Why butter is better. Paula Dean is right.

How to make your own butter from The Art of Doing Stuff
Butter is better. We knew it all along, but here's an attempt at understanding why.

I started researching fats about six months ago when I started the GAPS diet and learned about how unhealthy it is to cook with olive oil at high heat (which I'd been doing for years). I'm compiling a lot of information, so I'll dole it out a little at a time as I begin to organize it in my brain (if that's possible!).

Basically all fats and oils are a combination of saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.
Those high in saturated fats (butter, coconut oil, lard, tallow, etc) are more stable than unsaturated fats. Saturation refers to the fact the free carbon bonds of the molecule are occupied with hydrogen atoms. There are no free electrons ready to interact with other substances in your body.

Monounsaturated fats (olive oil) have one double carbon bond. They are "unsaturated" because there are no hydrogen atoms linked to the bonds. They are also relatively stable-- but not as stable as the saturated.

The carbon bonds of polyunsaturated fats have unpaired electrons ready to react with other substances. We need to ingest these fats because they include the Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) that our body can't produce on its own. However, we don't want to expose the fats to heat because they breakdown easily and create 'free radicals' which wreak havoc on our system--damage cells, DNA/RNA, cause mutations, etc.  We also ingest far too much Omega 6 fats and not enough Omega 3. Most of the polys are primarily Omega 6. (more on that later).

I went looking for the details on grapeseed oil (a polyunsaturated oil). We've heard that it has a high smoke point which should mean that it is suitable for cooing-- in other words, maybe it doesn't break down?

I'm finding out that smoke point has "nothing to do with the health benefits of an oil" (Barringer). The smoke point refers to when an oil breaks down to glycerides and free fatty acids and causes the oil to smoke. This affects the taste of the oil-- so we don't want it to happen. However, even when exposed to low heat, polyunsaturated oils still create free radicals.

The articles that I found explaining this referred me to the primary research of Dr. Mary Enig, a lipid biochemist renown for her research on healthy fats. She wrote: Eat Fat, Lose Fat (with Sally Fallon) and Know Your Fats: A complete primer... I haven't read these books, but I'm interested.

So there it is. I'm just starting to understand all of this, so I'll be posting more on this, including what oils to use in what circumstances....

In the meantime, slather on the butter.

"The Truth about Saturated Fat", by Sally Fallon & Mary Enig, PhD (excerpt from Nourishing Traditions).
"Cooking with Grape Seed Oil or Rice Bran Oil: Is it safe?" by Caroline Barringer (link to original article is on this page)


  1. It sounds as though polyunsaturared fats, like grape seed oil, are best for salads and other applications where they won't be exposed to heat, whereas butter, lard, etc are best for high heat cooking (yay fried eggs! and fries!) and olive oil for quick sautes (like cooking your onions and garlic for a spaghetti sauce, for instance). I'd love to find out if you come to similar conclusions. Hmmm...

    Thanks for the analysis. :)

  2. Gah! I am so confused. I have always used lots of butter and think of it as healthy. I will never be accused of shying away from it. But does this mean I shouldn't cook at all with olive oil? I use it like crazy too. Plus I have been reading Eat Right For Your Blood Type, my friend who is studying Ayurveda has been counseling me on my dosha diet and then I can't get away from the Alkaline diet and its (seeming) benefits. I also read Healing Traditions long ago (that's how I made such good friends with butter and cream). I am so confused!!

  3. Jaguwar: yes...olive oil is still relatively stable and good for low and moderate heat....and coconut oil, butter, lard, etc for high heat.

    Jora: I know! this stuff hurts my brain sometimes. I think olive oil is ok for low to medium heat and I also think it's okay occasionally for high heat...One of those sources above mentioned that mixing it with a saturated fat makes it more stable (ie: butter).
    I agree with the alkaline diet too...what about ghee? Ghee is loved in ayurveda. I would think coconut oil would be too (?) As long as you're balancing the acidic with the alkaline, wouldn't it be okay?


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