The Health Benefits of Grass-Fed Butter

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Why is grass-fed butter a better option than conventional butter?
Impact of grass feeding on butter quality and taste
What are the health benefits of grass-fed butter?
References 
Further reading


Grass-fed butter is produced from milk that is derived from grass-fed cows. 1 Although they mostly rely on a grass-centric diet, these cows are fed small amounts of grains in winter to keep them healthy while producing milk. 2

Grass-feeding is considered a part of “regenerative agriculture” that prevents climate change by preserving soil organic matter and restoring degraded soil biodiversity. This subsequently leads to carbon drawdown and improvement in the water cycle. 3

Grazing ruminants on grassland is a key contributor to ecosystem regeneration. It restores soil microbial diversity and strengthens the land against flooding and drought. 3

Image Credit: VanderWolf Images/Shutterstock.com

Why is grass-fed butter a better option than conventional butter?

The composition and nutritional quality of cow milk and dairy products depend on many factors, including genetics, age, and health status of animals, lactation stage, and diet. Animal diet is particularly vital for influencing the nutritional characteristics of bovine milk, especially the lipid fraction of milk. 4

While grass-fed butter is produced from cows fed grass-based diets, conventional butter is made from cows that typically consume grain-based diets. The nutritional value of grass-fed butter is better than traditional butter.

Moreover, grass-fed butter exhibits significantly lower atherogenicity (tendency to accumulate intracellular fat) and thrombogenicity (tendency to form clot in blood vessels) indices than conventional butter. 5  

Existing literature indicates that grass-based diets are better than grain-based diets in terms of increasing the concentration of beneficial fatty acids in milk, such as polyunsaturated fatty acids, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, butyric acid, and conjugated linoleic acid. 6

Such betterment in fat content and quality of milk due to a grass-based diet is associated with improvements in nutritional quality, sensory attributes (taste, flavor, color), and functional properties of dairy products, including butter. 7

The nutritional quality of dairy products also depends on the presence of micronutrients in milk, which in turn is dependent on animal diet.

In this context, evidence indicates that cows eating a grass-based diet produce milk with higher levels of bioactive compounds, including beta-carotene, vitamins, and terpenes, than those eating a grain-based diet. 8   

Impact of grass feeding on butter quality and taste

Grass feeding is typically conducted by keeping cows in natural pastures, meadows, or fresh grass. Such dietary practices significantly influence cow’s metabolism and mechanism of milk production, leading to alterations in milk chemical composition. 9

Milk fat is the most affected component by grass feeding, which reduces fat saturation. Grassfeeding also causes the direct transfer of some plant compounds to milk, including carotenoids, terpenes, aldehydes, ketones, alcohols, and phenols. 10

High concentrations of beta-carotene and polyunsaturated fatty acids in grass-fed butter are responsible for its yellow color and smoother texture.

Phenolic, hydrocarbon, and heterocyclic compounds present in grass-fed butter are responsible for its flavor. Ruminal degradation of beta-carotene generates a phenolic compound called p-cresol, which is particularly responsible for a barnyard-like and cowy odor. 11

Toluene is an aromatic hydrocarbon derived from ruminal degradation of beta-carotene. Toluene is a flavoring compound in grass-fed butter, and its odor has been described as almond, caramel, mothball, and plastic. Other flavoring compounds in grass-fed butter include indole and skatole. 11

Terpenes and terpenoids are also believed to be flavor-active compounds in grass-fed butter. However, recent evidence indicates that these compounds can influence flavor only if present in grass-fed milk at high concentrations. 11    

What are the health benefits of grass-fed butter?

The high abundance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, polyunsaturated fatty acids, and low abundance of saturated fat in grass-fed butter make it a better choice than conventional butter for a healthier heart.

Grass-fed cow milk contains 500% more conjugated linoleic acid than cows fed typical dairy diets. Conjugated linoleic acid is a group of fatty acids known to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. 12 Several pre-clinical studies and human studies have shown anticancer, anti-obesity, and anti-atherosclerotic properties of conjugated linoleic acid. 13

Grass-fed butter is a rich source of vitamin A and a fat-soluble micronutrient required for vision, reproduction, cell division and differentiation, bone growth, and immune function.

This vitamin is also required for maintaining skin integrity and the mucous lining of respiratory, urinary, and intestinal tracts. 14

Grass-fed better contains high amounts of vitamin E, which is another fat-soluble micronutrient with strong antioxidant properties. Vitamin E protects cellular macromolecules from free radical-induced oxidative damage.

It exerts anticancer effects by increasing immune functions and inhibiting the formation of carcinogens from dietary nitrates in the stomach. Regular consumption of vitamin E may also improve lens clarity. 14

Grass-fed butter is a rich source of beta-carotene, which is a precursor of vitamin A. 15 A higher dietary intake of beta-carotene is known to reduce the risk of many chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, age-related macular degeneration, and certain cancer types. 16

Grass-fed butter contains vitamin K2, which is a less-commonly known fat-soluble micronutrient. 17 This vitamin plays a vital role in maintaining bone and heart health. It improves bone strength by increasing bone calcium absorption.

It prevents calcium deposition in blood vessels by breaking down calcium. Evidence indicates that dietary intake of vitamin K is associated with reduced risks of osteoporosis and coronary heart disease. 18

References

  1. Pustjens AM, Boerrigter-Eenling R, Koot AH, Rozijn M, van Ruth SM. Characterization of Retail Conventional, Organic, and Grass Full-Fat Butters by Their Fat Contents, Free Fatty Acid Contents, and Triglyceride and Fatty Acid Profiling. Foods. 2017;6(4):26. doi:10.3390/foods6040026
  2. The Difference between Ghee, Grass Fed Butter, and Standard Butter. Foodsmiths. Published January 10, 2019. Accessed February 20, 2024. https://www.foodsmiths.com/blogs/news/the-difference-between-ghee-grass-fed-butter-and-standard-butter
  3. Matsumoto N. Is Grass-Fed Beef Really Better For The Planet? Here’s The Science. NPR. https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2019/08/13/746576239/is-grass-fed-beef-really-better-for-the-planet-heres-the-science. Published August 13, 2019. Accessed February 25, 2024.
  4. Gómez-Mascaraque LG, Kilcawley K, Hennessy D, Tobin JT, O’Callaghan TF. Raman spectroscopy: A rapid method to assess the effects of pasture feeding on the nutritional quality of butter. J Dairy Sci. 2020;103(10):8721-8731. doi:10.3168/jds.2020-18716
  5. O’Callaghan TF, Faulkner H, McAuliffe S, et al. Quality characteristics, chemical composition, and sensory properties of butter from cows on pasture versus indoor feeding systems. J Dairy Sci. 2016;99(12):9441-9460. doi:10.3168/jds.2016-11271
  6. O’Callaghan TF, Hennessy D, McAuliffe S, et al. Effect of pasture versus indoor feeding systems on raw milk composition and quality over an entire lactation. J Dairy Sci. 2016;99(12):9424-9440. doi:10.3168/jds.2016-10985
  7. Magan JB, Tobin JT, O’Callaghan TF, et al. Physicochemical properties of whole milk powder derived from cows fed pasture or total mixed ration diets. J Dairy Sci. 2019;102(11):9611-9621. doi:10.3168/jds.2019-16415
  8. O’Callaghan TF, Mannion DT, Hennessy D, et al. Effect of pasture versus indoor feeding systems on quality characteristics, nutritional composition, and sensory and volatile properties of full-fat Cheddar cheese. J Dairy Sci. 2017;100(8):6053-6073. doi:10.3168/jds.2016-12508
  9. Alothman M, Hogan SA, Hennessy D, et al. The “Grass-Fed” Milk Story: Understanding the Impact of Pasture Feeding on the Composition and Quality of Bovine Milk. Foods Basel Switz. 2019;8(8):350. doi:10.3390/foods8080350
  10. Kilcawley KN, Faulkner H, Clarke HJ, O’Sullivan MG, Kerry JP. Factors Influencing the Flavour of Bovine Milk and Cheese from Grass Based versus Non-Grass Based Milk Production Systems. Foods Basel Switz. 2018;7(3):37. doi:10.3390/foods7030037
  11. Faccia M. The Flavor of Dairy Products from Grass-Fed Cows. Foods. 2020;9(9):1188. doi:10.3390/foods9091188
  12. Dhiman TR, Anand GR, Satter LD, Pariza MW. Conjugated linoleic acid content of milk from cows fed different diets. J Dairy Sci. 1999;82(10):2146-2156. doi:10.3168/jds.S0022-0302(99)75458-5
  13. den Hartigh LJ. Conjugated Linoleic Acid Effects on Cancer, Obesity, and Atherosclerosis: A Review of Pre-Clinical and Human Trials with Current Perspectives. Nutrients. 2019;11(2):370. doi:10.3390/nu11020370
  14. Daley CA, Abbott A, Doyle PS, Nader GA, Larson S. A review of fatty acid profiles and antioxidant content in grass-fed and grain-fed beef. Nutr J. 2010;9:10. doi:10.1186/1475-2891-9-10
  15. Faulkner H, O’Callaghan TF, McAuliffe S, et al. Effect of different forage types on the volatile and sensory properties of bovine milk. J Dairy Sci. 2018;101(2):1034-1047. doi:10.3168/jds.2017-13141
  16. Compounds I of M (US) P on DA and R. β-Carotene and Other Carotenoids. In: Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Selenium, and Carotenoids. National Academies Press (US); 2000. Accessed February 24, 2024. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK225469/
  17. 5 foods to boost your Vitamin K2 intake. Australian NaturalCare. Accessed February 25, 2024. https://ausnaturalcare.com.au/health/life-style/vitamins/5-foods-to-boost-your-vitamin-k2-intake
  18. Office of Dietary Supplements - Vitamin K. Accessed February 25, 2024. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminK-HealthProfessional/

Further reading 

Last Updated: Mar 7, 2024

Dr. Sanchari Sinha Dutta

Written by

Dr. Sanchari Sinha Dutta

Dr. Sanchari Sinha Dutta is a science communicator who believes in spreading the power of science in every corner of the world. She has a Bachelor of Science (B.Sc.) degree and a Master's of Science (M.Sc.) in biology and human physiology. Following her Master's degree, Sanchari went on to study a Ph.D. in human physiology. She has authored more than 10 original research articles, all of which have been published in world renowned international journals.

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