oil.

    We used to have an ad in New Zealand that had a wee girl asking how to make butter. I think her mum puts some cream and salt in a jar or something. Then she asks ‘how do you make margarine mum’. Her mother replies – ‘oh I don’t know darling. You’ll have to ask your father. He’s the chemist.’ LOL. That about covers it for me.

    Thanks and aloha Meg Amor.

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