Butter vs. Trans Fats?
Butter is a saturated fat. You're probably asking yourself what in the heck does that mean? Well, when discussing fatty acids, it is important to understand the terminology:
- Saturated fats are completely saturated which means that there is no potential for a carbon to carbon double bond to occur in the molecule.
- Monounsaturated fats have one carbon to carbon double bond
- Polyunsaturated fats have 2 or more carbon to carbon double bonds.
The more carbon to carbon double bonds, the less stable the molecule.
Where double bonds exist there is also the possibility for a cis or a trans configuration to occur around those double bonds. Most naturally occurring unsaturated fatty acids are of the cis configuration.
Partial hydrogenation is a process commonly used to solidify vegetable oils. Some examples of partially hydrogenated fats include: margarine, shortenings, frying fats, and fats used in ready made baked goods. The double bonds that are not reduced by the hydrogen in this high heat process go from a cis configuration to a trans configuration. Partially hydrogenated fats that become converted to trans during high cooking temperatures not only increase total cholesterol and LDL but lower HDL as well. A study done by the European Journal of Medical Research in Aug 2003 reported that consumption of trans-fats increased the risk of cardiovascular disease by decreasing vasodilation of the blood vessles and decreasing HDL levels.
In another study released September 2003, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published that trans fats increase the levels of the very small VLDL cholesterol which is stated as being more atherogenic to the blood vessles than bigger LDL particles. Both of these studies show a positive correlation between trans fat consumption and coronary heart disease. It has also been shown that trans-fats antagonize essential fatty acids such as Omega 3 and Omega 6 leading to deficiencies in the body and and an increased need for supplementation from flax and fish oils.
Butter contains quite a few vitamins and minerals including all of the fat soluble vitamins (A,D,E,K), and important trace minerals like selenium and iodine. Butter also contains a short chain fatty acid called Butyric acid which is used by your gastrointestinal system very efficiently for energy. Yes, butter does contain cholesterol but did you know that cholesterol is required by every single one of our cells and is the first pre-curser for each hormone made in our bodies? Our bodies need cholesterol to properly function.
Saturated fats like butter can increase total cholesterol and LDL without affecting HDL. Diets high in trans fatty acids are worse off than their saturated fat counterparts because trans fats actually lower HDL while raising LDL and total cholesterol. I suggest people avoid the trans fats altogether and use butter and coconut oil in moderation for cooking.
- Am J Clin Nutr 2003; 78(3): 370-375
- Eur. J. Med. Res. 2003 Aug 20;8(8): 355-357
- Groff, J, Gropper, S Advanced Nutrition and Human Metabolism, Wadsworth, Belmont, CA, 2000 (124,146)
- Marz, R. Medical Nutrition from Marz, Omni-Press, Portland, OR, 1999 (39, 252)