An analysis by Tufts University researchers has failed to find a link between butter consumption and cardiovascular disease. And hallelujah to that — the ongoing hysteria against butter can now finally come to an end. Mmm, Hong Kong-style French toast. (Image:avlxyz/Flickr)
For years we've been told to reduce the amount of butter in our diets. Health guidelines, many of which have been around since the 1970s, have warned us about the dangers of eating food high in saturated fats, claiming — and often without merit — that they contribute to heart problems and other health issues. Increasingly, however, scientists are learning that saturated fats aren't the demons they have been made out to be.
A new study published in PLOS ONE is now bolstering this changing tide of opinion, showing there's no link between butter and chronic disease. This gigantic analysis — a meta-study that included a total of 636,151 individuals across 15 countries, and involving 6.5 million person-years of follow-up — showed no association between the consumption of butter and cardiovascular disease.
What the researchers did find, however, was that butter could be linked to a decrease — yes, a decrease — in a person's chance of developing diabetes. Each daily tablespoon of butter was linked to a four per cent lower risk of diabetes.
The downside is that researchers did connect butter with all-cause mortality, however. For each tablespoon of butter consumed each day, the researchers observed a one per cent increase in all-cause mortality risk, that is, death from any cause. The researchers suspect this connection is due to other factors; people who eat butter, for example, tend to have generally worse diets and lifestyles.
So does this mean we can start slathering butter on our toast and waffles with reckless abandon, and douse our popcorn in this golden syrup of deliciousness? Well, not quite. This study shows that butter on its own isn't a pure evil. But it shouldn't be considered a health food, either. As the researchers put it, butter is a kind of "middle-of-the-road" food. And as is often the case, it's the foods we put the butter on that's the problem.
Indeed, butter is healthier than sugar or starches like bread, which have been linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes. On the other hand, butter is worse than many margarines and cooking oils, such as those rich in healthy fats, like soybean, canola, flaxseed and extra virgin olive oils. Importantly, margarine made from trans fats should be avoided like the plague.
As study co-author Dariush Mozaffarian succinctly put it: "Overall, our results suggest that butter should neither be demonized nor considered 'back' as a route to good health."
Mozaffarian and his colleagues said further research is still required to understand why butter is connected to a lower risk of diabetes, but similar things have been observed in studies of dairy fat. This could imply that other factors are at play. As the researchers concede, '[Our] study does not prove cause-and-effect."