Butter: Are There Health Benefits?

Butter or margarine – which is better? Here you can find out everything about the composition and health properties of butter as well as the differences in quality of different types of butter.

Butter from an ethical point of view

From an ethical point of view, the question “butter or margarine?” is answered very quickly: butter is a milk product – and milk production is associated with discrimination, exploitation, and animal cruelty.

From a nutritional point of view, things are not that simple. Let’s first look at the quality, composition, properties, and health effects of butter – in Part 2 of our comparison you will finally find all the information about margarine.

Butter making – pasteurized only, not homogenized

Butter is made from cream, i.e. the fat in cow’s milk. It takes 20 to 25 liters of cow’s milk to produce 1 kg of butter – an enormous amount. The milk used to make the cream is pasteurized (heated to around 75 degrees Celsius for 15 to 30 seconds to kill potentially harmful microorganisms) but not homogenized.

During homogenization, the milk fats are broken up into tiny particles under high pressure in order to prevent the milk from creaming. Butter can no longer be made from milk treated in this way due to the altered fat structure.

What types of butter are there?

Butter is available in different variations:

  • Sweet cream butter: For sweet cream butter, the cream is stored in a cool place (at around 10 degrees Celsius) for 10 to 15 hours before it is made into butter. This gives it a mild, slightly sweet aroma.
  • Sour cream butter: With sour cream butter, the cream is mixed with lactic acid bacteria. The bacteria lead to slight acidification of the cream within 10 hours at around 18 degrees. Butter is then made from fermented cream, which is considered to be easier to digest and tolerate than sweet cream butter.
  • Mildly acidified butter: Mildly acidified butter is intended to save time and money, but at the same time offer the consumer a taste similar to sour cream. You simply knead lactic acid or lactic acid bacteria into the butter after it has been made. There is no fermentation here.
  • Reduced fat butter e.g. B. Semi-Fat Butter: These types of butter are lower in fat than regular butter. Instead, they contain significantly more ingredients to get the texture and taste as butter-like as possible. In addition to butter, the main ingredients are water and buttermilk. Emulsifiers are also required so that the butter combines with the water. Gelatin and modified starch ensure a good consistency. Salt, acidity regulators, and flavorings try to mimic the taste of butter, and preservatives – which aren’t needed in real butter – have yet to preserve the mix.
  • Raw Milk Butter: Raw milk butter is butter made from unpasteurized raw milk. It is therefore the most natural butter there is. Their vital substance content corresponds to the original vital substance content of the raw cream used. In addition, all enzymes are still intact in the raw milk butter and the fat structure is completely unchanged. It is only available in some delicatessen and organic supermarkets or from the producers directly on-site or online.
  • Ghee: Ghee is the clarified butter from Ayurveda. In our regions, ghee is also called clarified butter.

Butter for lactose intolerance and milk protein intolerance

Butter contains almost no lactose (0.1 to 1 g per 100 g) and hardly any milk protein (0.9 g per 100 g). Therefore, it is generally well tolerated by people with lactose intolerance as well as by people who are sensitive to milk protein. However, if you have a severe milk protein allergy (i.e. not just a milk protein intolerance) and already react to traces of protein, you should be careful with butter.

Ghee/clarified butter

Ghee would be an alternative here (if it has to be an animal product). Because ghee or clarified butter is created when butter is boiled and the resulting foam on the surface is skimmed off again and again. In this way, water, protein, and lactose are removed. The pure butterfat remains. We have explained here how you can make ghee yourself from butter: Ghee – The golden elixir. We will also be happy to explain how you can make ghee yourself.

Lactose-free butter

Another lactose-free alternative is lactose-free butter, which contains no more than 0.1 g of lactose (milk sugar) per 100 g of butter. The lactose is first removed from the milk. They are treated with the enzyme lactase. This splits the lactose into the two simple sugars glucose and galactose – and the milk becomes lactose-free. Now lactose-free dairy products can be made from this milk, and so can lactose-free butter.

However, the enzymes used are mostly genetically modified. Although they are no longer active in the end product, those who are critical of genetic engineering might prefer to use a purely vegetable fat that is automatically lactose-free and milk protein-free. But remember that margarine is not always purely plant-based. Milk components can also be processed here, so you should pay attention to the list of ingredients.

When it comes to butter, however, cholesterol is much more frequently discussed than lactose or milk protein. Butter is one of the top cholesterol-rich foods.

Butter provides a lot of cholesterol

100 g butter contains approx. 220 mg cholesterol. In 100 g ghee even 340 mg cholesterol. These values ​​are only exceeded by the egg yolk, which provides over 1000 mg of cholesterol per 100 g, by innards (liver and kidney), caviar, and products containing eggs such as e.g. For example, biscuits, hollandaise sauce, and mayonnaise.

But we now know that the cholesterol content of the diet does not necessarily lead to an increased blood cholesterol level.

Does butter cause heart disease?

And even if butter raised cholesterol levels, that wouldn’t necessarily be a cause for concern. Because high cholesterol doesn’t necessarily lead to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease — as was believed for years.

This should only be the case for those people whose LDL cholesterol is in small, dense particles. LDL cholesterol is commonly considered “bad” cholesterol. However, it is only bad if the particles are small and dense. It is quite unproblematic when it is present in large particles – and that is exactly what it is in the majority of people.

These details are rarely considered when prescribing cholesterol-lowering drugs (statins). And so many people swallow medicines that they do not need and which also expose them to the risk of extremely unpleasant side effects.

Butter and its saturated fatty acids

However, not only cholesterol is considered a risk factor for heart disease, but also the saturated fatty acids in butter.

These should also increase the cholesterol level in the blood (the triglyceride level of course anyway). This may be the case if you regard butter as a staple food and live largely on butter. However, when butter is consumed in normal amounts (15 to 30g per day), cholesterol levels don’t matter much, as we’ve discussed here: Saturated fats are healthy.

Butter contains trans fats

However, like margarine, butter contains trans fats: up to 3 g per 100 g. A serving of 15-30g per day would equate to 0.45-0.9g of trans fat, with the official recommendation being no more than 2g of total trans fat per day.

If you eat mainly confectionery, ready-made baked goods, and fried foods, it is of course not unlikely that you will exceed this value. However, if you eat a healthy diet and like to eat a little butter every now and then, the trans fats in butter should have little effect.

In addition, the trans fatty acids in butter are formed naturally during digestion in the rumen of cows – industrial trans fatty acids, such as those found in margarine, on the other hand, have a different structure and are therefore said to have a negative effect on health.

Butter: A Good Source of Omega-3 Fatty Acids?

Omega-3 fatty acids are also considered anti-inflammatory. Butter contains varying amounts of it, depending on how the cows are kept and fed. Organic butter contains significantly more omega-3 fatty acids than conventional butter, but the differences are small.

However, butter contains hardly any of the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA, which are otherwise found in animal foods such as fish and eggs. Butter mainly contains short-chain alpha-linolenic acid, which many people already know from linseed, rapeseed, or hemp oil, i.e. actually from vegetable oils.

Alpha-linolenic acid has anti-inflammatory properties and has beneficial effects on many chronic diseases. It also protects the nerves and regulates the immune system. The need for alpha-linolenic acid is 1200 to 2000 mg per day. A 15 g portion of butter contains between 60 and 150 mg of alpha-linolenic acid – depending on quality and cow husbandry.

The omega-6-omega-3 ratio of butter also depends on the quality. It varies between 1.5:1 and 3.2:1 (optimal would be 4:1 to 6:1). Organic butter often has the best ratio, and conventional butter (not always, but often) is the worst.

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