One of the attractions of a healthy low-carb diet for many people is the ability to consume butter again. For years we’ve been told by groups like the American Heart Association that saturated fats like butter will raise your cholesterol (which is true–HDL “good” cholesterol goes WAY UP when you consume butter!) and that we should be choosing “better” alternatives like margarine and olive oil instead. We’ve all heard the heart health argument, but recently a cardiologist blogger in the low-carb community brought up a rather intriguing theory that perhaps the reason some low-carbers begin to struggle on their low-carb lifestyle is because of what he describes as “butter’s unusual ability to provoke insulin responses.”
Respected blogger and physician Dr. William Davis from “The Heart Scan Blog” has been putting out quality information and nutrition and health over the past four years and we owe him a great debt of gratitude for the amazing work he has been doing to promote the message of less carbohydrate in the diet as a means for keeping our hearts healthy. He’s championed the CT scan for measuring plaque buildup in your coronary arteries as well as making sure you are getting adequate Vitamin D3 levels in your body and proper thyroid function. He literally is a one-man machine of information that is worth paying attention to. That’s what made his March 19, 2010 column entitled “Butter and Insulin” so perplexing to me when I read it.
Dr. Davis cites this September 2008 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition as his evidence for believing there is up to a triple insulin response in those people who consume butter in their diet. And, of course, we all know that the higher the insulin levels in the body, the faster you will gain stored body fat. So this one study by a researcher named Dr. Sergio López led Dr. Davis to make the following assertion in his blog post.
Now I don’t know about you, but when I hear a cardiologist that I greatly admire and respect for his wisdom on issues of nutritional importance spouting something like this, I just gotta scratch my head. How can he come to the conclusion that butter somehow plays a role in raising insulin levels? This just doesn’t seem to make any logical sense with all that we know about the connection between carbohydrate consumption and an increase in insulin. So, like anything else that comes up about livin’ la vida low-carb that has me stumped, I turned to my low-carb expert friends for a response to the notion that butter raises insulin and thus “makes you fat” as Dr. Davis asserts.
Recently I shared a six-minute podcast interview with the great low-carb diabetes legend Dr. Richard Bernstein who wanted to share his thoughts on Dr. Davis’ theory. Here’s a YouTube video presentation of my entire conversation with Dr. Bernstein about this:
What about some other low-carb luminaries? What do they think about this notion regarding butter and the alleged impact on insulin? We’ve already seen some excellent reactions in the blogosphere so far: this incredibly thorough scientific response to Dr. Davis from Peter Dobromylskyj at Hyperlipid , a column called “Saturated fat and insulin function; should low-carbers be concerned?” from S.P.E.E.D. author Jeff Thiboutot, a thought-provoking post entitled “Does Butter Make You Fat?” at the “Nutrition and Physical Regeneration” blog, and “Butter Attacks!” on my buddy Kevin Brown’s “Liberation Wellness” blog. But how about others? Let’s see what they have to say.
Colette Heimowitz , spokeswoman for Atkins Nutritionals
DR. WENDY POGOZELSKI , biochemistry professor at SUNY Geneseo
DR. ANDREAS EENFELDT , Swedish doctor and low-carb blogger
DR. RICHARD FEINMAN , biochemistry professor and Founder of Nutrition & Metabolism
DR. WILLIAM YANCY , Duke University VA Medical Center researcher
CHRIS MASTERJOHN , author of Cholesterol-And-Health.com
It seems to me after hearing from all of these people who know a lot more than I do about this that the concern over butter raising insulin is much ado about nothing. No offense to Dr. Davis or his conclusions, but I’ll happily continue on consuming upwards of 8 tablespoons of my grass-fed, raw butter a day with my low-carb nutritional plan and reap the benefits of high HDL cholesterol, lower triglycerides, greater LDL particle size, and, oh yeah, a reduced weight. That’s what eating healthy butter has done for me over the past six years and I don’t intend to change that anytime soon.
Speaking of, it’s time for another meal. Gotta run and eat me some butter!