Health Lifestyle

Butter Isn’t That Bad for Health

Butter has received a bad reputation because of its saturated fat content; however, not all saturated fats are bad.

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A pat of melting butter on a slice of golden brown toast is as glorious a painting as Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus” and as luxurious an indulgence as torched foie gras. When used in cooking, butter makes snails succulent and eggs moist. A gold bullion in the cold safe we call a fridge, butter is not quite the evil artery-clogger mastermind it is made out to be. Suffice it to say here, yours truly is a fan.

Although butter is known to contain high levels of saturated fat, not all saturated fats are bad. In fact, short-chain and medium-chain saturated fats (butyric acid and myristic acid respectively) actually have some health benefits. It’s the long-chain saturated fatty acids like palmitic acid and stearic acid that should be limited. Moreover, a review paper titled “Is Butter Back?” published in the journal PLoS ONE concluded that butter was weakly to neutrally linked with mortality, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes.

When looking into the topic of churned cream it’s hard to ignore the butter versus margarine debate. Taste preferences aside, the jury is in: butter is better. In response to the truth, some companies now remove trans fats from their margarines, on top of lowering saturated fat content and increasing heart-healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. This improved, Frankensteinien margarine may be on a par with butter in terms of overall health and nutritional benefits. Nevertheless, it is worth reminding consumers that butter originated from cows and margarine from chemists.

Both butter and margarine pale next to olive oil however; for the latter oil (extra virgin in particular) is the standard to which all other fats are compared to. Thanks to its high concentration of monounsaturated fat, which is able to keep levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol low and HDL (good) cholesterol high, olive oil is the heart-healthiest of them all; with an army of decisive published research papers to protect its throne from devious usurpers like coconut oil. Figuratively speaking, if margarine is for the commoners and olive oil for the aristocracy, than butter belongs to the bourgeoisie; the middle class in the ranks of healthy fats.

All of this is to say that the next time you are in the mood for a plate of French toast with a side of fluffy scrambled eggs worthy of a Champagne brunch, don’t feel bad about eschewing the bottle of olive oil for a tub of butter as your skillet’s choice lubricant. Lastly, and apologies for ending on such a boringly obvious note, as with any fats high in calories, be it olive oil or butter, moderation is key. Let this very original expression be your friendly reminder: “A pat of butter a day keeps the hunger at bay.”

By Boripat Lebel

Boripat Lebel is a research coordinator at the Unit for Social and Environmental Research at Chiang Mai University. He authored the eBook “A Vomit of Diamonds.” Boripat can also be found on LinkedIn .