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Buttering up the Heart?

The idea that butter is actually good for the heart is starting to gain popularity. In contrast to old news saying that margarine is healthier than butter, we know say the reverse is true. Of course, it is possible that both are bad, but one is the lesser of evils. However, it is believed by many that butter is actually beneficial for heart disease and that all studies talking about the dangers of butter were flawed. Now is this true? Below is a study comparing butter, coconut oil, and olive oil. The study showed that butter had the greatest increase on LDL cholesterol (AKA the "bad" cholesterol). Coconut oil had the greatest increase on HDL (or good cholesterol). Olive oil had the lowest amount of LDL. However, this didn't compare the affect of butter itself on cholesterol but rather how butter compared with olive oil and coconut oil. Also, the sample size is 91 people.

Some people argue that new research shows no association between dietary cholesterol and serum cholesterol. According to this article by the Cleveland Clinic, dietary cholesterol has between 15% to 20% on blood cholesterol. Of course, for a person with a cholesterol of 200, that can between 7 to 10 cholesterol points, which is not huge, but still significant. However, it isn't just about the amount of cholesterol but also saturated fat. While it isn't necessary we give up cholesterol, the Cleveland Clinic does suggest that we keep it under control. Also, mono-unsaturated fats as well as poly-unsaturated fats still have a better affect on the heart than saturated fats. This article in Harvard shows that while the low-fat message of the 1980s and 1990s was flawed, it isn't wise to simply say "eat all the butter you want." In fact, it is better to concentrate on healthy fatty foods than fats in isolation. For example, it is healthier to eat nuts as opposed to eating oil or butter. While there are studies showing that people who consume a large amount of saturated fats don't necessarily have lower rates of heart disease, it often may be that the people

While there are studies showing that people who consume a large amount of saturated fats don't necessarily have lower rates of heart disease, it often may be that the people eating more butter eat less sugar. Both sugar and fat play a role in cholesterol and body fat. In fact, body fat has more of a role on cholesterol than the type of fat. Nonetheless, consuming excessive fat or sugar does lead to weight gain, which raises LDL cholesterol. Butter itself is oil and water. When we remove the water an concentrate butter, it is called clarified butter. Clarified butter is called ghee in India. Ghee is believed in Ayurvedic medicine to have healing properties. Many believe it is healthy just like butter, and in fact even healthier. If butter is good for the heart, than ghee is even butter since ghee is basically more butter than butter itself. While ghee is high in saturated fat, some are saying that the type of fat is actually one that is good for the heart. So what is the evidence? It appears that ghee raises triglycerides and serum cholesterol. As heart disease is the number one killer of Americans, consuming a large amount of ghee can be more harmful than its proposed benefits. While there have been other studies that showed ghee reduced cholesterol and triglycerides, this is often in comparison to trans-fatty acids. Deep frying of vegetable oil is very common with Indian cuisine, and thus an increase in hydrogenation. In comparison to deep fried vegetable oil, ghee is a step up. But if one was consuming a diet high in mono-unsaturated fats from cashew, almonds, olives, and avocados along with omega-3 fatty acids from flax seed, hemp seed, and chia seeds; then adding ghee would more likely be harmful.

Now some argue that the linoleic acid in ghee increase anti-oxidation, which some studies are showing reduces atherosclerosis. The study below shows that "conjugated linoleic acid enriched ghee" reduced cholesterol in rats.

This may sound like proof that ghee is good for the heart, but let's take a few things into consideration. First, this test was done on rats, so it remains to be seen how it affects humans. Rats have different needs than humans. Also, what is "conjugated linoleic acid enriched" mean? Let's break it down. Linoleic acid is a fatty acid in ghee. According to a Google search, conjugated means "relating to or denoting double or triple bonds in a molecule that are separated by a single bond, across which some sharing of electrons occurs." Fats are a mix of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. Saturated fats are fats that only have single bonds, so they have the most amount of single bonds, and thus the most amount of hydrogen. They are "saturated" with hydrogen. So conjugated involves more double bonds, and thus less hydrogen. In other words, it is making a saturated fat less saturated, or technically no longer saturated. And what does "enriched" mean? It means adding something, like a nutrient. Enriched wheat flour involves adding vitamins and minerals to wheat. So it is true that ghee has linoleic acid, which has benefits for the heart, but that isn't the only fatty acid in ghee. So ghee that is linoleic-enriched means adding extra of the one part of ghee that is heart-healthy. So in other words, the article supports that modifying ghee so that it is practically no longer a saturated fat, and increasing the amount of the heart-healthy fatty portion of it is beneficial. Now certainly replacing regular ghee with this modified ghee may help reduce the risk of heart disease. Replacing refined sugar with this modified ghee may also do the same. But even if true, this does not support that ghee itself is heart healthy. It seems to support that modified ghee that it has less saturated fat reduces rats.

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