Is butter healthier than we thought?
Eating a regular amount of butter with your food may not be as unhealthy as previously thought, at least according to a recent study from Tufts University in Boston, Massachusetts.
Researchers conducted a meta-analysis of nine health studies involving over 630,000 participants to find that butter consumption was not associated with cardiovascular disease, had slightly protective properties concerned diabetes and was weakly associated with total mortality.
“Our findings do not support a need for major emphasis in dietary guidelines on butter consumption in comparison to other better established dietary priorities,” say the study’s authors whose work is published in the scientific journal Plos One. “It suggests a major focus on eating more or less butter, by itself, may not be linked to large differences in mortality, cardiovascular disease, or diabetes.”
Long identified as a dietary no-no for its high saturated fat content, high calories and links to elevated LDL cholesterol levels, butter is now undergoing a bit of a renaissance due in part to a new approach to nutrition, one which questions the value of focusing on isolated markers such as calorie counts and grams of fat and rather emphasizes the importance of eating whole foods with little or not processing or refining.
This new perspective indicates that the relationship between food and healthy living is a lot more complex than previously understood, say the study’s authors, who point to the complicated nature of dairy products as an example of the trend. There is growing evidence, for example, that products like yogurt and cheese may have beneficial effects on type 2 diabetes, likely due to the ways they interact with the body’s systems -producing greater insulin sensitivity and promoting healthier bacterial composition, for instance – so as to offset the seemingly negative impacts of dairy’s high fat content.
“These results suggest that health effects of butter should be considered against the alternative choice,” say the authors. “For instance, butter may be a more healthful choice than the white bread or potato on which it is commonly spread.”
In the spirit of the new trend acknowledging the overall complexities of food and nutrition, the authors offer caution in interpreting their results.
“More research is needed to better understand the observed potential lower risk of diabetes, which has also been suggested in some other studies of dairy fat,” says Dariush Mozaffarian, Dean of The Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts and co-author of the paper. “This could be real, or due to other factors linked to eating butter -our study does not prove cause-and- effect.”
The Canada Food Guide recommends eating a small amount of unsaturated fat in your diet and limiting the amount of saturated and trans fats, while the Heart and Stroke Foundation states that the role of saturated consumption in a healthy lifestyle is at this point “not clear,” but that emerging evidence “suggests that saturated fats might affect your health differently depending on the food source of the saturated fat.”
Heart and Stroke recommends avoiding highly processed foods since these are a major source of saturated fats in Canadian diets.