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Why Butter May Not Be Harmful

By Amy Gorin, MS, RDN

When it comes to topping pancakes, bread, and baked potatoes, I usually opt for plain Greek yogurt for pancakes and baked sweet potatoes, and olive oil (for bread). We’ve long heard that butter isn’t a healthful choice for us — but is that really the case?

Per tablespoon, butter contains almost 12 grams of fat and 7 grams saturated fat — and 5 SmartPoints® value. The same amount of olive oil has a little more fat (about 14 grams) but much less saturated fat, about 2 grams, and 4 SmartPoints value.

A recent meta-analysis and systematic review study in PLOS One  analyzed nine prospective studies of butter consumption, finding no association with heart disease and diabetes — and a very small one for all-cause mortality. What this suggests: Butter has a neutral  association with health, neither increasing nor decreasing risk for some diseases. While it’s not a healthful choice, in moderation it may not be harmful to your health. However, more research is needed to confirm this, including randomized trials.  

This is in contrast to foods that are associated with an increased risk of disease, such as refined grains possibly heightening heart disease risk, processed meats impacting cancer risk, and added sugars (especially sugar-sweetened beverages) heightening risk of obesity and diabetes. And of course, there are the foods that have a clear health benefit, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, legumes, and oils like olive, canola, soybean, and sunflower. The study’s authors state that butter may be a healthier choice than the white potato or white bread it’s often spread on — but that margarine, spreads, and cooking oils containing heart-healthy oils like olive, canola, or soybean are healthier choices than butter.

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