Love butter on your crumpets and toast, and in your baking? Happy times.
Chase Purdy

7 Mar 2017 - 10:46 AM  UPDATED 7 Mar 2017 - 10:48 AM

A team of medical researchers has some good news for those who cook with butter but consider it a guilty pleasure: It might actually be good for you.

While the findings, published in the British Medical Journal, are not conclusive, they are compelling: researchers with the University of North Carolina’s School of Medicine (UNC) analysed a 50-year-old unpublished study out of Minnesota and found reason to believe that cooking with corn oil instead of butter may actually be worse for heart health. It’s an idea that, if one day proven, would upend the conventional nutrition wisdom of the last several decades.

In the past year, a growing number of voices within the nutrition community have been making the case that low-processed fatty foods aren’t as bad for you as once thought. It’s an argument that has shown up in studies from around the world and also in articles challenging national policy decisions based on the idea that fat should be avoided.

In the case of butter versus vegetable oil, the UNC team analysed unpublished nutritional data gathered between 1968 and 1973 in a controlled study that included more than 9400 men and women in one nursing home and six state mental hospitals in Minnesota.

The subjects were broken into two groups. One was given a diet in which liquid corn oil was used in place of usual hospital cooking fats (including butter and hydrogenated oils) during meal preparation. The other group received meals cooked with common margarines and shortening [vegetable fat that is solid at room temperature]. Roughly 57 per cent of the 517 subjects that died during the course of the study underwent post-mortem examinations of their hearts, aortas, and brains. But no analysis of the data had been published until now.

After a review of available data, the UNC researchers determined that, overall, there was a 22 per cent higher risk of death for participants on the vegetable oil diet. They argue that because an analysis of the study was never published, nutrition experts have over-emphasised the health benefits of substituting vegetable oils for butter.

butter better?
Is butter really "back"?
New nutrition research has found that saturated fats aren't terrible for heart health — but that doesn't necessarily mean we should eat them all up.

To be sure, debate within the nutrition science community over the pros and cons of cooking with and consuming fats has been robust. Many studies have found cutting out butter and using more vegetable oil to be beneficial, but very few of those have included data from controlled trials — nutrition science can be difficult to carry out because of ethical considerations of testing diets on humans.

“Altogether, this research leads us to conclude that incomplete publication of important data has contributed to the overestimation of benefits — and the underestimation of potential risks — of replacing saturated fat with vegetable oils rich in linoleic acid,” said Daisy Zamora, one of the UNC researchers.

Butter on top
Grandma’s biscuits with molasses butter

Made with buttermilk for a welcome tangy bite, Katie Lee’s golden brown biscuits are best served warm alongside the sweet molasses-laced butter.

Apple bread with whipped honey butter

Flavoursome, fruity and deeply satisfying this apple loaf is the essence of Autumn. Here it’s perfectly teamed with the whipped honey butter, but fresh ricotta and honey also makes a wonderful topping.

Crumpets with whipped leatherwood honey butter

Homemade crumpets don’t have as many holes, and take a while to cook, but the good news is, you can make them ahead because they’re even better toasted a few days after making. You can use crumpet rings (available from good cookware stores) which will make 12 crumpets. If you use egg rings, it will make 20.