Is butter bad for you?
Dairy foods such as butter are near and dear to our Midwestern hearts. Now, thanks to one study, we’ve found we can enjoy a little butter and maintain a healthy heart.
We’re not saying go out and eat a lot of butter. Researchers have found that it isn’t public health enemy number one, but it’s not a health food, either. While the research didn’t find butter to be beneficial, eating butter in moderation doesn’t appear to increase risk for heart disease like we once thought.
The researchers also found that butter is more healthful than sugar or the starches found in white bread and potatoes that often are served with butter. Imagine a scale of one to 10, where the most healthful foods are at 10. Foods and beverages high in added sugars and white starchy foods would be a one, and non-starchy vegetables like leafy greens and broccoli would be a 10. Butter is neutral at five.
To reach the conclusions, the researchers conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis. They examined nine studies that included 636,000 participants. The participants’ average daily butter consumption ranged from one-third of a serving to a little more than three servings. A serving is about one tablespoon.
In four of the studies reviewed, people who included butter in their daily diet had 4 percent lower risk for type 2 diabetes. This finding, however, needs to be confirmed by further research. The possible shift in risk could partly be because dairy fat contains monounsaturated fats that can improve blood sugar and insulin sensitivity.
It’s important to note that none of the studies were randomized controlled studies — only observational in nature. This means researchers were unable to prove any cause-and-effect relationship between butter consumption and health outcomes. Researchers have noted that individuals who eat more butter tend have less healthy diets and lifestyles overall, but butter consumption appeared to be neutral in the overall health picture.
If you had a feeling that there would be two sides to this story, you’re right. Butter may not increase the risk of heart disease, but it’s still a high-calorie food with little nutritional value.
Many non-hydrogenated margarines and cooking oils may be a better nutritional option than butter. Consider trying monounsaturated and omega-3 fat sources such as canola, flaxseed or extra virgin olive oils, which are all rich in healthy fats. These oils are better bets than butter or starches and sugars to reduce your risks for diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Other good sources of monounsaturated and omega-3 fats include avocados, salmon, almonds, walnuts and natural peanut/almond butters.
“All things in moderation” is a phrase that certainly applies to your potential butter use. Aim for a thumb’s worth or less per day, or save butter for special occasions like crab legs, lobster or shrimp scampi.
Bottom line: The priority is to aim for an overall healthy eating pattern that includes mostly whole foods, closest to their natural state, with a little room for foods like butter to enhance flavor.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans offer a wealth of information about nutrition. And the nutrition professionals at Advocate Aurora Health can help you make the best food choices for you and your family.
Heather Klug is a registered dietitian and cardiac educator at the Karen Yontz Women’s Cardiac Awareness Center inside Aurora St. Luke’s Medical Center in Milwaukee, WI.
About the Author
Heather Klug, MEd RD is a registered dietitian and cardiac educator at the Karen Yontz Women's Cardiac Awareness Center inside Aurora St. Luke's Medical Center in Milwaukee, WI.