By LOUISE CARR, Associate Editor and Featured Columnist
Butter. It has the power to turn a so-so meal into a delicious masterpiece but at what cost to your health? News reports are full of the evils of butter.
Yet despite butter's links to obesity and cardiovascular disease, new research is turning all we believed about butter on its head. So, does butter actually bring health benefits? Why should butter be on your baked potato, corn on the cob, or your bread?
How is Butter Made?
Butter is made during the process of separating cream from milk. Once separated, either naturally or by machinery, butter is churned until it is semi-soft. Butter is a dairy product but it has largely been replaced by margarine, non-dairy spreads, and oils in our kitchen cupboards.
What's in Butter?
A serving of 100g of butter is high in calories - 717 calories to be precise. 100 grams of butter also supplies 81 grams of fat, of which 51 grams is saturated fat. There is 215 mg of cholesterol in 100 grams of butter. If you eat a lot of butter every day you will naturally increase your cholesterol levels.
However, butter also contains 15 percent of the daily value of vitamin D, and 49 percent of the daily value of vitamin A. Butter also contains calcium and vitamin B12.
Butter is also a good source of important fatty acids - your body needs some fat in order to function and in order to absorb nutrients found in other foods like vegetables.
We looked at recent research to find out why butter is making a comeback, and why some experts believe that butter should be part of a healthy diet. Here's how you can help your health by eating butter:
1. Reduce the Risk of Colorectal Cancer by Eating Butter
A high-fat dairy product like butter contains conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). A recent study looked at whether consumption of CLA in butter could help protect against colorectal cancer.
Researchers at the National Institute of Environmental Medicine, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden in 2005 looked at women' diets in Sweden. Women who ate four or more servings of high-fat dairy foods a day including butter had a lower risk of colorectal cancer than women consuming less than one serving.
Each increase by two servings of butter corresponded to a 13 percent lower risk of colorectal cancer.
2. Medium-Chain Triglycerides in Butter Help People Who Need Calories
Medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) are fats that have a distinct structure which allows them to be easily digested by the body.
Butter is a good source of medium-chain triglycerides - the fats are delivered straight to the liver where they are used for energy. Because these butter fats are great energy-givers, they can be used by people who need calories but are not able to metabolize regular fats, for example people with AIDS, according to a 1997 study from the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
3. Butter Leads to Less Elevation of Blood Fats than Olive Oil
When your blood fat levels rise it normally results in an increase in cholesterol in the body, which in turn leads to a greater risk of heart attack, atherosclerosis, and stroke.
Here's a shocker. Scientists recently showed that butter causes less of an elevation in your blood fat levels than olive oil.
The 2010 study from Lund University, Sweden demonstrated that the effect on men's blood fat levels was significant, while for women it was more marginal.
The reason for this action? Butter contains short- and medium-chain fatty acids which are used directly for energy (as explained above) and therefore don't affect your blood fat levels so much.
4. A Diet High In Butter Helps Children with Epilepsy
A 2009 study from The Medical College of Wisconsin and Children's Hospital of Wisconsin showed that a high-fat diet containing large amounts of butter and other high-fat dairy improves seizure control in children with epilepsy.
The diet is a specialist regime that must be followed closely and under medical supervision, but butter does play a part in helping to reduce seizure frequency.
5. Alpha Linolenic Acid in Butter Helps Protect Against Heart Disease?
If you include grass-fed butter in your diet you are increasing your intake of alpha-linolenic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid from plants. This in the same omega-3 fatty acid that you get from eating flax seeds and walnuts.
ALA has health benefits including protecting against type 2 diabetes, reducing inflammation, and protecting against heart disease according to studies such as 1990 research from the Central Institute for Cardiovascular Research, Berlin, Germany which shows alpha-linolenic acid helps reduce bad cholesterol and reduce hypertension.
6. Butter Helps Prevent Food Cravings
People who eat foods that are higher in fat, such as butter, experience feelings of fullness or satiety. This feeling of fullness helps to prevent food cravings and therefore can assist in stopping overeating.
Fat takes longer to digest than other foods, which is why you feel more satisfied after eating high-fat foods like butter.
7. Butter Doesn't Cause Cardiovascular Disease?
A new study in 2014 from the University of Cambridge, England shows that guidelines that restrict the consumption of saturated fats may not be the best technique for preventing heart disease. The researchers also found limited evidence for eating a lot of polyunsaturated fats (like omega 3 and omega 6) to reduce the risk of heart disease.
The scientists analyzed data from 72 different studies and discovered that there were no significant associations between consumption of saturated fats and reduced risk of heart disease - does this mean that butter is not the heart danger we've been led to believe? Further research is necessary.