Is Vegan Butter Healthy? Plant-Based Butter 101
Published by Dr. Venn-Watson
Dr. Eric Venn-Watson’s Highlights
- We tend to think of all vegan products as healthy, but vegan products can actually be highly processed and full of artificial ingredients.
- Vegan butter is one of these products, often including high amounts of salt, preservatives, and artificial flavoring. Additionally, it doesn’t include the essential fatty acids that you find in full fat dairy butter.
- If you do end up choosing vegan butter, you can still get the necessary C15:0 by taking a supplement like fatty15, which will help support cellular health.
We tend to think of the term “vegan” as a synonym for healthy. Excluding animal products, high-fat dairy products and increasing our intake of fruits and vegetables seems like a no-brainer for increasing our overall health. Any registered dietitian can tell you that the standard American diet is almost completely void of fruit and very limited on vegetables. Increasing these ingredients seems like the logical process of switching to a plant-based diet.
The benefits of a vegan diet can include:
- A lowered risk of heart disease
- Weight loss and healthy weight maintenance
- A potentially lowered risk from certain cancers
Unfortunately, becoming vegan does not automatically cause you to become “healthy.” In fact, it is entirely possible to be unhealthy as a vegan. Critics of veganism often point out that many products created for vegans as substitutes for traditional meat and dairy are:
- Highly processed
- Full of artificial ingredients
- Heavy on refined carbohydrates and sugar
- Lacking many nutritional benefits
Because of our natural tendency to associate veganism and vegan products with an improvement to our health, we are sometimes misled by cleverly marketed products that don’t actually provide any health benefit to us, a practice now dubbed “greenwashing.”
A great example of this is a dairy-free cookie. Many dairy-free cookies are “accidentally vegan.” In other words, they weren’t created as a specifically vegan product; however, the absence of any animal product or byproduct in them makes them vegan by default. A cookie heavily laden with vegetable fat, sugar, artificial colors and flavors wouldn’t be considered nutritious.
However, you’ll see these same cookies being rebranded as part of a plant-based diet. The natural assumption is that anything “plant-based” must be the healthiest option and that all plant-based products and plant-based foods are naturally better for us. Unfortunately, that’s simply not the case.
The same is true for vegan butter substitutes. Just because a vegan butter substitute is marketed as vegan does not mean it’s actually good for you, even though the label says it is plant-based and has lots of pictures of leaves.
For a product to be considered vegan, it simply has to contain no animal products or byproducts. Refined sugar does not contain any animal products or byproducts, but you will be hard-pressed to prove that getting your carbs from table sugar is a health-conscious decision.
Many vegan butters contain ingredients that are questionable for one’s overall health. Popular vegan butter substitutes often include:
- Artificial colors
- Artificial flavors
If those sound eerily similar to the contents of margarine, you’re onto something. Margarine, like plant butter, is made from a type of vegetable oil (shortening), and a myriad of other ingredients to give it the same flavor of a buttery spread.
Additionally, there are some health benefits of full-fat dairy butter that you will not receive if you are eating plant-based butter.
For example, C15:0 (also called pentadecanoic acid) is a natural odd-chain saturated fatty acid found primarily in whole milk and full-fat butter, and a growing body of scientific evidence supports that it is actually nutritious and beneficial to our cellular health.*† So beneficial, in fact, that it is now widely accepted as the first essential fatty acid to have been discovered in more than 90 years. The first essential fatty acids, the omegas, have long reigned as the best fatty acid supplement to support heart health, but now, science is challenging that belief.
Although vegan butter may not contain C15:0, getting C15:0 directly from whole-fat butter may not be the best option for you. This is because full-fat dairy products like butter contain another type of saturated fatty acid, called even-chain saturated fatty acids (like C16:0), that have been associated with an increased risk of inflammation, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.
Thankfully there is a way to get healthy, non-animal-based C15:0 in your diet while still using a vegan butter alternative.
First, let’s dissect vegan butter to determine whether it’s actually beneficial to your health. Then, we’ll talk about how to get C15:0 into your diet and discuss the health benefits of making sure you add it to your health stack.
Nutritional Content of Vegan Butter
Calories. In terms of calories, vegan butter is quite similar to regular full-fat butter. Weighing in at about 100 calories per tablespoon, it is on par with regular butter. You would be hard-pressed to find a vegan butter that contains fewer calories, as vegan butters are typically derived from plant-based oils(like coconut oil, olive oil, or palm oil), which are typically higher in fat.
Cholesterol. Cholesterol is a different story. A tablespoon of regular butter contains approximately 30 mg of cholesterol, whereas vegan butter does not contain any cholesterol. Cholesterol is only found in animal products and animal byproducts, so you won’t find it in any vegan butter option. The exclusion of cholesterol from the ingredient list, however, does not give plant-based butter brands an immediate seat at the heart health table. Healthy cholesterol levels are supported by many factors, not just the inclusion of one cholesterol-free product.
Fat. While the fat content across different brands and types of vegan butters can vary slightly, most vegan butters will contain around the same amount of total fat as regular butter. This is usually between 10 to 12 grams per tablespoon. The difference in terms of fat content is the source of the fat.
Monounsaturated fat. Vegan butter is high in monounsaturated fat, which has been linked to positive health benefits. Regular butter contains primarily saturated fat over monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fat.
Vegan butters also contain amounts of polyunsaturated fats commonly known as omega-6 fatty acids. While these fatty acids are essential, meaning our bodies need them and cannot make them on their own, getting too much omega-6 in your diet has been associated with undesirable health conditions. Most Americans get plenty of omega-6 in their diets, so it isn’t necessary to supplement or actively seek ways to get more unless your healthcare provider has instructed you to do so.
Vegan butter is lower in saturated fat; however, it is important to remember that not all saturated fats are bad. Unfortunately, the saturated fat contained in regular butter is a mix of both good odd-chain and bad even-chain saturated fatty acids.
Vegan butter doesn’t contain trans fats. Trans fats are fats that are made by converting unsaturated fats that are liquid at room temperature to solids. They’re continually associated with undesirable health conditions and are usually found in pre-packaged convenience foods and snacks. Dairy butter contains a trace amount of trans fat.
As previously mentioned, one of the downsides of food created especially for vegans is the potential risk of it being highly processed. The problem with overly processed foods is that they can lose much of their nutritious profile During processing. This is the difference between items that are considered whole foods and items that have been processed.
Whole foods are as close to their original state as possible. Whole foods retain nutrients, vitamins, minerals, and fibers that our bodies need to thrive. Once food is processed, it loses many of these healthful benefits and is replaced with unhealthy options or simply left void of nutrients altogether.
Additionally, it is pretty common for vegan butters, in particular, to include artificial colors, flavors, and a myriad of preservatives. In addition to being ingredients that you just don’t want to see in your food, highly processed ingredients typically don’t add health benefits to your body.
This creates empty calories when every calorie we take into our bodies is important -- and should provide some type of nutritional benefit. Taking in excess calories that don’t provide nutritional value can lead to weight gain and undesirable health conditions.
We’ve already discussed that vegan butter:
- Can contain highly processed ingredients devoid of nutritional value; and
- Can contain a higher amount of omega-6 fatty acids than you actually need.
Additional considerations when opting for a vegan butter alternative are:
- High sodium content. The sodium content of 1 tablespoon of regular butter is 2 milligrams compared to approximately 120 milligrams of sodium in vegan butter.
- Inclusion of refined oils. Many vegan butters contain refined oils, which could be linked to negative health impacts, like inflammation.
- Higher price. Although this isn’t a health concern, it could certainly be viewed as an important consideration. When we purchase food, we are essentially making an investment in our health. That money is either going to buy products that either provide significant nutritional benefits to our diets or don’t. Vegan butter may not provide enough nutrients to be worth the high price tag that comes along with them.
Additionally, by switching to vegan butter from real butter, you’ll miss out on the health benefits of one really important type of fat: C15:0.
How To Get C15:0 With Vegan Butter
If lactose allergies or dietary restrictions have you considering vegan butter as an alternative to full-fat butter, you should know you can still get the same health benefit from C15:0 without eating regular butter. Not sure you need the benefits? Let’s take a look at what this little fatty acid has to offer.
Health Benefits of C15:0
C15:0 was discovered by a husband and wife team of scientists researching longevity in two populations of dolphins. One population that had access to a particular type of fish had less age-related illness than the other population. Those fish contained C15:0, which led the team to further their studies and publish their results.
What they found? C15:0 helps improve your ability to age healthfully by reversing cellular aging by:
- Strengthening cellular membranes. As we age, the protective membranes around our cells weaken. C15:0 is a sturdy fatty acid (solid at room temperature) that integrates itself into cell membranes and improves cellular strength by 80%.
- Improving mitochondrial function. Aging cells have aging mitochondria. The mitochondria are responsible for powering the cells so they can carry out cellular functions. C15:0 helps restore energy pathways by repairing mitochondria and improving their function by 45%.
- Increasing ATP levels. ATP is energy currency. It’s what your cells need for power. In one study, C15:0 was shown to increase ATP levels in cells by 350%.
- Activating AMPK. AMPK is a molecule our bodies use to regulate homeostatic functions like glucose uptake and immunity. It also helps clear damaged cells. C15:0 activates AMPK in the body, helping bring back balance to these functions and ensuring damaged cells are cleared.
- Regulating inflammatory response. Proinflammatory cytokines are associated with aging. C15:0 significantly calms and lowers levels of these molecules in our bodies.
- Activating PPARɑ and PPARẟ receptors. These receptors are involved with metabolic, immune, heart and liver function, and also regulate activities like mood and sleep. C15:0 activates these receptors helping restore proper balance and function.
Adding C15:0 to your diet is one of the best decisions you can make to support your body as you age. It can help ensure you don’t just age; you thrive.
Because C15:0 is only found in trace amounts primarily in whole-fat dairy products, we created a solution.
Fatty15: Your Cells’ New Best Friend
Fatty15 is a daily supplement that contains only FA15™, the pure powder, sustainably produced, vegan-friendly, and award winning form of C15:0.
Fatty15 is an effective way to provide support to your cells and improve your overall health profile, and has been linked to:*†
- Balanced immunity
- Healthy metabolism
- Red blood cell health
- Liver health
Fatty15 provides a daily dose of this healthy fatty acid, so no matter what type of butter you consume, your cells will still get the support they need to stay healthy and strong.*† Fatty15 supports your cellular health specifically by promoting cellular membrane structure, bolstering mitochondrial health, and balancing your immunity and metabolism.*†
Fatty15 is also a vegan-friendly product and completely sustainable, from our single ingredient to our refillable glass bottle to the bamboo cap. We ship our initial product and refill pouches in a three-month supply to cut down on packaging and shipping. It’s important to us that our desire to take care of our bodies does not negatively impact the environment or increase our carbon footprint.
Cashew Butter, Vegan Butter, Or Dairy Butter?
Vegan butter doesn’t always equate to the healthiest option, and avoiding dairy butter may not be the best fit for your lifestyle or diet. Vegan butter is highly processed and usually contains ingredients that don’t have any health benefits or might not be a healthy choice.
Dairy butter isn’t as highly processed, but it does include some types of fat that aren’t good for you.
No matter what type of butter you choose to spread on your toast, take advantage of fatty15 and all its benefits to ensure your cells get the support they need to keep you healthy and help you age on your own terms.*†
In addition to eating a balanced diet and getting plenty of exercise, adding fatty15 to your health stack is a decision you can trust for helping you reach your goals. The best news? The only known side effect of taking fatty15 is decreased snacking between meals. We’d say that’s more of a health benefit than a health detriment.
Eric Venn-Watson M.D.
Senior Scientist, Co-Founder
Eric is a physician, U.S. Navy veteran, and Co-founder and COO of Seraphina Therapeutics. Eric served over 25 years as a Navy and Marine Corps physician, working with the special forces community to improve their health and fitness. Seraphina Therapeutics is a health and wellness company dedicated to advancing global health through the discovery of essential fatty acids and micronutrient therapeutics.
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