Butter may be better for you than you think. According to a June 2016 article in PLOS ONE, a meta-analysis of nine databases reporting on 636,151 people show that consuming butter has little or no association with risk of death, cardiovascular disease or diabetes. Additional research published in the April 2016 BMJ suggests that we may be giving too much value to the benefits of consuming vegetable oils over butter or saturated fats.
The evidence for the PLOS ONE butter study is based on observational studies not randomized trials. Specifically, the researchers found a small link between better consumption and risk of death, no link between butter consumption and cardiovascular disease or stroke, and a negative link between butter consumption and diabetes.
Given their findings, the authors see a need to shift focus from “isolated macronutrients,” such as saturated fats, when recommending healthy diets toward “food-based paradigms.” Put differently, different foods with saturated fats may create different levels of risk of heart disease. Dairy fat from yogurt and even cheese, for example, may decrease the risk of type 2 diabetes, according to a growing body of evidence.
Whether butter, rich in dairy fat, decreases the risk of type 2 diabetes is still unclear. But, understanding whether consuming butter benefits or harms long-term health is important, especially given that we consumed more butter in 2014 than in any year in the last 40 years.
Of note, dairy fats like butter have been found to raise LDL cholesterol levels. The PLOS ONE meta-analysis suggests that dairy fats offer benefits as well, such as improving insulin sensitivity, that may serve as a positive counterbalance to negative effects. In contrast, consuming refined grains, starches and sugars increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
The BMJ researchers looked at five randomized controlled trials in which people consumed vegetable oils instead of saturated fats. They saw no reduction in risk of death from heart disease or otherwise. Lowering cholesterol levels did not improve survival. And, surprisingly, lowering cholesterol levels a lot led to a higher risk of death.
What to make of these new findings? It’s hard to say. We need more evidence. For a healthy diet, there’s still plenty of evidence that we should eat lots of fruits and vegetables. nuts, seafood and olive oil.
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