Rich, creamy butter…the sinful, guilt-inducing condiment that has long been associated with heart disease due to its saturated fat content. Thankfully, the saturated fat myth has since been scientifically debunked by researchers (you can read more about that here) and grass fed butter has emerged as an incredibly healthy fat. In this post, we’ll go over the proven benefits that makes grass fed butter a standout choice when compared to its grain fed counterpart.
Grass Fed Butter Health Benefits
Grass fed butter is an excellent source of vitamin K2. It all begins with the grass. Chlorophyll is what gives plants their rich green color, as well as vitamin K1 (phylloquinone). When the cow grazes on the grass, the vitamin K1 it contains is converted to vitamin K2 thanks to the bacteria found in the digestive system of the cow. This can help to explain why vitamin K is found in higher amounts in grass fed cows versus those that are grain fed. Other excellent sources of vitamin K2 include egg yolks, natto (fermented soy) and goose liver.
So, what’s the deal when it comes to vitamin K2 and why is it so important when it comes to your health?
Well, vitamin K2 has a very important function when it comes to heart health and metabolizing calcium. Let’s begin with heart health.
Vitamin K2 helps to keep protect blood vessels from calcification and stiffening by activating matrix GLA protein (MGP). MGP is a vitamin K-dependent protein that inhibits the buildup of calcium along artery walls. This is important because the buildup of calcium deposits in the arteries can lead to blockages, and blocked arteries can result in heart attack or stroke.
By helping to keep calcium in our bones instead of leaching into our system, vitamin K2 also helps to reduce the risk of osteoporosis. Vitamin K2 helps to support bone health by activating an enzyme called osteocalcin. Osteocalcin’s job is to take the calcium that has been redirected from the arteries and bind it to our bones. Without vitamin K2, this process can’t take place and that’s why this vitamin is so important when it comes to bone health.
Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA)
Grass fed butter is a natural source of Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA). CLA is a long chain fatty acid that packs quite the punch when it comes to our health. Discovered at the University of Wisconsin by Dr. Michael Pariza, CLA has been shown to exhibit strong anti-cancer properties. And it doesn’t take much. Research has shown that CLA is effective at inhibiting carcinogenesis, even at low dietary levels.
As with vitamin K2, CLA may also contribute to heart health. The CLA found in grass fed cows has been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease. In an interesting study published by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers found that those living in countries where cows are grass fed had a lower risk of heart disease. Out of the five groups that took place in the study, those who consumed the most CLA from grass fed cows demonstrated the lowest risk of heart disease.
But is it all doom and gloom for grain fed cattle? Not exactly, their milkfat has been found to contain CLA as well. However, while CLA is present in the milk fat of grain fed cows, researchers have found that grass fed cows have 500% more CLA in their milk fat than cows on grain fed diets.
Butyrate is a short chain fatty acid (SCFA) that plays a key role in keeping our digestive systems running properly. Grass fed butter is a natural source of butyrate that our bodies can readily put to use, however our bodies produce this SCFA as well. But there’s a catch. We need fiber to do so. Butyrate is naturally created by the bacteria in our gut when digesting fiber. This is just one of the reasons why it’s important to ensure we get enough fiber in our diets; it supports our intestinal health. Butyrate is also a major energy source for the cells in our gut and helps to regulate the growth of cells in our gut lining.
The SCFA butyrate is also known for its anti-inflammatory properties that help to combat free radical damage and oxidative stress in our gut. In fact, the anti-inflammatory properties of butyrate have been shown to help protect against colon cancer. When looking at all the benefits that this SCFA provides, it’s no surprise that deficiencies in butyrate have been linked to auto-immune diseases and inflammatory gut diseases. In addition to getting enough fiber in our diet, grass fed butter is a good, natural source of butyrate.
Make no mistake the antioxidant, neurological, immune and vision support that vitamin A provides is essential to our health. When it comes to consuming vitamin A naturally, there are two main routes one can take.
Consuming cartenoids, which is a plant sourced form of vitamin A
Consuming retinol, which is an animal sourced form of vitamin A
The big difference? Vitamin A from cartenoids, like carrots, must first be converted to retinol before our body can make the most of it. In contrast, vitamin A from animal sources don’t need to be converted and our bodies can readily make the most of it without the extra step.
Does this mean that one method is better than the other? No. Both cartenoids and retinol are important to our health and the main goal is to ensure intake is met based on your dietary needs.
Natural sources of retinol include organ meats, egg yolks and you guessed it…grass fed butter.
While all these grass fed butter health benefits are great, moderation is key. By the way, if you are interested in trying out grass fed butter for yourself, one of my favorite brands of grass fed butter that can be found in most grocery stores, is Kerry Gold Irish butter. Have you tried grass fed butter before? Let me know in the comments below.
Also published on Medium.