Good Fats, Bad Fats, and Why I Eat Plenty of Butter

“When I eventually understood the nutritional myths that had me snookered and miserable, the biggest headline was that REAL FATS ARE GOOD- even the maligned saturated fats and its corollary, INDUSTRIAL FATS ARE BAD. It’s not complicated. Eat real fats and avoid industrial ones.”  Nina Planck, Real Food for Mother and Baby.

I couldn’t possibly allow “Traditional Foods” month to come to a close later this week without addressing the issue of which fats are traditional and which are the modern, industrial fats to be avoided. I love this simple quote from Nina Planck, which sums up my own position on the topic well.

Fats are a tough subject, with so much controversial information and conflicting advice out there. I’ve dug through the research as much as was reasonable for a busy mom and wife, and what I present to you here is a compilation of the kinds of questions that I am most frequently asked when it comes to the fats that we should eat for good health, and my own answers, as thoroughly as I can give them for the purpose of this post.

Which fats are traditional?

Which fats should we avoid?

  • Margarine or other non-butter spreads or sprays (yuck!)
  • Processed vegetable oils (pretty much any of them in the supermarket aisle- canola, soy, sunflower, safflower, corn, as well as non-virgin olive oil)
  • Edible oil products (Cool Whip, International Foods coffee flavorings, etc.)
  • Trans fats or hydrogenated fats or partially-hydrogenated fats (primarily found in highly processed, packaged foods and fast food)

Image by Steve Snodgrass

Aren’t saturated fats the enemy?

No, in fact they’re absolutely necessary for a whole host of bodily functions.

  • Saturated fats are crucial for cell membrane structure and integrity.
  • They are a valuable source of fat soluble vitamins, such as A, D, and K, which are deficient in most North American diets, and these vitamins are necessary for hormone regulation, reproduction, immunity, bone health and much more.
  • Strong bone development requires saturated fats, which regulate calcium levels.
  • Saturated fat makes cells more resistant to oxidative damage.
  • As well, saturated fats are far more stable at high temperatures than other fats, so they are unlikely to become oxidized and turn into cell-damaging free radicals (as polyunsaturated vegetables oils frequently do).
  • More than half of the brain consists of saturated fat and cholesterol, and these fats also comprise a large part of the myelin sheath that surrounds nerve fibers and ensures proper message relaying between the brain and nervous system.
  • Saturated fats contain fatty acids such as lauric acid, myristic acid and caprylic acid, which are antifungal, antimicrobial and antiviral, and all contribute towards a stronger immune system.
  • Saturated fats are actually GOOD for hearth health, and lower a substance called Lp(a), while increasing good cholesterol (HDL).

There are more, but I’ll allowed you to check out the sources I’ve linked to if you’re interested.

Sources- one, two, three, four, five.

What about heart disease and high cholesterol levels?

The implication of saturated fats in the raising rates of heart disease began in the 1950’s when researcher Ancel Keys proposed the “lipid hypothesis”, a flawed study trying to demonstrate a direct relationship between the amount of saturated fat and cholesterol in the diet, and the resulting incidence of coronary heart disease. There is so much research to support the opposite of Keys’ claims, here are just a couple quotes of the many I could have chosen from:

The question hinges on whether saturated fat raises cholesterol and causes heart disease. One way or the other this trial is a test of that hypothesis. It’s arguably the best such trial ever done and the most rigorous. To me that’s always been the story. If saturated fat is bad for us, then these trials should demonstrate it. They imply the opposite. (source- a NY Times article discussing the results of a study from the New England Journal of Medicine)

Another one:

The more saturated fat one ate, the more cholesterol one ate, the more calories one ate, the lower the person’s serum [blood] cholesterol….we found that the people who ate the most cholesterol, ate the most saturated fat, ate the most calories, weighed the least and were the most physically active.” The study did show that those who weighed more and had abnormally high blood cholesterol levels were slightly more at risk for future heart disease, but weight gain and cholesterol levels had an inverse correlation with fat and cholesterol intake in the diet. (source- Nourishing Traditions, pg.5) {My note- the ironic thing about this study, the Framingham Heart Study, is that it is often used to prove the lipid hypothesis, even though it does the exact opposite!}

Not to mention the fact that numerous traditional diets have been studied (African Masai, Eskimo, Mediterranean, French, Japanese, to name a few) where saturated fat is consumed in abundance, and yet these cultures display rates of heart disease or heart attack as well as cholesterol levels that are significantly lower than in western countries like the USA and Canada. Additionally, heart disease rates in North America began to rise around the same time that consumption of traditional fats (such as butter and lard) began to decline, and industrial fat consumption (such as margarine and refined vegetable oils) began to rise dramatically. Is there a correlation between those two occurrences? Personally, I think there is.

Image by puuikibeach

Doesn’t eating too much fat make you fat?

This is such a lie of our culture. Eating fat doesn’t make you fat.

Eating a whole ton of carbs (especially refined ones) and sugar (yes, even too many natural sweeteners and fruit juices)- now that is a recipe for gaining weight. Out of control portions makes it worse. Add to that our apathetic, couch-potato tendencies and that’s what is causing obesity in North America. Not saturated fats.

When I first started eating better and consuming more traditional fats, along with decreasing my sugar and refined grain intake, I lost weight. Easily. It just fell off, about 20 lbs of it. I currently eat plenty of fat, as much I feel like eating (no, I don’t gorge on spoonfuls of butter or cream, but I do genuinely allow myself to eat it freely, without guilt, and to taste). My fat consumption does not make my weight fluctuate. So what does make it fluctuate? When I get less active, when I eat too many “easy” foods high in carbs, when I allow my sweet intake to go less checked than usual.

Other reads of interest on this topic: Fats to Eat, Fats to Avoid (Or Why I Eat Butter), How to Lose Weight Fast With Coconut Oil, The Fat That Can Make You Thin, Lowfat Diets, and especially the book Eat Fat, Lose Fat by Dr. Mary Enig and Sally Fallon.

What about oils like peanut, sesame, grapeseed and walnut?

If you can find them cold-pressed or unrefined, then from what I understand, these types of oils can play a limited role in the diet. When processed at higher temperatures, they are too fragile and quickly burn because of their low smoke points, and they will break down, oxidize and can create free radicals.

One of the things that we also need to take into account is the balance between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. We should ideally consume these two fatty acids somewhere between a 1:1 and a 4:1 omega-6 to omega-3 ratio. Yet, average North Americans consume ratios of anywhere from 8:1 to 25:1!

You will find the highest percentage of omega-6 in the polyunsaturated vegetable oils (safflower, sunflower, corn, and yes, sesame, grapeseed, peanut, etc.). Oils like walnut and flaxseed lean more towards the omega-3 end. Our goal should be to decrease omega-6 and increase omega-3 consumption.

It’s not that you want to avoid consuming omega-6 fatty acids, because they are just as necessary as omega-3, hence the term “essential fatty acids“. The issue is that you probably already get plenty (if not too much) omega-6 without even trying, while most of us struggle to up our omega-3 intake to balance out the ratio unless we’re very purposeful about it. Being aware to keep your omega-6  intake on the lower end (especially by keeping vegetable oil use very moderate), and consciously boosting your omega-3 intake (particularly by eating fish and fish oils, including cod liver oil, free-range eggs, and grass-fed beef) will help to ensure that your ratio is a healthy one.

Image by Siona Watson

Which fats for which purpose?

:: For pan frying/grilling/roasting: Butter, coconut oil, tallow or lard (any animal fats). I would also include extra-virgin olive oil in this list, but when it comes to really high-temperature sautéing, I would use something different.

:: For deep-frying: Animal fats only. These are the most stable fats that you can use at such high temperatures. We usually use beef tallow, but lard works as well. It tastes amazing. Wow.

:: For baking: Coconut oil and butter are idea. Palm shortening is another option, and lard is supposed to be great for flaky crusts. I personally like to use a mix of coconut oil and butter, though it depends on what I’m making (for pie crusts and the like, only butter will do).

Apparently you can also use olive oil (if you like the taste of it in baking, which I don’t really). Katie from Kitchen Stewardship helped me out on this topic (which she has researched more than I have) by emailing me this: “You know how info on nutrition is…never 100% certain of anything! But in everything I’ve read, yes, EVOO should be fine in baking. I actually put a small dish of straight evoo in the oven at 400 or so once, and after 20 minutes, it wasn’t anywhere near the 375 smoke point.” I’ve linked to her series on fat below, which includes several different posts on olive oil in particular.

:: For dressings/marinades/mayonnaise (cold-use): Extra virgin olive oil and unrefined vegetable oils in moderation (flax, sesame, walnut).

Want to research it more yourself?

Where to buy good fats

I’ll discuss some of my favorite “real food” sources in a few weeks, as we get into the topic of frugality in May. For now, here are a few reputable places to buy traditional fats:

Tropical Traditions (coconut oil, palm oil and shortening, olive oil, sesame)- buy in bulk, watch for their weekly sales and use that as your time to buy (and Mondays they often put out 10% or free shipping coupons). If you select “Referred by a friend” use the code 6019440 at checkout, you can also get a free copy of their book on coconut oil.

Mountain Rose Herbs (coconut oil, olive oil)

Amazon (olive oil, coconut oil, palm oil- I even saw a bit of butter and ghee)

Wilderness Family Naturals (coconut, palm, olive, sesame, and mayonnaise made from good fats)

Which fats does your family eat the most? Any other testimonials from those who have switched over to traditional fats?

Disclaimer: I am not a certified medical professional of any kind and am not qualified to give you medical advice, to diagnose any illness or prescribe treatment. My goal is to help to educate and inspire you to take responsibility for your own family’s health and make informed choices of your own, not to consult you on medical treatment.

Top image by rainvt
Disclosure: This post includes affiliate links.

About Stephanie Langford

Stephanie Langford has a passion for sharing ideas and information for homemakers who want to make healthy changes in their homes, and carefully steward all that they've been given. She has written three books geared to helping families live more naturally and eat real, whole foods, without being overwhelmed, without going broke and with simple meal planning. She is the creator of Keeper of the Home.

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  1. I am looking for a good palm oil shortening. Tropical Traditions does seem to be the best bet. Except there are three problems. First on the website, the palm oil shortening is only sold in gallon size. Second, it is geared for wholesalers. Third, I have no idea where to buy in retail. I tried Amazon, but the listing is unavailable. Any ideas?

  2. Tiffany says:

    Where I live (in BC Canada), I can’t seem to find any grass fed butter. The best is only organic from say, Whole Foods Market but I know that organic isn’t always best so I was wondering where you get your butter from?

  3. Beavis says:

    Only one of your “sources” is even marginally credible. While I don’t disagree with everything you’ve said, the majority of your argument is made of smoke and mirrors. For a minute I thought I might have been on a content farm such as livestrong or about.

    P.S. The fact that the brain is largely composed of saturated fat has no bearing on whether saturated fat is healthful to eat or not.

    • Doesn’t look like Stephanie has been out here for 2 years. I dont think we’ll be seeing a response.

      Why do you think the source is not credible?

  4. Hello there! Would you mind if I share your blog with my facebook group?

    There’s a lot of people that I think would really enjoy your content. Please let me know. Many thanks

  5. Hi. My research on fats led me your site, and I am SO glad it did. I’m from India, and here most of the urban population has bought into the saturated fat scare. The irony is that our traditional fats are coconut oil, ghee and mustard oil (comparable to olive oil). I have switched to coconut oil, and I’m urging my friends and family to do so too. I have a question – unrefined coconut oil has a smoke point of around 350°F, not much higher than that of EVOO. I have noticed that it smokes much more easily than refined vegetable oils. Then why is considered more stable?


  6. Hi, I just made a recipe today that called for margarine. I substituted the margarine w/ 1/2 coconut oil and half pureed white beans. It was a sweet recipe, and the beans did ruin the flavor.

  7. What a well-written, comprehensive overview of this topic! If you don’t mind, I think I’ll link to this post from my new blog ( I also love Nina Planck and her Real Food books. :-)

  8. Loved your article! Spot on! So many people are brainwashed in believing the myths you present. Sadly, there is a “pay-off” for all the brainwashing however…a multi-million dollar a year profit industry…Big Pharma!

  9. Thank you! It is refined, processed carbs NOT natural fats that are killing us. One important thing I stress to my patients (I am a registered dietitian) is that butter, meat, etc. MUST be from organic, 100% grass-fed beef. If beef is grain-fed at any point, their fat changes to “bad” fat.

  10. In traditional fats, you talked about shortening, you meant vegetable shortening? I keep hearing its bad for health so please enlighten me!

  11. HELP!! I am so new at this and hear so many conflicting views. I have about 150 pounds to lose so I joined Weight Watchers. I love the program, but a lot of it is surrounded around low fat, fat free eating. At the same time we starting weaning ourselves off of processed food to go towards a more Whole eating approach. I have lost 15 pounds in 6 weeks eating lots of fruits, veggies, butter and whole milk. I have a cousin who is a heart surgeon who said that skim milk is better than whole to drink and that there aren’t any chemicals added to the skim. What do you think?

    • @Lori, I would stay away from a low fat approach to losing weight. I like how WWs teaches people to be more aware of their portions and caloric intake (because so many of us do tend to overeat) but I don’t believe the low fat aspect is healthy. Our bodies need fat, and I have found it easy to lose weight as long as I was eating unprocessed foods and healthy fats (fish, nuts, coconut oil, butter, olive oil, etc.).

      I think that 15 lbs in 6 weeks is an amazing loss, especially if it’s just from switching over to more whole foods. That sounds like it is truly the best approach, in my opinion. The processed foods are the ones causing you problems, and a whole foods diet will allow you to lose the weight more slowly, carefully, while eating and staying full, and eventually get to just a really good weight that works for you (because everyone’s body is a little bit different).

      I do agree that conventional whole milk (as in, the regular milk in the stores) isn’t a great option because of the chemicals, but I don’t think skim milk is the right alternative. Instead, organic whole milk is a better choice, and even better than that is whole certified raw milk (from clean, grass fed cows). That way you’re still getting the good dairy fat, but you’re getting much less in the way of chemicals because of how the cows are raised and the feed they receive.

      • I just wanted to second the organic whole milk. That way you get the delicious taste and healthy fat of whole milk without all the chemicals. Because organic milk is more expensive I also cut back on how much I drink, which in turn has encouraged me to drink my eight glasses of water a day. It’s a win-win situation!

      • I would really not recommend raw milk to anyone. Milk is pasteurized to kill milk born diseases like listeria and tuberculosis. 12.6% of all raw milk in the US is contaminated — so out of every 100 bottles of raw milk, 12 will be contaminated. Nearly all cases of tuberculosis in the US come from raw milk or un-aged cheese products made from raw milk. (the rest come from immigrants who contacted the disease in their home country) This risks not only your own health, but everyone you come into contact with.

        products like yogurt, aged cheese, etc made from raw milk are safe to eat since they go through a fermentation process.

        • Lola,
          Can you site your source for your 12.6% claim of raw milk being contaminated? And your TB conclusion? Also, consider your source…is the study sponsored or connected in part by the USDA or FDA? Who, I might add, is currently in the hands of big ag?
          Just like we’ve been told that fat is bad for us…we’ve also been brainwashed over the years to believe that raw milk is bad. When milk is from healthy animals, cared for and clean, it is just as safe as pastuerized (dead) milk.

          take care,

        • Rebecca Emmons says:

          I do want to support what you’re saying, Lola. Pasteur developed his process for milk because so many infants and children were contracting (and dying from) tuberculosis transmitted by milk from infected cows. We take for granted now the idea that milk is safe to drink, because we are accustomed to not contracting that illness through our milk (due to pasteurization), but it’s a very recent development, historically, dating from only 150 years ago. The discovery of streptomycin, the antibiotic that kills TB bacilli, occurred 81 years after Pasteur developed his process for killing contaminants in milk (and other liquids). So, we either must vaccinate our cattle [rare], treat infected cattle with antibiotics, or pasteurize our milk – any one of those will be criticized as “unnatural” by certain parts of the population. The most natural thing, I suppose, would be to let people take their chances with the infection, but that shows a tragic ignorance of the history of TB. Robert Koch, the man who isolated the TB bacillus in 1882, said then that “One in seven of all human beings dies from tuberculosis. If one only considers the productive middle-age groups, tuberculosis carries away one-third, and often more.”

  12. Just wondering, I keep hearing that canola oil is a healthy fat. Only recently have I seen contradictions so I’m a bit confused. Why is it not good? Help, please enlighten me!

  13. This popped up on Yahoo news this morning – looks like it’s a few weeks old, so perhaps someone has referenced it already… I immediately thought of this site when I read it!

    I flip back and forth between thinking fats are great and that they should be avoided… but I am sure being swayed more and more by the “fats are great” side! :)

  14. The Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) increases gradually as cows are turned to the pasture and decreases when cows are fed grain diet.
    See interesting research:

    Grass Fed Butter Oil is the best.

  15. Natalie says:

    Love love love this post! Thank you for the excellent break down, esp what’s best when cooking vs baking and such. I bought coconut oil recently, but still using my canola oil. Kick me to start using that coconut oil! Do you melt it before using it in baking?

    • Elizabeth says:

      I usually get it melted for baking purposes… if you need something at a softened stage, butter is really the best… try melting butter in place of the canola oil and see how you like the taste. Coconut oil is really neutral in flavor, too, so it makes a good can’t-tell-the-difference substitution. Your body will thank you.

  16. Kathryn says:

    We started transitioning to traditional foods about 6 months ago… we drink whole milk (occasionally raw, when we can afford it), use coconut oil & butter… I’ve done my best to cut out all processed foods, but inevitably there are times we can’t avoid it (ie- eating at friends’ homes, restaurants)… and since then my husband and I have both actually gained a bit of weight (5-6lbs each). I’m trying to figure out why, since I hear most people lose weight immediately when they make the switch.
    The only thing I can think is that perhaps we aren’t physically active enough. Our great-grandparents who ate traditional foods spent a lot of time outdoors, doing hard, manual labor. Both my husband and I have “office” jobs, and we haven’t exercised much at all in the past 6 months, since we started making the switch to traditional foods. We are also in our mid-twenties and I guess our metabolism is slowing down. ? I don’t know!
    I’m trying not to get discouraged. I’m really eager to check out all of these sources and read more about fats. Thanks for posting this!

    • Elizabeth says:

      It’s not necessarily the physical activity component… 80% of it is what we eat. Restaurants are the hard part, but my husband and I focus on eating chunks of beef, chicken, or pork with lots of vegetables and avoid the pasta and bread. If you want other ideas about traditional foods, check out Mark’s Daily Apple … fabulous blog about traditional eating.

  17. this post was perfect – answered all the questions that have been piling up in my mind. thanks for your effort!

  18. I notice that you buy Tropical Traditions coconut oil. Is it preferable to Nutiva? That is my biggest confusion in switching to more traditional foods as well as supplements, etc…brands!!!

    • @Melissa, I also struggle a bit with knowing what is truly better than others. Both TT and Nutiva carry an extra virgin organic coconut oil. I honestly don’t know whether one is better. But, I do go for TT because they sell in large bulk, and when they have coconut oil sales, I have previously gone in on it with family members or friends and it ends up making the oil very affordable!

  19. Do you know anything about grapeseed oil? Is it good to use? Or is it in the category of canola oil, etc.?

    • @Jill, From what I’ve read, grapeseed is in the category of something you’d want to use only very minimally and only cold-pressed, but it’s not as bad as something like canola. It does have a high smokepoint, but I’ve read that there are also problems with the way its processed and farmed. If you can find an organic, cold-pressed one, I think it’s ok to use once in a while. I personally use it once in a while, only in our homemade mayo (half/half with coconut oil) and not for anything else.

  20. I was just wondering how you can eat butter, when it is loaded with Trans Fat?

  21. Is it true that palm oil can be used for deep frying?

  22. This is such a great post and wonderful summary of fats! We have been on this traditional/whole foods eating change for probably 1-1 1/2 years, and I just wish someone had told me everything a LONG time ago! I can’t wait to share this post with so many people.

    We eat lots of butter, use coconut oil and ghee for lots of stuff, and someday I really want to get into lard and tallow – I can easily get the beef and pork fat from the farm we buy all our meat from. It’s so funny – my husband has trimmed down since we started eating this way (eggs, whole raw milk, butter, etc), and over the past 6 weeks in doing a fast from sugar, I EASILY lost about 9 lbs (and this is while eating all the fats I wanted and tons of good meats and eggs and breastfeeding with no harm to my milk supply). And not only is all this food so rich and wonderful, but when I go taste things I used to eat (sugary treats included), it does not have anywhere near the same appeal it did before. We love butter! :-)

  23. Danielle A says:

    I have been slowly researching traditional diet and health. Your post was very very informative. And I loved all the sources you gave us too. One thing I definitely learned was sauteing with EV Olive oil was not good, so now I am going to look into buying coconut oil for that. Coconut oil will be something new to add to my diet. Thank you! ^_^


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  4. […] Good Fats, Bad Fats and Why I Eat Plenty of Butter, Keeper of the HomeEngels blog over gezonde vetten met ook weer links naar andere artikelen; […]

  5. […] know the benefits of butter, whole milk, nuts, and eggs. I wish I could feed them to my son […]

  6. […] out all refined foods and stuck to lots of vegetables and soaked grains. We ate tons of Kerrygold butter and raw cheese. I gave her a double dose of fermented cod liver oil every morning with her raw […]

  7. […] can be – it is a brownie after all) by switching out the vegetable oil and replacing it with real butter and reducing the sugar. I ‘happened’ to have (now, how did that get there?) a block of Greens […]

  8. […] so glad I found this article which sums up my stand on this matter […]

  9. […] merits of coconut oil (which I wouldn’t be qualified to write anyway), I’ll send you here, here, and here to read up on it for […]

  10. […] than re-inventing the wheel here, I’ll recommend this post over at Keeper of the Home.   It’s well-written and mentions many of the things I’d […]

  11. […] fats that are naturally solid at room temperature, such as butter, coconut oil, and lard, for cooking, baking, and […]

  12. […] more info? Check out Keeper of the Home’s post called Good Fats, Bad Fats, and Why I Eat Plenty of Butter, it’s a very interesting post with tons of information. So this Thanksgiving, skip the toxic […]

  13. […] too bad that salt has gotten such a bad rap (along with butter- one of my other favorite culinary delights). Everywhere you look in the grocery store, pretty […]

  14. […] decades, butter had a bad reputation, partially due to (un)scientific health claims and partly to that fact that it was lumped together […]

  15. […] healthy, but only recently has the modern housewife rediscovered this culinary staple.For decades, butter had a bad reputation, partially due to (un)scientific health claims and partly to that fact that it was lumped together […]

  16. […] really interesting post on good fats vs. bad fats with lots of links to more […]

  17. […] Good Fats, Bad Fats:  we do avoid dairy/butter, but this post explains much about fats and offers boatloads of links.  Also, Stephanie explains which fats and oils to use when. […]