Have some butter with your veggies!

October 14, 2009 in Food & Nutrition, Heart Disease | 10 comments

butterYes, yes, I’m supposed to be on sabbatical but sometimes I just can’t resist. A Swedish study recently published in the International Journal of
Environmental Research and Public Health
found that eating fruits and vegetables didn’t lower the risk of coronary heart disease… unless said fruits and vegetables were consumed with high-fat dairy products!

Why would this be? The answer is simple biochemistry. Many of the vitamins and micronutrients in food are fat-soluble, which means they cannot be absorbed without the presence of adequate fat. That means that if you eat fruits or vegetables without fat, you’ll absorb only a fraction of the nutrients you would absorb if you ate them with fat.

Tara Parker-Pope, the health columnist for the Wall Street Journal, wrote an article about this some time back. She actually gives the ratios of nutrient absorption with and without accompanying fat.

She reports on a study of the nutrient absorption from fat-free salsa with and without extra fat:

For the salsa study, 11 test subjects were first given a meal of fat-free salsa and some bread. Another day, the same meal was offered, but this time avocado was added to the salsa, boosting the fat content of the meal to about 37% of calories. In checking blood levels of the test subjects, researchers found that the men and women absorbed an average of 4.4 times as much lycopene and 2.6 times as much beta carotene when the avocado was added to the food.

And here’s a study with and without avocado:

The first salad included romaine lettuce, baby spinach, shredded carrots and a no-fat dressing, resulting in a fat content of about 2%. After avocado was added, the fat content jumped to 42%. When the salad was consumed with the avocado, the 11 test subjects absorbed seven times the lutein and nearly 18 times the beta carotene. Lutein is a carotenoid found in many green vegetables and is linked with improved eye and heart health.

Another study done a few years ago at Ohio State University showed that salad dressing with oil brings out the best in a salad when compared to no-fat, low-fat dressings.

When the seven test subjects consumed salads with no-fat dressing, the absorption of carotenoids was negligible. When a reduced-fat dressing was used, the added fat led to a higher absorption of alpha and beta carotene and lycopene. But there was substantially more absorption of the healthful compounds when full-fat dressing was used.

Consuming adequate amounts of fat with fruits and veggies is especially true in the case of children. Vitamins and micronutrients are crucial for proper physical and mental development. Without adequate fat in the diet, children are literally starved of these nutrients.

Parents will often be very worried if their toddler doesn’t like vegetables. But Dr. Tom Cowan, a practitioner of functional medicine in San Francisco, CA, counsels such parents not to be too concerned about vegetable intake in the first few years of a child’s life. It’s far more important to ensure that the child is getting adequate saturated fat. What’s more, most parents find that if they slather some butter on the veggies they’re serving, their kids actually like them!

So, next time you eat broccoli or feed it to your kids, remember to add a big pat of butter! And have some full-fat cream with those strawberries while you’re at it.


Enith Hernandez October 19, 2009 at 9:51 am

GREAT article, tho I do believe little ones should be given their veggies because it is a great way to get them to like veggies.  Introducing veggies at an early age means that they will more likely eat them when they are young adults.

Saara December 21, 2009 at 9:26 pm

Now this is interesting ! My almost 3 yr old son likes to eat butter. I don’t let him eat it plain but I do spread it thickly on and in whatever he eats. Maybe I should let him eat it plain :)

admin December 21, 2009 at 11:15 pm

No reason at all not to let him eat plain. Butter is one of the most nourishing and nutrient-dense foods a child can eat.

Jesse January 13, 2010 at 11:28 pm

It seems like the study did not distinguish between these two interpretations:
1)Fat (such as dairy fat) is important for gaining the benefits of fruits and vegetables in the diet,
2)Low-fat dairy consumption is detrimental to gaining the benefits of fruits and vegetables in the diet.
It would be interesting to see a further study on this question.

Tracee January 22, 2010 at 12:56 pm

My child will eat it plain and calls it “butter cheese”. Now getting him to eat a vegetable is another story.

Val March 8, 2010 at 1:42 pm

I would love to see references for these studies or the Parker-Pope article if the references are included there.  Any chance of being able to add them? 

And Jesse, I agree!  There are many questions that could be explored here.  Reading the complete study information may shed light on some. 

admin March 8, 2010 at 6:19 pm

Here is the Parker-Pope article.

And here is the Clinton study she refers to.

Val March 8, 2010 at 10:53 pm

Thanks, I really appreciate it!

Oscar January 13, 2011 at 5:44 am

Hi Chris, What about the self-immune effects of cow milk? Do you think butter and cream are safe regarding that? Thank you.

Chris October 19, 2009 at 10:13 am

Hi Enith,

Certainly feeding young children vegetables with butter, cheese or some other fat will help them to “acquire” a taste for veggies later in their lives. However, I’ve seen a lot of parents really stress out when their very young kids don’t like vegetables. They go to great lengths to try to force their children to eat them. This concern is often misplaced. Young children need traditional fats and the fat-soluble vitamins they contain at that age much more than they need vegetables. The conversion mechanism which transforms nutrients in vegetables like beta-carotene into vitamins our bodies rely on like vitamin A is not yet developed in young kids. This is why it’s crucial that they eat plenty of fat in their diet, and especially with any fruits or vegetables they consume. Parents should be far more concerned about this than they should about their children’s vegetable intake.

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