Have some butter with your veggies!


Yes, 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.

To read more about heart disease and cholesterol, check out the special report page.

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Comments Join the Conversation

  1. Richard says

    Impossible to not have some fat with your vegetables because they have fat, some have a fair amount. If additional fat is warranted, need a study to indicate the amount of fat needed, I use nuts, seeds or as a last resort avocado.
    You are not going to convince me that ground flax seeds, chia seeds or walnuts are not better than butter…

  2. Rowan says

    You start off your article suggesting ‘it didnt lower the risk of coronary heart disease’. Vitamins have little to do with heart disease. Um, what contributes to heart disease – salt and fat. This article seems to be completely misleading and for lack of a better word UNHEALTHY.

  3. Susan says

    I like to have a piece of fruit in the afternoon with a cup of tea and some full-fat raw cream or a spoon full of coconut oil.

  4. Sarah says

    Hi, Not sure if this is where to post but here goes. I’m 58 F and I supposedly have high cholesterol. I am not going on drugs because I have read enough and I don’t think I should but my Dr keeps bugging me. MY Observation: The “healthier” I eat, the higher my cholesterol goes. I eat eggs, butter(little) steak, but mostly salads fish, chicken and ALL in healthy amounts. Hardly any bread. Sweets are a treat. After my last C test, 278T and HDL 90, as an experiment, I started taking an additional fish oil every day. Next test it was even higher!! 290T 105HDL. I am befuddled. I think maybe I should eat more fat. PS, I am athletic, 3 triathlons, 2 1/2 marathons and various other swim, bike, run, yoga this year. I’m in good shape unless there is something I don’t know.

    • R says


      i would cut out all sources of cholesterol: so, all animal products (meat, fish, dairy, and eggs). this will also cut down on the amount of saturated fat which has been shown to increase LDL. lastly, i would also nix the coconut oil/coconut since this is (the only plant source) another source of cholesterol.

      but, of course, ask your doctor before you start any new dietary regime.

      good luck!

    • says

      Reducing Cholesterol is easy, simply increase your fiber intake substantially. You can use soluble Oat Fiber in your soups, juice, oatmeal. Don’t take any drugs.

  5. Bob says

    So on the basis of one questionable “study” you’re advising people to consume more dairy products? Are you aware that humans are the ONLY species that regularly includes milk in their diet after they are weaned? Furthermore, entire cultures use no dairy products at all!

    What is the source for your statement that children “need” extra fat in their diet? The RDA is 30% of the total calories. I guarantee you that most people in this country, including children, get far more than that!

    • Chris Kresser says

      There are many, many studies supporting the health benefits of full-fat dairy.

      So what if humans are the only species that includes milk in their diet after they’re weaned. We’re also the only species that cooks our food. Should we stop doing that?

      Do some research on “lactase persistence”. You’ll find that many humans do, in fact, have the ability to digest lactose.

      • Bob says

        Yeah, but can you cite more than one? You are the one who made the statement…it’s up to you to support it.

        Actually, we would theoretically be healthier I we did not cook our food. Other primates with identical digestive systems never eat cooked food and never get cancer of any kind.

        And who are you trying to fool with that last statement? I never said anything about lactose tolerance OR persistence. Many animals have the ability to digest foods that are not part of their natural diet. That does not prove that those foods are healthy for them. Squirrels, for instance, will gleefully eat peanuts….even after they start losing their fur.

        • Craig says

          We would absolutely never have developed our intelligence had we not started cooking food. Maybe you need to do some research. Especially if you are still following the laughable RDAs. Many kids probably do get plenty of fat, but the wrong kind- vegetable oil. We should get plenty of natural sat fat from meat, eggs, coconut oil, and yes full fat dairy.

          • Bob says

            I notice you avoided my question, and you have no support for your assertions, both about the development of intelligence and animal fat in our diet. There are millions of people, including myself, who NEVER consume meat or diary products and have no health problems whatsoever. Why don’t you just admit that you’re a toady for the meat and dairy industry. Or are you trying to sell that “Paleo Diet” hoax?

        • Xu says

          Hey Bob wow you’re really smart. How come you haven’t written a book? I’m sure it would be way better than Chris’s book. You should start your own website too I’m sure most people would ditch Chris in a heartbeat. And while you’re at it I think you should open your own clinic because I’m sure you would do a way better job helping patients than Chris. And Chris didn’t even answer you. Obviously you totally stumped him. You got him running with his tail between his legs.

  6. Oscar says

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

  7. Val says

    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. 

  8. says

    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.

  9. Saara says

    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 :)

      • Richard says

        Chris, seems like you often make up information as you go along. There are many studies indicating that dairy is not a healthy food.
        Personally, I consume no dairy at all….zilch! I am healthy and a BMI around 23 at age 73. My arteries are clear and my bones strong.
        You, the dairy industry and USDA sing the some mis-information.

  10. says

    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.

  11. says

    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.

  12. Richard says

    There is no evidence to support your comment! The most important time of your life to have a healthy diet is when you are young…
    Dead soldiers during the Korean and Vietnam conflicts provided evidence of the high number of 20 years olds that already had heart disease.
    No vegetables growing up, rediculous!!!!

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