Butter Might Be Better for You than You Think

updated May 30, 2019
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Butter, in all its delicious glory, generally gets a bad rap. That’s largely due to the fact that butter is high in saturated fat — a single tablespoon has 7 grams of saturated fat, or 35 percent of the USDA’s daily recommended amount — and saturated fat has been linked to high cholesterol and increased risk of cardiovascular problems.

Since the 1960s, health experts, nutritionists, and scientists have been alerting the general public of the dangers of consuming too much butter. And many diners (the French excluded) have been running as far away from it as they can, using oils, spreads, and alterna-butters instead.

But new findings may change how we perceive this ingredient.

An Old Study, Revisited

The findings actually come from a new analysis of a 50-year-old unpublished study that compared butter and corn oil. The original researchers found switching from butter to corn oil lowers cholesterol, but has no other impact on heart attacks, deaths caused by heart attacks, or mortality overall.

The data from this study, conducted from 1968 to 1973 in Minnesota with 9,423 male and female subjects, was recently analyzed by researchers at University of North Carolina’s School of Medicine (UNC) and the National Institutes of Health.

While the findings are preliminary — in other words, don’t go buying butter in bulk and eating sticks of it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner — they suggest that cooking with butter may actually be better for you than cooking with corn oil (or any other type of oil containing lineoleic acid, including safflower oil, soybean oil, sunflower oil, and cottonseed oil). Specifically, their analysis, which was published in the British Medical Journal, found participants who consumed vegetable oil had a 22 percent greater likelihood of death.

“Altogether, this research leads us to conclude that incomplete publication of important data has contributed to the overestimation of benefits — and the underestimation of potential risks — of replacing saturated fat with vegetable oils rich in linoleic acid,” says Daisy Zamora, a researcher at UNC’s department of psychiatry, in a statement.

What It Means for You and Butter

What does this mean for your butter and vegetable oil intake? Nothing too significant. Like we said, don’t go binge-eating butter. The American Heart Association still recommends a diet to have 5 to 6 percent of calories from saturated fat, and investigators note more research needs to be done.

But it does add to the growing wealth of studies that say butter is misunderstood. Last year, a separate study published in the journal PLOS ONE found “no significant associations” between butter and heart health. For each extra daily tablespoon serving of butter, there was a 1 percent increased risk of death and — surprisingly — a 4 percent decreased risk of type 2 diabetes.

And let’s not forget that butter is a rich source of vitamins A, D, E, and K2 and contains high levels of conjugated linoleic acid and beta carotene.

What do you think? Will you incorporate more butter into your diet?