News & Politics

Government-Demonized Butter Vindicated in New Study

Bad news for the federal government’s recommended low-fat diet.

A new study reveals that butter consumption is not linked to heart disease and may help prevent type 2 diabetes.

The new study analyzed nine papers that included more than 600,000 people and concluded that consuming butter is not linked to a higher risk for heart disease and might be slightly protective against type 2 diabetes. This goes against the longstanding advice to avoid butter because it contains saturated fat.

Notably, this is yet more evidence that the government’s “recommendations” for a healthy diet are questionable.

The study shows that butter is a neutral food, according to author Dariush Mozaffarian, dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts in Boston — “it doesn’t seem to be hugely harmful or beneficial.”

“In my mind, saturated fat is kind of neutral overall,” Mozaffarian says. “Vegetable oils and fruits and nuts are healthier than butter, but on the other hand, low-fat turkey meat or a bagel or cornflakes or soda is worse for you than butter.

In the study, published Tuesday in the journal PLOS ONE, the researchers looked at people’s butter consumption and their risk for chronic disease and found no link to heart disease. In four of the nine studies, people who ate butter daily had a 4% lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes. More research is needed to understand why, but it may be due in part to the fact that dairy fat also contains monounsaturated fats that can improve blood sugar and insulin sensitivity.

“Saturated fat was considered dietary public health enemy number one,” says Dr. David Ludwig, a professor of nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health. “For the last few years there’s been research and commentary suggesting that this focus is misguided.”

In fact, the great government “fat scare” is “misguided.” If consuming butter helps with blood sugar and insulin sensitivity — both related to obesity — the government has been counseling people away from a food that might help them with their weight.

Indeed, research is mounting that saturated fat is better for you than processed carbohydrates like sugar and white bread, which have been linked to diabetes, obesity and heart disease many times over. In April, Mozaffarian published a separate study in the journal Circulation that analyzed the blood of 3,333 adults and found that people who had higher levels of three byproducts from full-fat dairy had a 46% lower risk of getting diabetes than people with lower levels. Other studies have also shown that full-fat products like dairy can be useful in weight maintenance and other health factors.

The government’s campaign against fat has been quite effective. In 2014, a Gallup survey found that twice as many Americans avoid fat than avoid carbohydrates.