For years, you've heard nothing but butter = bad. But more recently you've probably heard whispers that the high-fat food might actually be good for you (who's been prompted to add butter to their whole wheat toast to help you stay fuller, longer?). So what's the real deal?
Finally, thanks to a new review of existing research published in the journal PLOS One, we finally have a clearer answer to our butter bewilderment. Researchers from the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University in Boston reviewed nine existing studies that had previously explored the potential drawbacks and benefits of butter. The combined studies represented 15 countries and over 600,000 people.
People consumed anywhere between one third of a serving to 3.2 servings per day, but the researchers couldn't find any association between their butter consumption and any increased (or decreased) risk of death, cardiovascular disease, or diabetes. In other words, butter isn't inherently good or bad—it has a pretty neutral effect on your diet. (See Why Eating Like a Man Might Be Best for Women's Health.)
"Butter may be a 'middle-of-the-road' food," Laura Pimpin, Ph.D., lead author on the study, said in a press release. "It's a more healthful choice than sugar or starch—such as the white bread or potato on which butter is commonly spread and which have been linked to higher risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease—but a worse choice than many margarines and cooking oils."
As Pimpin points out, while butter might not be flat out bad for you, that doesn't mean you should start using it in favor of other fats like olive oil. The healthy fats you get from common butter swaps, like flaxseed or extra virgin olive oils, are more likely to actually lower your risk of heart disease and diabetes.
So don't sweat it if you enjoy a bit of butter on your toast, but try to stick to the proven healthy fats when you can.