When you’re transitioning to Keto, you’ll be presented with all sorts of dietary decisions that can easily lead you to feel overwhelmed.
While you should aim to take on board an abundance of healthy fats from whole foods, there’s no reason not to optimize the way you cook as well. The cooking oils you select and the spreads you choose can impact your overall health – not just your macros.
Butter is a divisive issue. We’ll be exploring today if butter is Keto-friendly and we’ll also double down on an alternative in the form of ghee if you decide to go dairy-free.
Is Butter Keto?
Yes and no…it’s best to avoid butter for a Keto diet that achieves your weight loss and health goals.
Ok, you might think butter (especially grass-fed butter) is pretty Keto-friendly. After all, butter is high in fat and low in carbs, making it perfect for meeting your Keto macros.
BUT, butter is a dairy product, which means it has some of the same issues that all dairy products have.
So, if your goal on Keto is to lose weight, get clearer skin, reduce inflammation, and live a healthy fulfilled life, then butter (and all dairy products) is something you should consider omitting.
Reasons To Avoid Dairy On Keto
Dairy is commonly considered Keto-friendly. While cheese, cream and yogurt are low-carb and high-fat, dairy products come with a number of downsides.
1. Lactose and Casein Intolerance
According to Dr. Amy Myers, M.D., there are several reasons people might react poorly to dairy. “There are two components of dairy that tend to cause issues for people, the sugar and the proteins. People who are lactose intolerant do not produce the lactase enzyme, which is required to break down lactose, a sugar found in milk, causing digestive issues whenever they consume dairy products. People who do produce the lactase enzyme but still react poorly to milk are responding to the two proteins found in milk, casein and whey.”
Many people only discover they are sensitive to lactose, casein and other dairy proteins after deciding to go dairy-free. Sometimes, you don’t even know you have allergies or sensitivities until you remove certain elements from your diet and then notice a positive change.
Are you intolerant to lactose?
Being lactose intolerant means your body has trouble digesting the milk sugar, lactose.
It is not clear exactly how many people have lactose intolerance or lactose malabsorption. (1) These terms are often used to describe everyone who feels better when they don’t eat dairy, whether or not the lactose was the culprit.
What is clear is that the effects of lactose intolerance can be quite distressing, in the form of abdominal pain, bloating, gas, diarrhea, and anxiety. (2,3)
Are you intolerant to casein?
Milk is one of the 8 “major food allergens” identified by the FDA. (4) Because of this, food manufacturers in the US must clearly indicate the presence of milk or milk proteins on food labels.
An allergy to cow’s milk or casein, the main protein in dairy products, falls beyond simple lactose intolerance, causing symptoms ranging from wheezing and digestive problems to swelling around the lips, vomiting, a rash, or even anaphylaxis. (5,6)
Dr. Mary Hyman, M.D. notes that the casein has been found to increase inflammation. “Casein proteins can actually induce inflammation leading to things like eczema, ear infections, congestion, and sinus problems. So, I highly recommend avoiding casein, no matter who you are.”
Casein has been associated with other serious health problems. A 2014 study showed casein can cause more prostate cancer cells to be produced. (7)
Animal studies have shown cow milk proteins may be related to the onset of type 1 diabetes. (8)
Mild casein intolerances can also cause inflammatory responses that result in things like achy joints, acne, and a foggy brain. There’s no good scientific consensus for this, unfortunately. (9) That’s why we suggest you give up dairy for 60 days to test it out for yourself. You might realize a bunch of lingering issues suddenly vanish.
Homogenized and pasteurized dairy can be harder to digest
Another hidden danger is that most of the dairy products we can purchase are homogenized and pasteurized and contain additional ingredients that make it harder for our bodies to process.
In particular, while pasteurization saved countless lives before proper refrigeration and FDA regulations were implemented, nowadays, it just destroys the enzymes naturally occurring in milk that could help us digest and absorb dairy better.
According to Dr. Frank Lipman, M.D., “[Pasteurization] destroys enzymes, vitamins, denatures fragile milk proteins, kills beneficial bacteria and promotes pathogens. Even calves fed pasteurized milk do poorly and many die before maturity.”
Homogenization seems to make the problem worse. Dr. Lipman goes on to say, “Homogenization is a process that breaks down butterfat globules so they do not rise to the top. Homogenized milk is harder to digest, so proteins that would normally be digested in the stomach are not broken down and instead are absorbed into the bloodstream. Often the body reacts to these “foreign proteins” by triggering the immune system, causing inflammation.”
2. Dairy is Easy To Overeat So Clashes With Weight Loss
How many times have you eaten one slice of cheese only to reach for another slice, and another?
Or take butter…it’s easy to just slather it on your steak, your vegetables, and add it into your coffee. And before you know it, you’ve consumed an entire stick of butter in less than a day!
Weight loss is a common motivator for many people turning to the ketogenic diet so it makes sense to distance yourself from this temptation.
And if you want the science, then know that there’s an opiate embedded in casein protein that can cause cravings unrelated to hunger. (10)
So, if you want to give up butter, what can you use as a substitute on Keto?
Substitutes for butter…
There are 2 easy substitutes for butter:
Ghee is basically butter with most of the lactose, casein, and whey proteins removed. This makes it ideal for when you’re trying to avoid those problematic issues in dairy products.
Ghee is actually better for cooking than butter. According to Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and a Certified Health Coach, Athena Nofziger, RDN, CHC, “Ghee has a higher smoke point than butter since the milk solids have been removed. According to the Vegetarian Health Institute the smoke point of butter is 350 degrees F and the smoke point of Ghee is 485 degrees F. Ghee will tolerate higher temperature cooking.”
You can make your own ghee from grass-fed butter (check out the video below). Or you can buy it in a lot of health food stores.
Ghee tastes very similar to butter, so it works great in baked goods as well as to cook your steaks in.
2. Coconut Oil
Coconut oil is another great substitute for butter. Make sure you use coconut oil (and not coconut butter) as a substitute for butter in cooking. Coconut butter is more like almond butter (so it’ll have bits of coconut in it, which can burn if you try to heat it up in a pan).
Coconut oil has so many health benefits it makes sense to use it whenever you need a butter substitute. Registered Nurse and author Dana Gelsomino, RN, says, “I encourage you to try using coconut oil as your main cooking oil for one week. The flavor is a lot milder than most people expect — I was a skeptic at first myself! Some delicious dishes to cook with coconut oil are fried plantains and sweet potato fries. Just pour a tbsp of coconut oil in a frying pan, chop up the plantains or sweet potatoes, let brown and serve! YUM!”
So Skip The Butter On Keto…
There are so many great fats to eat that contribute to a healthy Keto diet, you won’t even miss butter.
If you choose to fall back on the secret weapon ghee, you’ll end up with all the taste and indulgence of the best butter without the niggling downside.
For anyone still on the fence, we suggest giving up dairy for 60 days and then slowly reintroducing it to see how you feel.
Ready to go dairy-free? Use our Keto Dairy Swaps Guide to help you replace the dairy in Keto recipes.