The truth about weight loss and butter
Chances are you’ve heard that butter isn’t exactly the best weight loss food. That said, no food is off-limits on WW (formerly Weight Watchers)—a good thing considering butter is often used in food preparation, meaning it’s difficult to avoid while eating out.
In any case, banishing butter to reach your weight loss goals might not be your best bet. Read on to find out why, plus how you can embrace the spread in a more healthful way.
What you need to know about butter, weight loss, and your health
To be clear, everyone benefits from consuming some sources of dietary fat. While all types of fat provide the same amount of calories by volume, some fats are considered healthier than others.
For instance, health experts tend to vilify butter specifically because two-thirds of its fat content is saturated, and research suggests that eating too much saturated fat increases your body’s production of the kind of cholesterol that’s linked to heart disease and stroke and contributes to clogged arteries.
Because saturated fat is used to calculate a food’s SmartPoints® value—the higher a food’s saturated fat content, the higher its SmartPoints count—sticking to your SmartPoints Budget will naturally help you reduce the amount of saturated fat in your diet.
In other words, butter (5 SmartPoints per tablespoon) isn’t completely off the table. The trick is balance: Most experts agree it’s best for saturated fat to make up no more than 10 percent of your daily calories. That’s about two tablespoons of butter per day for most people, assuming they aren’t eating any other saturated fats.
Even better than butter
Butter isn’t the only way to add fat and flavor to your plate. Most cooking oils (4 SmartPoints per tablespoon) do the trick and contribute one fewer SmartPoints value per serving than butter. The difference isn’t huge, meaning there’s room for a little bit of either option in your daily SmartPoints Budget.
The 9 best butters and spreads for WW members
Prefer the taste of butter? Here are some ways to hit the spot when you’re following WW:
For 100-percent buttery flavor:
- Stick butter (5 SmartPoints per tablespoon)
“Butter adds a wonderful flavor and mouthfeel to foods,” says Patricia Bannan, MS, RDN, a Los Angeles-based nutritionist and author of Eat Right When Time Is Tight. “But its fat and calories can add up quickly, especially if you’re unaware of how much you’re using.” For portion control, try drizzling one teaspoon (2 SmartPoints) of melted butter over veggies or swirled into sauces.
- Clarified butter/Ghee (4 to 5 SmartPoints per tablespoon)
Butter’s milk solids scorch easily, so it’s not your best bet for frying or sautéing. Enter clarified butter. Because it’s made by removing the milk solids and water, it’s the perfect vehicle for adding buttery goodness to chicken or fish dishes. For a rich, nutty flavor, try ghee, a kind of clarified butter used in Indian cooking. Like oil, both ghee and clarified butter are super concentrated so their caloric and fat density and their SmartPoints values are similar to that of oil. Look for either in your grocery’s dry goods section, not the refrigerated cases.
For buttery flavor with fewer SmartPoints:
- Light butter (3 SmartPoints per tablespoon)
If you’re concerned about saturated fat, this spread is for you: Diluted with added water, skim milk, or gelatin, light butter contains about half the total and saturated fats found in the real thing.
- Whipped butter (3 SmartPoints per tablespoon)
This fluffed-up butter is blended with extra air for fewer calories and less fat. And it’s softer and more spreadable than stick butter, so you won’t need a big schmear to coat your toast.
For spreads with less saturated fat than butter:
- Hummus (1 SmartPoints value per tablespoon)
“Hummus can be a great butter alternative,” says Sara Haas, RDN, a culinary dietitian and author of Taco! Taco! Taco! The Ultimate Taco Cookbook. “Because protein and fiber-rich chickpeas are its main ingredients, it has a pretty stellar nutritional profile.” For a delicious, silky pasta sauce, Haas recommends blending hummus with a little olive oil and lemon juice—no butter required.
- Olive oil (4 SmartPoints per tablespoon)
With only two grams of saturated fat per tablespoon, olive oil is a win whether you’re roasting veggies or sauteéing chicken or fish. Measuring it by the teaspoon instead of pouring it directly from the bottle can help you keep your SmartPoints in check.
- Avocado oil (4 SmartPoints per tablespoon)
You probably already know that mashed avocado makes a yummy butter alternative on toast or a bagel. Turns out, avocado oil can be just as tasty, and it scores big points for heart health, too. Try it in mashed potatoes, omelets, or muffins. Thanks to its rich flavor, a little goes a long way.
- Nut butter (3 SmartPoints per tablespoon)
“Nut butters are loaded with healthy unsaturated fats plus a myriad of vitamins and minerals,” Haas says of natural spreads made from churning nuts. Trick: The next time you make homemade snack bars or cookies that call for butter, replace half the regular spread with peanut or almond butter.
What about margarine?
Since many brands contain cholesterol-boosting trans fats, choosing margarine over butter won’t necessarily improve your health. But if you prefer its taste and texture, stick with squeeze or tub varieties as they’re usually lower in trans fats than stick margarine.
The bottom line on butter
“If a little butter encourages you to eat more nutrient-dense foods like vegetables,” Bannan says, “then it may be worth including in your diet.”
This article was reviewed for accuracy in July 2021 by Michelle Cardel, PhD, MS, RD, director of global clinical research and nutrition at WW. The WW Science Team is a dedicated group of experts who ensure all our solutions are rooted in the best possible research.