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Is Butter Better? Why Butter is Back with a Bullet!

Butter has been vilified for many years but a new study says butter is not bad for your heart and may actually be beneficial against diabetes. How come?

For decades and decades we were told that we had to avoid saturated fat. Cream in our coffee, butter on our bread and cream cheese on our bagel were considered sinful because such foods were supposed to clog our arteries, cause heart attacks and lead to premature death. How good was the evidence for these dietary dogmas? Is there reason to believe that dairy products in general, and full-fat dairy in particular, could be beneficial?

Is Butter Back?

Butter should no longer be demonized. That is the conclusion of a new study from researchers at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University. The title of their article in PLOS ONE (June 29, 2016) was titled:  

“Is Butter Back? A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Butter Consumption and Risk of Cardiovascular Disease, Diabetes, and Total Mortality”

The investigators reviewed nine studies involving over 600,000 subjects in 15 countries. They were able to assess butter consumption, which ranged from one-third of a tablespoon to roughly three tablespoons daily. They also analyzed the data to see whether butter increased the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and death.

Perhaps surprisingly, there was no association between butter consumption and heart disease. If anything, butter seemed to reduce the risk of diabetes marginally. We can’t make cause and effect inferences from this analysis, but it does suggest that butter may be more neutral in its consequences for health than its reputation implies.

These findings are consistent with those of the Minnesota Coronary Experiment. Although that study was conducted between 1968 and 1973 the results were recently published in the BMJ and discussed in depth in this article. They showed lower cardiovascular mortality among people getting more saturated fat compared to vegetable oil. During the days of this randomized, controlled trial, butter was the more common bread spread in the control group. Those on the vegetable oil, low-saturated fat diet were likely getting margarine.

The authors of the new PLOS ONE study published June 29, 2016 point out that:

“Current dietary recommendations on butter and dairy fat are largely based upon predicted effects of specific individual nutrients (e.g., total saturated fat, calcium), rather than actual observed health effects…

“A meta-analysis evaluating dairy consumption and CVD [cardiovascular disease] found no association between butter consumption and stroke or CHD [coronary heart disease]…”

Our results suggest relatively small or neutral overall associations of butter with mortality, CVD, and diabetes. These findings should be considered against clear harmful effects of refined grains, starches, and sugars on CVD and diabetes; and corresponding benefits of fruits, nuts, legumes, n-6 rich vegetable oils, and possibly other foods such as fish on these endpoints. In sum, these results suggest that health effects of butter should be considered against the alternative choice.”

The Bottom Line on Butter:

The leadership of the nutrition establishment is not likely to give up its treasured belief in the badness of butter any time soon. It is hard to admit you might have been wrong for so long. But there is growing evidence that full fat dairy is not the great dietary demon we were once told. If anything, full fat milk, yogurt and other products may be better than the low-fat/no-fat alternatives.

As the authors point out above, many of the old dietary recommendations were based on beliefs rather than data. That is why we were told to avoid nuts, avocados, eggs and shrimp. Such prohibitions are now known to be flat out wrong. Perhaps the new butter study will encourage some of the diet dictocrats to rethink their advice and open their minds to the new scientific evidence.

Read more about the saturated fat flip flop in this article.

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.”.
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