This graph from Andreas Eenfeldt (via Mark’s Daily Apple) shows heart attacks (left axis) and butter consumption (right axis) in Sweden over the last quarter-century. Heart attacks have been going down, at least in men. What interests me is that when butter consumption suddenly increased, starting in 2006, heart attacks went down more quickly. If you fit a straight line to the heart attack rates for 1988-2005, you will see that the remaining rates (2006-2012) are below the extrapolation of the line, both for men and women. The Swedes made other dietary changes when they started eating more butter (the butter replaced other foods, for example). Nevertheless, these data make it more plausible that if butter has any effect on heart attacks, it reduces them, the opposite of what we’ve been told.
I eat a half stick (60 g) of butter daily. It improves my brain speed. After I gave a talk about this, a cardiologist in the audience said I was killing myself. I said I thought my experimental data was more persuasive than epidemiology, with its many questionable assumptions. The new data suggests I was right — butter does not increase heart attacks. It also supports my belief that by learning what makes my brain work best, I will improve my health in other ways (such as reduce heart attack risk).
No doubt a low-carb high-fat diet is better than what many people eat, but I believe the never-eat-sugar part of such a diet is a mistake. There are plenty of reasons to think sugars eaten at the right time of day improve sleep. Whatever you think about nutrition, don’t get too comfortable.
After I discovered that butter made me faster at arithmetic, I started eating half a stick (66 g) of butter per day. After a talk about it, a cardiologist in the audience said I was killing myself. I said that the evidence that butter improved my brain function was much clearer than the evidence that butter causes heart disease. The cardiologist couldn’t debate this; he seemed to have no idea of the evidence.
Shortly before I discovered the butter/arithmetic connection, I had a heart scan (a tomographic x-ray) from which is computed an Agaston score, a measure of calcification of your blood vessels. The Agaston score is a good predictor of whether you will have a heart attack. The higher your score, the greater the probability. My score put me close to the median for my age. A year later — after eating lots of butter every day during that year — I got a second scan. Most people get about 25% worse each year. My second scan showed regression (= improvement). It was 40% better (less) than expected (a 25% increase). A big increase in butter consumption was the only aspect of my diet that I consciously changed between Scan 1 and Scan 2.
The improvement I observed, however surprising, was consistent with a 2004 study that measured narrowing of the arteries as a function of diet. About 200 women were studied for three years. There were three main findings. 1. The more saturated fat, the less narrowing. Women in the highest quartile of saturated fat intake didn’t have, on average, any narrowing. 2. The more polyunsaturated fat, the more narrowing. 3. The more carbohydrate, the more narrowing. Of all the nutrients examined, only saturated fat clearly reduced narrowing. Exactly the opposite of what we’ve been told.
As this article explains, the original idea that fat causes heart disease came from Ancel Keys, who omitted most of the available data from his data set. When all the data were considered, there was no connection between fat intake and heart disease. There has never been convincing evidence that saturated fat causes heart disease, but somehow this hasn’t stopped the vast majority of doctors and nutrition experts from repeating what they’ve been told.
In a review of Anna Reid’s new book, Leningrad: Tragedy of a City Under Siege, I learned that one of the calorie sources that starving Leningraders came to eat was:
‘macaroni’ made from flax seed for cattle
To which I say: Damn. The implication is that, before the famine, “flax seed for cattle”, which is roughly the same as flax seed, was considered unfit for human consumption. Only when starving did Leningraders stoop to eat it. I can buy flax seed in Beijing. But not easily.
The triangle is complete. I have now learned that the main things I care about in my diet, which I go to great lengths to eat every day, are all considered “disgusting” by a large number of people:
1. Flax seed. It is the best source of omega-3 I have found. I eat ground flax seeds every day. Flaxseed oil goes bad too easily.
2. Butter. Perhaps the most reviled food in America, at least by nutritionists. A cardiologist once told me, “You’re killing yourself” by eating it.
3. Fermented foods. Many fermented foods are considered disgusting — after all, they are little different than spoiled foods.
Last night I had dinner with a friend in a restaurant. We chatted with a couple sitting next to us. They asked what I did research about. “Food and the brain,” I said. “What foods make the brain work best.” They asked for an example. “Butter,” I said. The woman smiled. “That’s great news! Butter is delicious.” As they left, the woman said, “I feel like I’ve learned some really interesting things.”
I agree, great news — partly because butter is delicious. Yet it fits what we already know. It’s been known since the 1920’s that a high-fat (“ketogenic”) diet can ameliorate childhood epilepsy. I suppose it’s called “ketogenic diet” to avoid the term high-fat — or to sound more “scientific”. It’s an unfortunate name because why the diet helps is unclear. “Although many hypotheses have been put forward to explain how the ketogenic diet works, it remains a mystery,” says Wikipedia.
Another example of dairy fat improving brain function comes from a little girl with a rare genetic disease:
A 3-year-old girl, . . . thanks to a diet of cream cheese, gained the ability to speak despite a disease that [had] left her mute from birth.
Fields Taylor, from Melton Mowbray in Leicestershire, was born with the incurable genetic disease Glut 1 Deficiency that caused a lack of glucose to flow to her brain. Today, Taylor’s diet of four containers of the cream cheese per week gives her a voice. . . . “The amount of Philadelphia [cream cheese] she goes through is mad but worth it. It really has been our saving grace. She loves the stuff and piles it on crackers,” The Mirror quoted her mother Stevie as saying. “The first time I heard Fields say ‘Mum’ it was just wonderful.” . . . Glut 1 affects just 26 people in the U.K.
Thanks to Tom George.
In Perfect Coffee at Home, authors Michael Haft and Harrison Suarez, who have started a digital publishing company, say that the Buttermind experiment influenced them to start adding butter to their coffee. In this excerpt, they say that their cholesterol went down 25 points during the period they drank it (their lives changed in many other ways at the same time). At the end they say:
Later, we would learn that Ethiopian warriors had drunk buttered coffee to energize before battle as far back as 600 CE. But that was after we had stopped regularly drinking it. When we transitioned out of the Marine Corps and our days became less frenetic, it just didn’t seem as necessary.
The mention of Ethiopian warriors reminds me of how, after discovering that pork fat (from pork belly) improves my sleep, I learned that Mao Tse-Tung praised a certain pork-belly dish (红烧肉), calling it “brain food”. I don’t drink coffee but I have tried tea with butter. It tasted good, but I didn’t like the residue it left on the tea cup. Cream doesn’t leave a residue. I haven’t noticed that butter gives me energy. The benefits I believe in are better brain function and better sleep. Maybe more calmness.
Based partly on my research, a friend of mine started eating the same amount of butter I do: 4 tablespoons (about 60 g) per day. He described what happened:
I’m noticably smarter since I started butter. Immediately.
Faster insights, faster foreign language processing, increased creativity, faster at math-in-my-head. My video-gaming ability is better, which partly is a measure of my reaction time. Since I log my creativity similarly to my workouts I can view the increased production.
Started butter properly 3 days ago. Haven’t been sleeping well due to workload and digestive issues…yet still my performance keeps [improving]. I suspect it will be yet markedly better again once I get some proper rest.
I am experiencing creativity effects [similar to those] that resulted when I was mindhacking with various racetams along with sublutiamine and centrophenoxine. I have not been taking that brain-stack for a month because it was causing digestive problems. Suddenly with butter all the mind-hacking benefits have returned.
Thanks to Casey Manion and Bryan Castañeda.
Because of my finding that butter improved my mental speed, in 2012, Dustin Lee, a programmer in Bozeman, Montana, decided to try eating lots of butter. He thought he’d do it for a month.
He ate a half-stick (2 ounces = 57 grams) every day. Nothing fancy: Kirkland Salted Sweet Cream Butter. At first it was repulsive. He had trouble eating it. He ate it with other foods, such as soup or pancakes. Or he would take lots of tiny slices (without other foods). It felt like more butter than he wanted.
After about two weeks of this, however, he decided this is pretty good. He was enjoying it. He began looking forward to the slices. He made them larger. He prefers the butter hard, straight out of the fridge. He now enjoys eating the fat on meat. He stopped limiting how much animal fat he eats. (His wife still cuts it off meat.) Now he gets lots of fat from lots of sources. Butter is the easiest source.
His children (7 and 9 years old) don’t eat butter directly, but he allows them to eat as much as they want. They eat a lot more butter than other children. At other people’s houses, he jokes about it. Incidentally, he tried taking Vitamin D3 in the morning (around 7 am) but it made him so sleepy in the evening he stopped.
This impressed me. I’d been eating a half-stick of butter per day for a few years (half as much was less effective), but I always ate it with a little bit of meat, e.g., sliced roast beef (Berkeley) or roast pork (Beijing). That was less than ideal because I kept running out of the meat. I started eating it Dustin’s way (straight) and found it’s fine. It’s like dessert, halfway between ice cream and cheese.
On the Shangri-La Diet forums, babyhopes wrote:
At 10 am, I NCd [nose-clipped] a cup of milk, coffee and 2 small spoons of butter (I really like the anti-depressant effects of butter so I am making it part of my breakfast every day)
I noticed something similar the first time I ate a lot of butter (about 60 g). It was at lunch. A few hours later I felt a pleasant warm feeling in my head. The butter was the only unusual thing I had eaten.
When I googled “butter antidepressant” the first result was this blog — I wrote about this three years ago. Well, here is new evidence.
Thanks to Anne Weiss and Dave Lull.
A German study published in 2001 measured the effect of starkly different breakfasts (all fat, all protein, or all carbohydrate) on cognition during the next hours. Participants (17 men in their 20s) ate the same packaged dinner at home and next morning came to the lab and ate different breakfasts. All of the breakfasts were “cream-like” and all contained 400 calories. The design was relatively sophisticated. Practice effects were reduced by giving considerable practice with the tests before the main measurements began. Brain tests included a simple reaction time task, a choice reaction time task, and a “combi-test” in which the subject does two things at once that provides six measures of performance. One set of tests took 15 minutes. The tests were done once/hour for 3 hours after the breakfast.
The simple reaction time test showed no difference between the breakfasts. The choice reaction time test and the combi-test did show differences: The all-fat breakfast was better. The improvement produced by the fat breakfast compared to the other two breakfasts was clearest about two hours after the breakfast.
EMG (brainwave) measurements showed no differences between the breakfasts.
These results agreed with previous work.
Cunliffe et al. (1997) reported that a pure fat meal did not increase reaction times in contrast to carbohydrate ingestion when measured hourly for 4 h after the meal. In our study, fat ingestion even improved reaction times compared with baseline. Our subjects scored best for all tasks of the combi-test after the fat meal. This finding is in line with the higher accuracy of a focused attention task after a high-fat meal compared with a low-fat meal reported by others (Smith et al. 1994).
The “fat” breakfast in this study was 25% soybean oil (high in omega-6), 25% palm oil (high in saturated fats) and 50% cream (high in saturated fats). I have not compared omega-6 to nothing but I suspect it would produce worse results, given that olive oil appears worse than nothing. So I suspect that the improvement due to fat was due to the palm oil and cream. I concluded, based on evidence that I and others collected, that butter (high in saturated fats) improves arithmetic speed. I usually ate 30 g (= 2 tablespoons = 270 calories) of butter twice/day. Close to the dosage of this experiment. The timing of the effects I saw (sharp improvement from one day to the next) is consistent with a change that happens within 2 hours.
These results, which I didn’t know about until recently, support my earlier conclusions about butter. My measurements cost almost nothing whereas this experiment must have cost thousands of dollars ($400/subject?) plus hundreds of hours of researcher time. Maybe I should compare cream and butter. Cream has advantages. Mark Frauenfelder suggested using cream to make yogurt. Superfood!
A more recent study found saturated fat consumption correlated with cognitive decline. It was a survey, however, with many differences between the groups being compared. I trust experimental evidence much more than survey evidence.
The New York Times recently ran a story about a 107-year-old woman named Juliana Koo, who lives in New York City. Her longevity secrets are remarkably close to what I say on this blog:
“Somebody asked her the secret of long life,” said Ying-Ying Yuan, a step-granddaughter of Mrs. Koo. “She said, ‘No exercise, eat as much butter as you like and never look backwards.’”
Shirley Young said her mother also likes pork bellies, “especially the hot part, but she doesn’t overdo anything.”
“And she doesn’t take any medicine,” she said. “When doctors give her medicine, she usually hides it, or when she takes something, she takes half a pill. People keep on giving her Chinese herbs, things like that. She never takes them.”
I found that butter made me faster at arithmetic. This contradicted the usual view that butter is unhealthy. However, there is plenty of evidence that the usual view is wrong. The latest issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition contains another example. An epidemiological article titled “Dietary intake of saturated fat by food source and incident cardiovascular disease: the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis” found a negative correlation between dairy fat and heart disease:
Although dietary recommendations have focused on restricting saturated fat (SF) consumption to reduce cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk, evidence from prospective studies has not supported a strong link between total SF intake and CVD events. . . . After adjustment for demographics, lifestyle, and dietary confounders, a higher intake of dairy SF was associated with lower CVD risk [HR (95% CI) for +5 g/d and +5% of energy from dairy SF: 0.79 (0.68, 0.92) and 0.62 (0.47, 0.82), respectively].
However, saturated fat from meat was associated with more heart disease:
In contrast, a higher intake of meat SF was associated with greater CVD risk [HR (95% CI) for +5 g/d and a +5% of energy from meat SF: 1.26 (1.02, 1.54) and 1.48 (0.98, 2.23), respectively].
It isn’t obvious how to explain the interaction (the direction of association of saturated fat depends on whether it is in dairy or meat). The authors conclude:
Associations of SF with health may depend on food-specific fatty acids or other nutrient constituents in foods that contain SF, in addition to SF
This recent article also questions the idea that dairy fat causes heart disease. One more reason to question conventional nutritional advice.
One day in 2009, I ate a large amount of pork belly (very high in fat — pork belly is the cut used to make bacon). That night I slept an unusually long time. The next day I had more energy than usual. This led me to do an experiment in which I ate a pork belly meal (with lots of pork belly, about 250 g) on some days but not others. I compared my sleep after the two sorts of days. I kept constant the number of one-legged stands I did each day because that has an effect. During the first half of the experiment I kept this constant at 4; during the second half, at 2. I originally posted the results only from the first half.
Now I’ve analyzed the results from both halves. Here are ratings of how rested I felt when I woke up, on a scale where 0 = 0% = not rested at all and 100 = 100% = completely rested.
The two halves were essentially the same: pork belly produced a big improvement. Here are the results for sleep duration.
No clear effect of pork belly in either half of the experiment.
The main thing I learned was that pork fat really helps. The effect is remarkably clear. With micronutrients, such as Vitamin C, the body has considerable storage. It may take months without the nutrient to become noticeably deficient. With omega-3, which is between a micronutrient and a macronutrient, my experiments found that it takes about two days to start to see deficiency. With pork fat there seems to be no storage at all. I needed to eat lots of pork fat every day to get the best sleep. That repletion and depletion are fast made this experiment easy. How curious we are so often told animal fat is bad when an easy experiment shows it is good, at least for me.
- Correlation between fat intake and brain-test scores. “Those women who reported the highest saturated fat intake also had, on average, the worst scores on reasoning and memory tests.”
- How many iPads does it take to change a textbook market? A perfectly good physics textbook is now available for free download (pdf). The author of the post, a physics professor at William and Mary named Marc Sher, does not understand what’s going on when he refers to “the textbook publishers’ price-gouging monopoly” and their “outrageous practices”. Textbooks cost so much because students can be forced to pay that much. This has nothing to do with publishers, I submit, and everything to do with the power professors have over students. Sher would reply: All the textbooks are expensive. And I say: So what? If students could choose not to buy $200 textbooks, none would be sold. Zero. And future years would see no more $200 textbooks.
Thanks to Jonathan Graehl.
Patrick Tucker, an editor at The Futurist, posted a request on the Quantified Self Forums for “astounding” predictions based on self-quantification. He is writing a book about using data to make predictions.
Here are examples from my self-measurement:
1. Drinking sugar water causes weight loss. The self-quantification was measuring my weight. It began when I found a new way to lose weight, which pushed me to try to explain why it worked. The explanation I came up with — a new theory of weight control — made two predictions that via self-experimentation I found to be true. That gave me faith in the theory. Then the theory suggested a really surprising conclusion, that loss of appetite during a trip to Paris was due to the sugar-sweetened soft drinks I had been drinking. If so, drinking sugar water should cause weight loss. (The nearly-universal belief is that sugar causes weight gain, of course.) I tested this prediction and it was true. More.
2. Seeing faces in the morning improves mood the next day (but not the same day). This is so surprising I’ll spell it out: Seeing faces Monday morning improves my mood on Tuesday but not Monday. For years I measured my sleep trying to reduce early awakening. Finally I figured out that not eating breakfast helped. There was no breakfast during the Stone Age; this led me to take seriously the idea that other non-Stone-Age aspects of my life were also hurting my sleep. That was one reason I decided to watch to watch a certain TV show one morning. It had no immediate effect. However, the next morning I woke up feeling great. Via self-measurement of mood, I determined it was the faces on TV that produced the effect, confirmed the effect many times, and learned what details of the situation (e.g., face size) controlled the effect. More.
3. One-legged standing improves sleep. Via self-measurement I determined that how much I stood during a day controlled how well I slept. If I stood a long time, I slept better. Ten years later I woke one day after having slept much better than usual. The previous day had been unusual in many ways. One of them was so tiny that at first I overlooked it: I had stood on one leg a few times. Just for a few minutes. Yet it turned out that it was the one-legged standing that had improved my sleep. Without the previous work on ordinary standing I would have ignored the one-legged standing — it seemed trivial.
4. Butter is healthy. I found that butter improved how fast I can do arithmetic problems. No doubt it improves brain function measured in other ways. Because the optimum nutrition for the brain will be close to the optimum nutrition for the rest of the body — at least, this is what I believe — I predict that butter will turn out to be healthy for my whole body, not just my brain.
5. Mainstream Vitamin D research is all messed up. Via self-measurement I confirmed Tara Grant’s conclusion that taking Vitamin D3 in the morning (rather than later) improved her sleep. It improved my sleep, too. When I had taken it at other times of day I had noticed nothing. Apparently the timing of Vitamin D — the time of day that you take it — matters enormously. Take it at the right time in the morning: obvious good effect. Take it late in the evening: obvious bad effect. Vitamin D researchers haven’t realized this. They have neither controlled when Vitamin D is taken (in experiments) nor measured when it is taken (in surveys). Because timing matters so much it is as if they have done their research failing to control or measure dose. If you fail to control/measure dose, whatever conclusion you reach (good/no effect/bad) depends entirely on what dose your subjects happened to take. And you have no idea what dose that is.
This is me a few days ago. I did a choice reaction time task many times. Each dot is a session with enough trials to supply 32 correct answers.The y axis is in “percentile” units, meaning speed relative to recent performance. If my speed was at the average of recent performance, the percentile would be 50, for example. Higher percentiles = better performance = faster (shorter reaction time). Each point is a mean; the vertical bars are standard errors. The dotted line is the median of the means.
The graph shows that Friday afternoon I was suddenly unusually slow. After dinner, I returned to normal. A change from 60%ile to 20%ile to 60%ile resembles an IQ change from 105 to 87 to 105 (an 18-point change).
At the same time accuracy was roughly constant:
Because accuracy was roughly constant, the change in speed was not due to a shift on a speed-accuracy tradeoff function.
There are two puzzles here. 1. Why were my scores low Friday afternoon? 2. Why did they recover after dinner? On Friday I didn’t feel well. As a result, I didn’t eat much. Maybe my blood sugar was lower than usual. I usually eat 30 g butter twice/day. On Friday I didn’t have any. At dinner I did have moderate amounts of pork fat (but not butter) and sugar (in lemon citron tea). Friday 6 pm I had a cup of black tea. Although I haven’t noticed effects of tea on these scores, there’s a first time for everything.
Here is a clue to what makes my brain work well (= fast), I conclude. Butter causes sudden improvement, I have found; which makes it plausible that lack of butter (and other animal fat) could cause sudden degradation. Another possibility was that my blood sugar was low Friday afternoon. (I didn’t think of this at the time, and didn’t measure it.) I’m surprised that something as important as brain function would be as fragile as these results imply. When various nutrient deficiencies are studied with conventional measures, it generally takes weeks or months without the nutrient for the bad effects to become apparent. It takes many weeks without Vitamin C to get scurvy, for example.
These results raise the intriguing possibility that everyone has sudden ups and downs in brain function and that these ups and downs can be detected at high signal/noise ratios. If so, we can use these ups and downs to learn how to make our brains work well. These results also imply — because my choice reaction time test required only a laptop — that anyone can detect them, study them, and learn what causes them. No experts needed. What a change that would be.
More: Greg used Kerrygold butter in the results given below. I now see that he omitted data from other butters that did not agree with his conclusions. This makes his results considerably more doubtful and his whole post (in which Kerrygold butter is called “butter”) misleading. I have changed the title of this post to reflect this.
A New York lawyer named Greg reports remarkably clear evidence about the effect of butter on blood lipid levels: It improved them. For a few years he measured his HDL and LDL regularly with a home cholesterol device. For unrelated reasons, he started eating more butter. He ate a half stick (about 60 g)/day, like me. Here’s what happened. Continue reading “Does Kerrygold Butter Improve HDL and LDL?”