NOTE: Gardening and preserving is keeping me pretty busy these days. A few articles that bear repeating will fill in the gaps on the days when the to-do list is too long. This post was originally published in July 2009.

After mentioning that vegetable oils were bad I was recently asked “which fats can I eat?” It is not surprising that we are all confused with the low-fat/saturated fat hysteria going on. So I thought I’d share with you the types of fats that we use in our home along with the ones that we try to avoid. First there are a few things you should know about fats…

Good Fats Won’t Make You Fat

The opposite can be true, in fact. Yep – eating more fat can help you lose weight. So why have we been told that eating fat, particularly saturated animal fats, will make us gain weight? Scientifically speaking this doesn’t make a lot of sense. What we need to be looking at is insulin levels and their effect on fat storage…

After a meal is digested, insulin levels should decline. When this happens, fat is released from the fat tissue in the form of fatty acids and these are then burned in cells for fuel. For this reason, another necessary requirement for remaining lean is to have lengthy periods during which insulin levels are low and we burn our fat for fuel. When insulin levels remain elevated, fat can’t escape from the fat tissue. It goes in, but it doesn’t come out, and we can’t use it for energy. A meal without carbohydrates is a meal that doesn’t stimulate any significant insulin secretion. You store very few, if any, calories as fat, and you get plenty of opportunity to burn the fat you had stored.

source Personally I have found that by eating traditional fats liberally and cutting out sugar, grains and fruit (which spike insulin) I am able to lose weight more easily.

Saturated Fat Will Not Kill You

  • Saturated = each carbon in a chain has all of it’s hydrogens, therefore there are no double or triple bonds.
  • Unsaturated = a double or triple bond exists somewhere in the carbon chain.

Scientifically speaking anything that is unsaturated is less stable than it’s saturated counterparts. Unstable fats go rancid easily. Rancid fats create free radicals in the body which in turn causes inflammation, heart problems and cancer. For years the lipid hypothesis has been touted as fact, when from the start it has been proven not only wrong, but completely detrimental to our health. If you look back into history you will see that the epidemic of heart disease began in the 1920s and 1930s – right around the same time we began to lower our consumption of saturated fat and switch to vegetable oils instead. Coincidence? I think not.

Consider the Omega-6 to Omega-3 Ratio

Another factor in determining a healthy fat is its omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acid ratio. Ideally you want an omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acid ratio of no more than 4:1, with 2:1 or less being the ideal. Lets do a comparison of the omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acid ratio shall we? Stephan at Whole Health Source did a great comparison in his article on the causes of coronary heart disease.

  • Grass-fed butter (not just organic) – 1.4
  • Beef tallow – 2.4
  • Leaf lard – 6.8
  • Corn oil – 45
  • Cottonseed oil – 260

It is currently suspected that the average American has an omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of at least 17:1. Everyone is on the fish oil bandwagon right now, and for good reason – it’s a great supplement. But one key piece of information that has been left out is that omega-3 fatty acids are best absorbed when taken into the body alongside saturated fat such as butter. (source) So… that leaves us with two lists:

Fats To Eat

Fats To Avoid

  • Soy oil
  • Corn oil
  • Cottonseed Oil
  • Canola Oil (GMO, can contain trans fatty acids and can cause heart lesions)
  • Hydrogenated Oils
  • Most other vegetable oils, especially when not cold pressed (they are rancid and therefore a carcinogen)

So eat your coconut oil, butter and other saturated fats from grass-fed animals and know that you’re doing your body a favor.

Which fats do you favor?


31 Responses to Fats to Eat, Fats to Avoid… or Why We Eat Butter

  1. Amanda says:

    I *heart* butter. During the winter months, we go through 1 1/2 lbs of Calder butter weekly. Not as much in the summer, probably because we tend to eat less carbs (and less baking) when the garden provides so much. Just yesterday started reading Real Food by Ms. Planck. Loving it, as well as this very timely post!
    Great to see you Sunday, if only briefly. Your boys are gorgeous and sweet!


  2. Denise says:

    we love our butter here too. I just have not found from grass fed cows. I will just have to start looking harder for that.


  3. Kristin says:

    Dh and I have gotten into butter too. I guess I look at it like I’m eating something natural (I can make some if I have leftover cream) versus hydrogenated oils that have less fat. Very informative article.


  4. matthew says:

    In school you’re taught there is a continuum along which the various fats align from worst to best:

    Unsaturated is best, Saturated is next, and Trans-fat (unsaturated turned into saturated by adding hydrogen molecules).

    In Biology class at local JC, the professor stated that margarine was considered better than butter by most nutritionists and scientists.

    When pressed for reasons, she ended up stating the primary reason for this is that scientists and nutritionists understood margarine better than they understood butter.

    I countered that even using their own logic (according to article above is false) their argument didn’t hold water:
    Butter was a Saturated fat and margarine was a trans-fat. So butter had to be better.

    The next semester I had the same professor for Health class and we once again went through the HLD/LDL and good-fat/bad-fat talk.

    However, there was an article in one of the major medicine publications shortly before we talked about fat which noted that butter was indeed better, and the article used exactly the reasons I’d argued the previous semester.

    And now this article. Thanks for the additional explanation.

    We like to say science is better, but as we all know now, it’s always better with butter. :)


  5. I wish everyone would believe me when I tell them this stuff! The culture is too saturated with information about low-fat diets (pardon the pun). My m-i-l just had heart surgery but keeps saying, “I was already eating healthy, I don’t really need to make any changes.” Grrr…They recommended she buy Benecol as a spread instead of butter. 3rd ingredient? Hydrogenated soybean oil. I nearly screamed.


  6. Bekki says:

    Butter is a food group in my house… my kids have both been known to snack on a slice of cold butter from the fridge. :-) I would love to have a follow-up blood test done, because I eat even better (meaning more butter) now, but… about 3 years ago I had my cholesterol tested after a few years of eating more and more delicious healthy saturated fats. I was honestly a little nervous. What if I’d been wrong about it all? Well, my numbers were FANTASTIC. Good cholesterol was high, “bad” cholesterol was low, triglycerides were very low… fabulous. :-)


  7. Denise says:

    Thank you for this article. I too disagree with other members of my family who think butter and olive oil are horrible, and I should use one of the low fat spreads, sprays, etc. I need to learn more in this area as high cholesterol runs in my family. Any suggested resources you can mention for me?


  8. Chiot's Run says:

    This is soooo true. A couple years ago Mr Chiots and I started getting raw milk from pastured cows and making our own butter. We also have a small local dairy that sells pastured butter, but it’s lightly pasteurized, which we buy to supplement our homemade butter. As a result of trying to eat as locally as possible we eat mostly butter as our fat sources, although I do purchase organic olive oil and organic coconut oil as well.

    After making the switch to real fats, we both lost weight and are much healthier even though we eat more. I have to admit that most of our food is made from scratch from fresh ingredients, bread from freshly ground flour usually sourdough so it’s fermented and easy to digest, pastured eggs from a local farm, lots of raw milk, homemade cheese from raw milk and venison from Mr Chiots hunting trips.

    One only had to look around to realize that the more eat “fake” food, the fatter and unhealthier we get. Making the switch to “real” food is so important. I don’t think you can eat too much when it comes to real food and it’s very satisfying. We no longer have the need to keep snacks around and we never snack between meals now. Since we’re eating good good at mealtime, we are satisfied until the next meal time.


    Shannon Reply:

    Chiot’s – Great anecdotal evidence that really mirrors our own experiences. Love that you are making your own butter. I do that sometimes too, when we can afford the extra milk.


  9. Maria says:

    Your website is actually the reason we switched to butter from margarine. Thank you! (I’ve also switched to organic, free-range eggs with extra Omega-3′s.) I then switched to organic butter as they don’t sell grass-fed butter at my grocery store. I think I have found some locally it’s just not on my usual route so I have yet to buy it.

    I am wondering though, what is a good substitute for canola oil in baking? Is there a good trade or should I just look for an alternate recipe? (My favorite wheat bread recipe has oil in it).
    Thanks again!


    Shannon Reply:

    Maria – I would use melted coconut oil, butter or ghee in place of the canola for baking. I think that coconut oil is my favorite replacement for baking oils.


  10. Claudia says:

    It’s been a couple of years since I discovered Sally Fallon’s book “Nourishing Traditions” and I can’t shake the nagging thoughts, “What if this is clogging my arteries!? What if this will cause a heart attack???”

    I freely eat grass-fed butter, whole raw milk and pastured eggs, but always with a disapproving glance from certain family members. Diabetes and heart disease run in my family, as does being overweight. I myself am morbidly obese (100 lbs overweight according to height/weight charts) and although I’ve incorporated traditional foods into my diet, I’ve been anything but healthy.

    I have gained 20 more pounds since giving birth to my 2nd baby and need a safe way to lose a lot of weight while still nursing. I would solicit the advice of my practitioner first, but she’d probably advise me to steer clear of anything Dr. Weston Price has taught me! Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated!


    Shannon Reply:

    Claudia – It took me a while to realize that the idea that saturated fat and cholesterol cause heart disease was a theory that has proven false.

    As far as fats causing obesity… I don’t believe it is true both scientifically and anecdotally. Have you ever tried a low-carb diet? It is hard and you go through some serious withdrawals and a possible “carb flu” once you start. But for me it is the only way I have been able to lose weight. And it makes you feel better as well.

    For most of us who are overweight, (and that includes me), our metabolisms are too messed up to be able to eat carbs. Insulin and leptin are two hormones that cause metabolic problems. I ate too much sugar and junk growing up and I believe that to be the cause of my metabolic problems.

    By eating lots of nutrient dense animal products, healthy fats, and lots of green vegetables I am able to keep my blood sugar even, have zero cravings, and more energy. Please try it if you haven’t.


  11. WordVixen says:

    I love good quality butter. :-) It’s funny, though, I’ve known for 20 years or so that butter is healthier than margarine, but always felt that margarine offered more flavor. So, I’d feel guilty when I indulged in margarine. UNTIL- I discovered some wonderful butter at our farmer’s market. It is lightly pasteurized, but I do mean LIGHTLY. From grass fed cows. And I think it might be cultured butter, not sweet cream butter, which makes a difference. Oh my, no comparison now! I still have some of my old bland butter hanging around the fridge for use when I don’t want much flavor added. :-)

    Good thing? My parents are on board with butter (dad still drinks skim milk, but at least he uses real butter). Bad thing, my husband and his parents (and chemical engineer brother) are all about the margarine and diet sodas, and believe that butter and eggs and bacon will kill them. *sigh* Luckily- I do half the cooking for my husband, and he only does the other half.

    Next stop- I’m trying to get some good grass fed fats to render.

    Maria- I second the coconut oil. It seems to be closest in texture and should be tasty in any baked goods.


  12. Christy says:

    thanks for sharing this again. It is so important, and frustrating when no one believes you. We have been so duped many people struggle to wrap their minds around the fact that butter and coconut oil and lard and ghee are GOOD for you.


  13. Preeti says:

    I found your blog yesterday…Love it!! Being born and brought up in India, Ghee has been a part of our diet right from childhood. We layer it on our daily flatbreads. Scraped fresh coconut, coconut oil and coconut milk are excellent flavour and texture enhancers in our recipes. We’ve also had raw milk from cows that our families owned when we were kids. These cows were like our family members. They were treated with love, utmost care and were only milked after they fed their calfs. Raw milk tastes so good… Your blog brings back those fond memories :)
    After relocating, I have bought nothing but organic milk in those cartons. Thats because I am concerned about salmonella contamination. If we happen to get raw milk, we boil it before consuming to kill any possible bacteria. I know milk may not be that nutrient rich after that process. But its just that I am so scared to drink raw milk. I’ve read of cases where irreversable damage has occured due to salmonella or other bacteria. How can one ensure that raw milk/cheese is safe to consume?


  14. [...] Fats to Eat, Fats to Avoid… or Why We Eat Butter [...]

  15. KY says:

    Thanks for this article, it’s so hard to find articles that say, in short, margarine bad, butter good. Some kind of conspiracy happening?? I have heard before that margarine is very highly processed to impart flavour and colour to the vegetable/plant oil product but have not yet found anything on it. Have you?


  16. This is a great post! As I was growing up, my family usually used butter because (1) it tasted better, and (2) my mother got indigestion from all margarines (this was before the days of non-trans-fat margarine, of course). Her theory was that her body didn’t know what to do with margarine because it was so processed, but it could at least recognise butter as food. I’m glad to know that other people’s experience supports this! My husband of almost six months still prefers margarine (he was raised on it because his mom was raised only using margarine), but I only use butter. I will have to see if I can find butter from grass-fed cows! We are vegetarians, so lard and tallow aren’t an option, but I’m happy with all the rest of the “good fats”. There’s been research about coconut oil for many years–it’s nice to know that this applies to butter as well.

    Thanks for all your good information!


  17. “You can never have too much butter”….


  18. [...] folks, fats are necessary for a nourishing diet. In fact, fats are one of those foods we prioritize above all else in our grocery budget. We spend [...]

  19. Esther says:

    Thank you for qualifying GRASS-FED! As soon as cows are fed an unnatural diet their fatty profile changes for the worse.


  20. Martin says:

    New Zealand Anchor butter and Kerrygold Irish, both pasture fed


  21. [...] reads of interest on this topic: Fats to Eat, Fats to Avoid (Or Why I Eat Butter), How to Lose Weight Fast With Coconut Oil, The Fat That Can Make You Thin, Lowfat Diets, and [...]

  22. Shannon says:

    matthew – it’s all programming, isn’t it? Generally there is no science behind the status quo.


  23. Shannon says:

    Denise – Cholesterol is actually vital to our health and to avoid dietary cholesterol can actually be harmful (from my own research). I would check out the cholesterol con – a book – and do some research at westonaprice.org.


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