• So what’s the verdict? Is butter good or bad for you? (Moment RF/Getty Images)Source: Moment RF/Getty Images
Is freshly churned, pure butter without artificial nasties good for you or is butter simply the tasty enemy of our hips and heart?
Yasmin Noone

28 Nov 2019 - 1:48 PM  UPDATED 28 Nov 2019 - 2:16 PM

Few things in this world are as comforting than a dish loaded with a hearty slab of butter. But there is one very good reason why butter melts in your mouth so easily. It’s a dairy product with a high dose of saturated fat.

Butter – being rich in fat – also works great as a flavour carrier for spices and other tasty fat-soluble ingredients like vanilla, resulting in a culinary outcome equating to a taste and aroma explosion. No wonder a secret trick to improving a dish is to just to simply add butter.

Recent claims from various butter manufacturers also market some butter as being pure, organic and ‘healthy’ when compared to various margarine, as they don’t contain any trans fats or other nasties.

So what’s the verdict?

Has butter made a comeback or are we meant to follow age-old advice suggesting that butter is the proven enemy of our hips and heart?

How’s about those nutrients and calories?

One tablespoon of butter is said to contain over 10 per cent of your daily requirement of vitamin A. It also has very small amounts of vitamin B12, E and K.

However, butter is also high in calories. One square inch of butter is estimated to contain over 700 calories, according to MyFitnessPal. So if you’re sticking to a daily diet containing no more than 2,000 calories then including high levels of butter in your diet might be pushing it. 

If you opt for ghee, a highly clarified butter popular in Indian and many other eastern cuisines, you’ll be reducing the number of calories consumed. Depending on the brand of ghee used, one tablespoon could contain around 130 calories, which is significantly less than table butter.

“Butter was not in the same category of dairy as milk, yoghurt and cheese. Our evidence showed that butter is not a health food and it’s not something we recommend people have.”

Aren’t dairy products good for you?

Butter is a high-fat dairy product and dairy is an essential part of a balanced diet.

A study published in the European Journal of Nutrition in 2013 observed 16 studies to conclude that dairy fat or high-fat dairy foods do not contribute to obesity or cardiometabolic risk. The paper suggests that high-fat dairy consumption within typical dietary patterns is inversely associated with obesity risk.

Yet, the Heart Foundation begs to differ when it comes to butter. Earlier this year, the organisation released updated advice on dairy products saying that there is no difference between high fat or low-fat versions in terms of heart disease or stroke risk. However, the butter was the exception in their ruling.

“The advice was strictly on dairy but excluded butter,” Heart Foundation dietitian Sian Armstrong tells SBS.

“Butter was not in the same category of dairy as milk, yoghurt and cheese. Our evidence showed that butter is not a health food and it’s not something we recommend people have.”

“The advice was strictly on dairy but excluded butter."

The heart of a buttery matter 

Armstrong explains the Heart Foundation’s stance on butter further, citing its inclusion in our diet as quite a controversial matter.

“From our perspective, the evidence shows that there’s a relatively small or neutral risk when you look at butter and mortality or heart disease risk,” Armstong says.

A PLoS One study from 2016 written by authors from both America and Australia backs this statement up. A systematic review and meta-analysis suggested a relatively small or neutral overall association of butter with mortality, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. The study found that because there was a small or no risk, there was no need to increase or decrease butter consumption in dietary guidelines.

“From our perspective, the evidence shows that there’s a relatively small or neutral risk when you look at butter and mortality or heart disease risk.”

Meanwhile, Heart Foundation has taken a different stance, recommending against the use of butter in our daily diets.

“The evidence shows that butter raises both your bad and good cholesterol levels. We say that the rise in the bad cholesterol (or LDL cholesterol) level overshadows the rise in the good cholesterol (HDL cholesterol) level,” says Armstrong.

Given that there’s no evidence to prove that butter is good for you, Armstrong advises replacing butter with foods that are proven to benefit your cholesterol level and heart health, like nut butter, olive oil and avocados.

“We would recommend people choose healthier alternatives instead of butter, which [may] increase your cholesterol level.”

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Exceptions to the no butter rule

The Heart Foundation’s broad butter advice targets all of Australia as a whole. In doing so, it does not take into account personal circumstances or cultural considerations. For example, the recommendation does not apply to older people who are malnourished and people who are underweight without a heart health problem. 

Armstrong explains that if it’s part of your culture to have the occasional piece of bread with a spreading of butter to dip into your pasta sauce or it’s traditional for you to have a buttery French dish once in a while, that is okay.

“It’s okay to have butter sometimes but make sure it is only ‘sometimes’ and eaten in small amounts.”

“Our advice is not about one single food. It’s more about a general dietary pattern you should maintain, the foods you eat over time and the other parts of your diet that will really affect your risk of heart disease.

“It’s okay to have butter sometimes but make sure it is only ‘sometimes’ and eaten in small amounts.”

She adds that people who come from a traditional culture where they follow a healthy eating pattern – like the Mediterranean diet – that is rich in vegetables, fish and other healthy foods could “potentially negate the effects of having some butter”.

“If you maintain a dietary pattern that is healthy and you do want to indulge by eating cake made with butter on your birthday, then that is absolutely fine. Food should be enjoyable and about celebrating life.”

Buttery recipes for 'sometimes'
Brown butter bundt cake

This is a perfect example of how a simple classic can inspire anyone to bake - and if you don't have a bundt tin, you can make this as a lovely loaf cake instead. 

Hong Kong French toast

A few unconventional elements are the secret to this fragrant French toast's appeal - crunchy peanut butter, plum jam and five-spice.

Cultured butter

You can culture butter using a tablespoon of yoghurt, sour cream or buttermilk. We’ve started using kefir, because it adds a whole other level of flavour to our exceptional jersey cream. 

Salted butter caramel cake

Layers of salted butter caramel biscuit baked into a rich and dark chocolate cake...what more can we ask for?