Saturated fats–like butter–are getting a lot more love these days than they did twenty years ago, but is butter healthy?
The answer: Butter is probably not as bad as we once thought, but we should still limit our intake.
Trans fats, butter substitutes, and Omega-6 seed oils can definitely have detrimental effects on your health, so stay far away!
If I asked the question, “Is butter delicious?” I’m pretty sure the answer would be a resounding YES! When the word “healthy” is attached to butter, on the other hand, you may pause for a moment before giving a more hesitant answer. Is butter healthy? Let’s all get on the same page…
Poor ol’ butter is a saturated fat, and saturated fats have been demonized since the ’70s…
That’s right. According to Aseem Malhotra in his British Medical Journal review titled “Saturated fat is not the major issue”:
Scientists universally accept that trans fats—found in many fast foods, bakery products, and margarines—increase the risk of cardiovascular disease through inflammatory processes. But “saturated fat” is another story. The mantra that saturated fat must be removed to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease has dominated dietary advice and guidelines for almost four decades.
Yet scientific evidence shows that this advice has, paradoxically, increased our cardiovascular risks. Furthermore, the government’s obsession with levels of total cholesterol, which has led to the overmedication of millions of people with statins, has diverted our attention from the more egregious risk factor of atherogenic dyslipidaemia [one of the metabolic abnormalities that defines metabolic syndrome, the group of cardiovascular risk factors often linked to obesity].
Saturated fat has been demonised ever since Ancel Keys’s landmark “seven countries” study in 1970. This concluded that a correlation existed between the incidence of coronary heart disease and total cholesterol concentrations, which then correlated with the proportion of energy provided by saturated fat. But correlation is not causation. Nevertheless, we were advised to cut fat intake to 30% of total energy and saturated fat to 10%.”
Further, Nina Teicholz, investigative journalist and author of The Big Fat Surprise, writes:
It’s still possible that a very large, long-term clinical trial could ultimately demonstrate that saturated fats cause cardiovascular death, or even premature heart attacks. And it may be prudent to restrict the consumption of coconut oil or meat for reasons that have nothing to do with saturated fats. But over the last half century, the diet-heart hypothesis has been tested more than any other in the history of nutrition, and thus far, the results have been null. If the AHA were to fully reckon with this evidence, it would be backing away from its guilty verdict on these fats. Lacking the evidence to convict, the right thing to do is acquit.
Thus, it is safe to say that our demonization of saturated fat was unwarranted. Let’s move on…
Even though butter may be okay to eat, aren’t margarine and other butter substitutes still better?
Real butter (keyword “real”–don’t buy the kinds with added “natural” flavors or preservatives!) contains milk and salt.
The popular Land O’Lakes margarine sticks contain the following:
- Vegetable Oil Blend (palm Oil, Palm Kernel Oil)
- Soybean Oil
- Contains Less Than 2% Of Salt
- Potassium Sorbate (to Preserve Freshness)
- Soy Lecithin And Mono And Diglycerides (emulsifiers)
- Lactic Acid
- Natural And Artificial Flavor
- Vitamin A Palmitate, Beta-Carotene (color)
That list essentially translates to…
- Bad-for-you vegetable oil
- More bad-for you vegetable oil
- Water = good
- Buttermilk = fine
- Salt = also fine
However, the packaging makes a lot of promising claims, like “0g Trans Fat” and “Still Great Baking Results.” Don’t be fooled!
Think about it: Why did margarine come into existence in the first place? Because we were told real butter, aka a type of saturated fat, was bad for us! Now that we know it’s not as bad as we were told, there is absolutely no need to buy a chemical-laden substitute!
So, butter is fine to eat–and it’s better than its toxin-filled substitutes–but it is healthy?
Max Lugavere, author of Genius Foods, wrote this succinct and informative article on the topic. In it, he explains that you should not just throw caution to the wind and eat saturated fats with abandon, especially if you fall into one or more of the following categories:
You haven’t cut out sugar and other sources of concentrated carbohydrates
- You have genetically high cholesterol
- You’re afraid of fiber
- You possess the ApoE4 allele (the protein ApoE4 has been linked to late onset Alzheimer’s disease)
- Your cholesterol gets higher on any form of a low-carb, high-fat diet
Even if you fall into one of those categories, it doesn’t mean you should run straight for the margarine. However, it may mean that you should prioritize monounsaturated fats–like olive and avocado oils–and take it easy on the butter. Whatever you do, don’t stock up on Omega-6 seed oils–like canola, sunflower, and palm–because those come with their own share of health issues!
The bottom line: We should stop villainizing butter and start villainizing toxic butter replacements and seed oils instead; at the same time, we shouldn’t consider butter a “health” food.
We should also recognize that the mediums we use to consume butter are not created equally, i.e., it’s better to use butter when cooking meat or vegetables, not on refined carbs like muffins and toast.
The next time you pan fry eggs or veggies, feel free to throw some grass-fed butter into the pan…just don’t go too crazy. Your taste buds will thank you, and your heart probably won’t hold it against you.
Did you learn something new in this post? Do you have a question or comment? I’d love to hear from you!
In each blog post, I aim to bring you food for thought (pun intended. Note: my day job is teaching English), but don’t take my word for it! Click on and read all of the links above to become your own expert on this topic; knowledge is power. The more you know and understand the “why” behind each biohack, the easier it will be to stick to it and realize you can’t live without it!