The Battle for Butter

T149134517his is a guest post by my mom Pamela Schoenfeld, MS RD.

Sometimes I feel like throwing in the towel.  We are boxing with a bunch of misinformed “experts” on so many levels.  Just today, in response to my suggestion on an RD listserv that a good quality cod liver oil be given to a child who was having health problems including some GI issues, a few of the so called “Integrative Registered Dietitians” on this same listserv recommended against using cod liver oil because of its high vitamin A content, citing the warnings of the vitamin D council against the use of CLO.  “Only use vitamin D alone” is their advice, supplemental vitamin A is dangerous at any level. Outnumbered once again and don’t really care to go into a lengthy back and forth with them.

I lost that type of battle once before when I offered that I did not think it was a good idea for a woman who was pregnant to follow a strict vegan diet.  That time a couple of RDs said I could be violating my professional ethics by taking this position.  Oh, and just last week my daughter Laura (this blog owner) responded to an RD that wrote, regarding the Paleolithic diet: “any diet that eliminates a food group is not a healthy diet.”  So Laura simply replied:  “I guess you believe a vegetarian diet is unhealthy then too?”  Hmmm…

Now to the real subject of this blog post: to discuss what so many of us knew was the next inevitable step after banning soda, candy, bake sales, etc. at public schools, along with trying to follow the reduced sodium, fat, cholesterol, and calorie guidelines of the USDA.  The authorities have now targeted butter as the bad guy.  No more butter in the food served by New York City public schools.  If one of their kitchen managers orders butter, he or she will face disciplinary action. (For the original news story click here.) Kitchen managers are now instructed to use “low-fat salad oil” instead of butter in recipes. Butter has now joined whole milk in the foods officially “off the menu.”  This makes perfect sense, because as we know, highly processed vegetable oils are sooo much better for our children.

Sorry for the sarcasm, but who at the school board/City of New York is reading the research?  (But then our esteemed USDA doesn’t seem to read the research either!)  Can anyone point to any evidence that butter increases either the risk of obesity or heart disease in children?  Do they know that whole milk consumption is associated with lower abdominal adiposity in kids and that higher blood levels of a fat pretty much only found in dairy is associated with a lower risk of diabetes in adults?  Do they know that an excess of omega-6 fats, largely in the diet due to processed vegetable oils, is associated with a greater risk for heart disease in adults?

Although I doubt the butter they used to purchase came from grass-fed cows, there is still a certain amount of vitamin A and K2 in it no doubt, which we know is essential to bone development along with vitamin D (thanks to Chris Masterjohn and others), and of course butter contains other nutrients like CLA and butyric acid.  Not to mention the other essential roles for vitamin A such as cell replication and immunity.  Do they know that the USDA began recommending homogenized whole milk in the 1930s to ensure that every school child got the same amount of the highly-valued cream, because in their words “the vitamin A is in the cream.”  I don’t have time to cite the studies, but you are probably familiar with these ideas if you aren’t altogether new to the traditional diet.

Maybe you don’t feel dairy is a necessary food, but for children who tolerate it, dairy fat can be one of the only sources of vitamin A and K2 in their diet.  Sure, there are a few other rich sources, but who is eating liver nowadays?  Who eats egg yolks?  Does anyone regularly eat fish eggs or other offal from sea or land animals?   Some of you reading this blog might, but I see people daily that never think to serve these foods to their children, in fact, they are avoiding even the already-exonerated egg yolk in their pursuit of good health.

In the news article linked above, one 6-year old child was quoted saying, “They don’t have butter at my school.  They said it makes you fat.  I don’t like butter anyway.  They have cream cheese for our bagels.  I love cream cheese.”   Well, how long do you think they will have cream cheese?  I bet it goes off the menu long before bagels are removed.  Bagels removed?  That must be wishful thinking on my part.

Next week I will discuss my feelings on an innovative elementary school in Queens, NYC, now ONLY serving vegetarian meals to their students.  Another great move.

Oh, and I won’t throw the towel in yet, I am speaking in Morristown on May 22nd at 10:00 a.m. on Children’s Nutrition.  This is free to the public and sponsored by NOFA-NJ and the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation.  Check it out here.

The author, Pam Schoenfeld, MS RD, has a private practice in central New Jersey.  She focuses on the needs of families and families-to-be.  She has three grown children including Laura.  She radically changed the family diet when they were young teenagers/adolescents after learning about traditional diets from the Weston A. Price Foundation, so she knows some of the challenges parents face in trying to raise healthy eaters.  It’s not always easy, but it is worth the effort!

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    1. Hi Erin,

      You must have some interesting job-related stories to share, but perhaps you are better off not making waves in a public forum. Do you have much input on the menu? Would love to hear more about your experiences. Thanks for the words of encouragement, I wish you the best as you work to feed our children healthy lunches.

  1. This is the most insane thing I’ve heard in a long time. It’s certainly the first battle we need to fight and win to accomplish anything else worthwhile.
    Science has been slack at isolating specific foods like butter (rather than including or excluding them in baby-and-bathwater type “dietary patterns) until recently.
    But we now have Guyenet and co’s review of full-fat dairy that finds no increase in BMI overall, and reductions in BMI in some individual studies, in those consuming dairy fat vs low fat dairy.
    “The observational evidence does not support the hypothesis that dairy fat or high-fat dairy foods contribute to obesity or cardiometabolic risk, and suggests that high-fat dairy consumption within typical dietary patterns is inversely associated with obesity risk.”
    And we have what appear to me to be 2 very convincing (because based on more than usually reliable data) studies from Mozzafarian and co.
    Which show an association between highest dairy fat consumption and a halved risk of type 2 diabetes.
    “Circulating trans-palmitoleate [a reliable marker for dairy fat consumption] is associated with lower insulin resistance, atherogenic dyslipidemia, and incident diabetes. Our findings may explain previously observed metabolic benefits of dairy consumption and support need for detailed further experimental and clinical investigation.”
    These kids are being put at risk of a doubled rate of DM2. This is the best science we have – if those idiots want to make stupid decisions, they should at least base them on up-to-date science.

    1. Thanks for taking the time to add some citations George, that is super helpful. I had forgotten about Stephen Guyenet’s and co excellent review (was that a meta-analysis – can’t recall). I thought removing butter seems insane also and highly doubt will achieve any of the outcomes they are looking for. I think it just makes them feel good they are doing something. Besides, butter is expensive compared to vegetable oil so they are killing 2 birds with 1 stone. Only a matter of time until cream cheese gives way to peanut butter or margarine only. Bad thing is that the kids will take away the enduring message that butter is bad for them. I see this often in my practice where even kids under 10 say things like they don’t eat eggs because they are high in cholesterol. Great little parrots, just like these school administrators. Only you can’t really blame the kids but I can lay some blame on the administration for not doing their due diligence to see what really seems to be the evidence.

  2. The Guyenet et. al. paper is a review. This could mean that the papers reviewed are too varied for a true meta-study analysis, although it could also mean that a lot of extra information was included with a meta-study (the link from the abstract to the full-text doesn’t work) Usually a review of a subject brings in evidence from animal experiments and discusses theories and so on; it’s a “state of the art” update.
    A factor that may have led to inconsistencies between the reviewed studies (and one which the design of Mozaffarian et. al.’s papers avoids) is that all minimally processed ruminant fat should behave in much the same as dairy fat – tallow, dripping, goat, beef and lamb meat fat. So the benefits attributed to dairy fat might be magnified in populations consuming more ruminant fat in general. And they might be decreased in populations where a little dairy fat is mixed with a lot of cooking oils and lean protein.

  3. Thank you. Please do not give up the fight. I know that there are people listening in these kind of situations. I belong to some boards and some of the similiar situations can happen. But I think you might be surprised about who is reading and taking in the information but just not posting. We are out there. A sort of similiar example is when I asked my board for help with my toddlers eczema. Everyone came and posted about the typical remedies ( expensive lotions, cortisone cream, etc). But one person in the middle of all the typical posts said that after much experimentation her family found that a simple vitamin d3 for kids during winter kept it away from her family. I tried her solution after sifting thru everything and it worked! So, while she was a lone voice someone was listening to her and it made a difference and now I can pass that info along in my circle as an alternative to the typical options. I thought it was weird that all these people had kids with eczema ( with varying degrees of success) but no one said anything about trying this simple and inexpensive solution – they would rather keep buying expensive steroid cream. I bet you that there are a lot of people that quietly take in what you are saying but just don’t say anything for fear of the backlash. Please don’t stop.