Celebrity chef Paula Deen might have backed off the butter, but the Weston A. Price Foundation still maintains that it's the foundation of a healthy diet.
Named for the research of nutrition pioneer Dr. Weston Price, the foundation also recommends that consumers eat grass-fed meat, full-fat unpasteurized milk, eggs and organic vegetables. Organ meats, suet and lard are all OK'd by the Price Foundation, too.
The Price foundation is well known in some states, but it is struggling to gain a foothold in Kentucky. Sally O'Boyle, left, of Winchester is trying to change that.
O'Boyle used to run an aerobics studio in Key West and would oversee as many as 11 classes a day.
"Fat was the devil then," she says, adding that she works out a couple of times a week now.
When the family moved to Costa Rica, "We went to an ice cream store, and there was a brochure on the table saying, 'Butter is a superfood' from the Weston A. Price Foundation."
O'Boyle's curiosity was piqued, especially after a bout of pneumonia left her wondering whether her previous "healthy habits" weren't shielding her from illness.
"I obviously wasn't as healthy as I thought I was," she said. "Everything I've read about the Price Foundation fits into my body, fits into my instincts."
The Price Foundation doesn't say that its adherents should eat foods with higher levels of fat just because they taste good. They maintain that the fats are essential to proper functioning of the nervous system and the brain, as well as immunity. Founded in 1999, the nonprofit foundation works to disseminate the research of Price, a dentist, who researched the relationship between diet and health. He died in 1948.
O'Boyle presides over a family for which bacon, eggs and cheese is a typical breakfast. Her husband and sons, 20 and 21, might eat Häagen Dazs ice cream as an evening snack.
And they all feel fine.
The foundation holds in contempt junk food and fast food. They believe in locally grown vegetables and prefer locally grown, grass-fed meat and filtered water.
"We stopped being afraid of meats," O'Boyle said. "I sought out raw milk because one of my sons had asthma."
She credits the raw milk with helping the dramatic improvement in her son's asthma.
O'Boyle, who runs a small buying club, said consumers have become used to selecting from whatever grocery stores find it most convenient to offer.
"If everybody around here started demanding grass-fed meat, farmers would produce it," she said. "The movement is to return us to our food. We're returning to our ancestral foods."
But the Weston Price Foundation does not take into account the sedentary lifestyles that most people now live, said Hazel Forsythe, associate professor in the department of dietetics and human nutrition at the University of Kentucky.
"Butter, cream and unpasteurized milk, we've been talking about keeping away from those for the longest time," she said.
Butter in moderation is not a particular danger, she said, with an otherwise well-balanced diet. Nonetheless, limiting saturated fats is important, "because saturated fats are more likely to plug the arteries."
The Price Foundation is correct in its emphasis about buying food that's grown close to home and as close to fresh as possible, Forsythe said. But promoting unpasteurized milk, which can be a source of harmful bacteria, is not a battle that needs to be fought again, she said.
Advocates of pasteurization argue that the process kills harmful bacteria including tuberculosis, listeriosis, brucellosis, salmonellosis and other foodborne illnesses. Those who favor drinking raw milk contend that the pasteurization process robs the milk of valuable nutrients.
Michael Pollan, who writes about food issues in books including The Omnivore's Dilemma, commented about the Price foundation in an interview with Mother Jones magazine.
He said Price group members "are fierce in their love of animal fat. And a lot of what they say is right, but they really don't like plants. People feel like they have to take sides on this plant/animal divide, and I don't think we do."
Pollan's well-known food mantra is "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."
Geza Bruckner, professor in the clinical nutrition division at UK, said the Price diet advocates "are really not advocating anything too wild here. ... This is not too different from the Atkins diet. This would be a higher-protein, lower-carb diet."
He disagrees with urging the drinking of unpasteurized milk: "I think it's kind of dangerous to advocate that."
And he's fine with the Price preferences for cod liver oil, fruits and vegetables, whole grains and butter, but Bruckner said butter consumption should be moderate. He agrees with the Price diet's emphasis on natural sweeteners used in moderation and minimizing the intake of sugars, "which I'm very much in favor of."
O'Boyle said the Weston Price diet has changed the way she looks at the role of fat in eating for good.
"Now I wouldn't eat lean beef," she said. "I need the fat. We need fats to think."
Some of the dietary guidelines for the Weston Price Foundation
■ Eat whole, natural foods.
■ Eat only foods that will spoil, but eat them before they do.
■ Eat naturally raised meat including fish, seafood, poultry, beef, lamb, game, organ meats and eggs.
■ Eat whole, naturally produced milk products from pasture-fed cows, preferably raw and/or fermented, such as whole yogurt, cultured butter, whole cheeses and fresh and sour cream.
■ Use only traditional fats and oils, including butter and other animal fats, extra-virgin olive oil, expeller expressed sesame and flax oil, and the tropical oils — coconut and palm.
■ Eat fresh fruits and vegetables, preferably organic, in salads and soups, or lightly steamed.
■ Use whole grains and nuts that have been prepared by soaking, sprouting or sour leavening to neutralize phytic acid and other anti-nutrients.
■ Include enzyme-enhanced lacto-fermented vegetables, fruits, beverages and condiments in your diet on a regular basis.
■ Prepare homemade meat stocks from the bones of chicken, beef, lamb or fish, and use liberally in soups and sauces.
■ Use herb teas and coffee substitutes in moderation.
Lexington-area Weston Price foundation chapter contact: Sally O'Boyle, (859) 940-1469, email@example.com. O'Boyle holds meetings in Lexington and Winchester related to Weston Price principles and introduces newcomers to the Price diet. She also helps run a small trading operation for Price-related foodstuffs.