Over the past few months, we’ve been considering in detail the crucial role of nutrition in ensuring health and strength. Nearly sixty years ago Vince Gironda, the legendary Iron Guru, famously said that bodybuilding ‘is 85% nutrition’ (see our articles on his cutting and mass-gain diets here and here), but even now it’s still true that the average person, even the average bodybuilder, underestimates just how important correct nutrition is to building the right kind of physique.
As part of this series on nutrition, we’ve already discussed vegetable oil, soy , six superfoods you should be eating and four foods that will make you ugly. The role of nutrition is also central to our series on testosterone, to accompany our forthcoming book Reclaim Your Masculinity: foods that raise your testosterone, foods that lower it and the role of environmental chemicals (xenoestrogens) in the food chain that can upset your hormonal balance. Proper nutrition is necessary for proper joint care, especially the consumption of collagen-rich bone broth, and a difficult consideration when you want to get big but are on a tight budget.
In a recent article by our guest contributor Rachel Traylor, she told us why butter is the best steak topping. Here we’ll tell you that butter not only tastes good, but is good for you too – contrary to what doctors and nutritionists have been claiming for decades.
Don’t be scared homie: this stuff’s yellow gold
Why You Should Eat Butter
It’s long been noted that the French consume more butter per capita than any other nation in the world. In 2015, that amounted to 8kg, or 17.6lb, per person. How, then, could it be that the French aren’t all keeling over in the boulevards and rues from heart attacks caused by heart disease? After all, aren’t we told that saturated fat is just about the worst thing you can eat – a guaranteed early ticket to the afterlife?
Compare obesity levels in France and the US, which has less than a third of the per capita butter consumption of France. I think you probably already have a good idea which is the fatter country – but the margin is quite significant. Whereas in France, 10% of the population is obese, in the US that figure rises to more than 20%. While the matter of relative rates of obesity is more complicated than just fat consumption, one thing is increasingly clear: butter is in fact very good for you, and the supposedly healthy fats that have been recommended in its place for the last 70-odd years are anything but healthy.
Why saturated fats aren’t the devil — Zara Boss: a known butter enjoyer
Saturated fat and cholesterol are two of the most reviled substances in the modern world. The blame for many of the most unwelcome developments associated with modern life, notably massively rising obesity levels and increasing levels of heart disease, has been laid squarely at the door of foodstuffs that contain saturated fat and cholesterol in the greatest abundance – butter, eggs, red meat.
Here is Catherine Shanahan, the author of Deep Nutrition, talking about her medical education.
When I was fresh out of medical school, if you had asked me what caused heart disease, I would have answered, “Fat and cholesterol, of course.” I felt confident in this advice not only because it was what I had been taught, but because it seemed to make intuitive sense; I could picture fat accumulating inside a person’s artery, gradually choking it closed like cooking grease in a pipe. Moreover, the American Medical Association, the American Heart Association, the American Diabetes Association, the American Cancer Society, the American College of Cardiologists, and other organizations endorsed this cholesterol theory of heart disease. (Deep Nutrition, p.121)
As she began to practice medicine proper, however, she became increasing uneasy about this theory, not least of all because ‘so many of my oldest patients [were] enjoying excellent health after a lifetime of consuming butter, eggs and red meat.’
Catherine Shanahan is not the only one to question the anti-butter orthodoxy in recent years. A 2016 study in PLOS One, for instance, which was comprised of a meta-analysis of nine publications involving over 600,000 participants, came to the conclusion that butter is not linked to a greater risk of heart disease or total mortality, and that there is no reason to avoid foods high in saturated fat such as butter. [R]
Vegetable oils: the real devil
At the same time, the evidence is mounting that so-called ‘healthy’ vegetable oils are actually serious bad for you. In recent years, consumption of vegetable oils has been linked to, among other things:
- Inflammatory damage to the gut and microbiome, including leaky gut
- The transportation of toxins into the brain
- Damage to the arteries and blood vessels
- Immune system dysfunctions and nerve degeneration
- Damage to cell structure
- Damage to genetic material and increased rates of genetic mutation
Without getting into serious details about lipid science, which is a complicated business, what makes vegetable oils (polyunsaturated fats) so bad, and causes them to have the range of negative effects listed above, is their inherent chemical instability. This structural instability causes them to produce free radicals, high-energy electrons that are now known to play a role in almost every known form of disease. They do this by altering the structure of more or less every molecule they come into contact with, a process known as oxidative damage. And while free radicals are actually used by the body as part of its own defence system, a diet containing vegetable oil can cause uncontrollable cascades of oxidative damage.
A great video on the science behind why you shouldn’t eat vegetable oils
Polyunsaturated fats tend to be liquid at room temperature, and although they have important uses in natural biology, for instance in fish and plants and seeds, the process of extracting, refining and then using them, particularly when cooking, causes the molecules to become distorted, making them even more reactive and dangerous to the body’s tissues. The process of creating a vegetable-based oil is massively complex – and also revolting – and usually involves the application of high-pressure, heat and chemicals to produce a usable, long-life liquid fat. You can squeeze an olive to get oil, but you can’t just squeeze a piece of corn to get corn oil. The process of making ‘healthy’ canola oil is shown in the video below.
The process of making ‘healthy’ canola oil: a revolting business
Saturated fats, like butter and other animal products such as lard and tallow, are much more stable, and neither the process of producing them nor of using them in cooking produces the harmful, misshapen molecules that are so dangerous to the body’s tissues.
Another reason vegetable oils are bad is because of the high ratio of omega 6 that they contain. Although when people hear the term ‘Omega’ they tend to think ‘healthy fat’, this isn’t actually the case. Most Westerners, because of their diet, consume large quantities of Omega 6 but not Omega 3, and this imbalance is likely to be responsible for a whole host of problems.
In one study, three groups of mice were fed different kinds of fat. Two groups of mice were given different amounts of linoleic acid, a polyunsaturated omega-6 fatty acid that makes up a large percentage of soya, maize and sunflower oils. A third group was put on a diet with a high content of omega-6 that also contained a certain amount of marine omega-3. The results showed that the group given the diet with the most omega-6 ate more and gained considerably more weight than the group on the low-omega-6 diet. [R]
Why yes, I do enjoy a diet rich in omega 6 polyunsaturated
fatty acids. How could you tell?
Omega 6 is converted by the body into endocannabinoids, which are part of the signalling system involved in controlling appetite. The more of these endocannabinoids in the body, the more hungry we feel, meaning we eat more; crucially, we also store more of the food we eat in the form of fat.
So, I hear you asking, if vegetable oils are this bad for you, how on earth did they ever get promoted as healthy fats in the first place? As we explored in our separate article on vegetable oil, the truth is that personal ambition and the profit motive won out over good science. The evidence that vegetable oils, especially margerine, were healthy never actually existed, but was manufactured by an unqualified ‘nutritionist’ called Ancel Keys. If you’re looking for a single person to blame for the West’s current health crisis, you could do far worse than blame Ancel Keys.
Ancel Keys: his manipulation of data has
had massive consequences for the modern world
Butter: Why It’s Good for You
Go get the butter!
Maintaining a proper hormonal balance is clearly associated with eating the right fats, and one very important way to begin reclaiming your masculinity is to do just that: eat the right kind of fats. In our recent article on foods to boost your testosterone, we’ve already discussed how saturated fat and cholesterol intake is actually pro-anabolic, causing increases in testosterone and protein synthesis in the body. Low saturated fat intake is clearly associated with reduced testosterone, and consuming only egg whites has been shown to be less anabolic than consuming whole eggs, including the cholesterol-rich yolk. [R] [R]
Rachel Traylor, in her article on butter as the best steak topping, has already examined the specific fat content of butter. She writes:
Butter is largely saturated fat (at least 80% in the United States), though premium butters such as Irish butter may contain between 82% and 86% fat. The remainder is water, lactose, and milk proteins. The more fat in butter, the slower it melts.
But it’s not just the pro-hormone effects of a diet rich in saturated fat that will benefit you: butter also contains a wealth of other beneficial compounds, including health promoting forms of fatty acid, vitamins and minerals.
Generally, the best kind of butter you can get is grass-fed butter, meaning that the cows that produced it have had a totally grass-based diet, unlike some cows, whose diet is also supplemented with grain to varying extents. As well as generally being acknowledged to taste and look better, grass-fed butter has also been shown to have a higher nutritional content. [R] [R] If you can’t get grass-fed butter, it’s not the end of the world, and many of the same health benefits can still be yours.
Unlike vegetable oils, grass-fed butter contains high concentrations of omega-3 fatty acids, which most Westerners are deficient in. Unlike omega 6, which is pro-inflammation and when consumed in quantity just seems to make you fat, omega 3 does the opposite, reducing inflammation and aiding in a variety of important processes such as blood clotting, the formation of cell membranes, mood regulation and the contraction of artery walls. [R]
Grass-fed butter contains high concentrations of conjugated linoleic acid as well, a compound which is thought to have a wealth of benefits, including preventing heart disease, improving immune defence, lowering risk of cancer. [R] [R] [R] Grass-fed butter also contains butyrate, a short-chain fatty acid that has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease. [R]
Although vitamins aren’t the first thing we tend to associate with butter, grass-fed butter has them in abundance: vitamins A, D, E and K.
Vitamin A, which the body can’t produce for itself, is necessary for vision, reproduction, immune function and proper development of bones, teeth and skin. [R]
Vitamin D is necessary for the body to maintain serum calcium levels and to support various cellular, muscular and bone-related functions. It also plays an important role in the immune system and in preventing a variety of conditions such as cancer, depression, diabetes and osteoporosis. [R]
Vitamin E is an antioxidant, meaning that it helps to protect your tissues from damage (remember those free radicals?). [R]
Vitamin K2 is a form of vitamin K that is generally found in fermented foods and animal products, and is essential to proper bone and heart health through regulation of calcium levels. [R]
Now go get the butter!
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