If Butter Tastes So Good, Can It Really Be That Bad?!



Do we just need something to hate or is butter just really bad?! The media has always been chiming about the bad things of butter for such a long time that we forgot fat was once a very precious commodity! We are constantly faced with new products in the market being advertised as an alternative to butter, but are these more nutritious compared to the good ol’ butter or are we just giving butter a break? Let's explore some of the latest research together!

What is cholesterol?

We as humans need cholesterol to function, without it our sexual hormones like testosterone and estrogen just wouldn't exist. Cholesterol though, is produced by our own bodies so we don't exactly need to eat it, but what we don't eat is balanced out by how much we produce at the end of the day.



Firstly, let’s discuss the difference between HDL and LDL cholesterol. According to the American Heart Association, LDL cholesterol is known as the ‘bad’ cholesterol because it contributes to plaque (1). Plaque can clog arteries and lead to heart attacks, stroke, and atherosclerosis. HDL cholesterol, on the other hand, is known as the ‘good’ cholesterol because it helps remove the bad cholesterol from the arteries. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition discovered that although butter increased LDL, it also increased HDL (2). It compared a person’s daily diet with the addition of either olive oil or butter in a bun over a 5-week period. Results revealed that HDL cholesterol was significantly higher in the butter intervention compared with the olive oil intervention. In another study, rats were fed a 60 day diet with butter naturally enriched in cis-9, trans-11 conjugated linoleic acid, which is an oil with mostly omega 6’s (3). Previous studies noted that this type of fat possessed anti-diabetic properties. They discovered that this high-fat diet significantly raised the HDL levels and increased insulin in the blood for glucose uptake after a meal. Both of these research studies published results that show how butter can have HDL raising properties if consumed in moderate amounts over time. Yay!


Butter Really Is NOT bad! 

According to a systematic review of butter, all the compiled research from the beginning of time to May 2015 using butter concluded that butter, in fact, has neutral or no significant associations with incidents of all-cause mortality, cardiovascular disease and type-2 diabetes (4). Now let’s compare it to a systematic review of monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) and olive oil. In this report, items containing MUFAs displayed an association of reduced risk of all-cause mortality, cardiovascular mortality, and stroke (5). As we can see, both types of fat (butter and MUFAs) do not display associations with cardiovascular incidents.

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Stay Diverse and Balanced!

Although butter has shown to increase HDL and have no association with cardiovascular incidents, it is not recommended to consume large amounts daily.  Researchers at the University of Copenhagen advise those who have cardiovascular disease or have high cholesterol to continue consuming little to no butter in their diet (2). They also recommend that a healthy person should only consume a moderate amount of butter. Why, you may ask? In an article published in the Journal of Food Research on the effect of virgin versus refined olive oil versus butter consumption on gut bacteria and researchers discovered that a daily high-fat diet with 20% butter changes the bacteria in the gut (6). They gave rat three different high-fat diets. The first group had refined olive oil, another had virgin olive oil, and the last had butter. It was discovered that those who ate butter diet had gut bacteria similar to obese individuals and had showed an increase in weight compared to the rats that consumed refined or virgin olive oil.

Add Variety and Alternatives! 

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However, these studies do not tell us that butter is 100% beneficial or non-beneficial for us. It simply suggests that butter is not as harmful as we think it is. As usual, more studies should be conducted to further investigate the benefits or risks of butter. If your diet restricts the use of butter, there are many alternatives, such as nut and seed butters for spreads. These butters contain more protein, calcium, zinc, and less fat compared with butter (7). But if you are able to have a diet containing butter, a little bit wouldn’t harm you—it may potentially be beneficial to your wellbeing! The key is to use a variety of fats in your diet and balance it out with a diverse amount of carbohydrates and protein. The Institute of Medicine suggest that fats should only make up about 20%-35% of your daily diet and is essential for the absorption of essential vitamins like A, D, E and K.  Please always speak with your physician or Registered Dietitian to better understand the diet you should follow to compliment to your own body.


By Shannon Chau

Final Edits by: Renée Chan, MS, MBA, RD, RDN, CDN



  1. Good vs. Bad Cholesterol. American Heart Association website. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/Cholesterol/AboutCholesterol/Good-vs-Bad-Cholesterol_UCM_305561_Article.jsp#.V-V64ZMrK9Y. Accessed September 23, 2016.
  2. Engel S, Tholstrup T. Butter Increased Total and LDL Cholesterol Compared with Olive Oil but Resulted in Higher HDL Cholesterol Compared with a Habitual Diet. Am J Clin Nutr. 2015; 102(2): 309-315.
  3. Macedo de Almeida M, Luquetti S, Sabarense C et al. Butter Naturally Enriched in cis-9, trans-11 CLA Prevents Hyperinsulinemia and Increases Both Serum HDL Cholesterol and Triacylglycerol Levels in Rats. Lipids in Health and Disease. 2015; 13(1): 200-212.
  4. Pimpin L, Wu J, Haskelber H, Del Gobbo L, Mozaffarian D. Is Butter Back? A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Butter Consumption and Risk of Cardiovascular Disease, Diabetes, and Total Mortality. PLOS ONE. 2016; 11(6): 1-18.
  5. Schwingshackl L, Hoffmann G. Monounsaturated Fatty Acids, Olive Oil and Health Status: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Cohort Studies. Lipids in Health and Disease. 2014; 13(1): 154-169.
  6. Hidalgo M, Prieto I, Abriouel H et al.  Effect of Virgin and Refined Olive Oil Consumption on Gut Microbiota. Comparison to Butter. J Food Res. 2014; 64: 533-559.
  7. Gorrepati K, Balasubramanian S, Chandra P. Plant Based Butters. J Food Sci Technol. 2014; 52(7): 3965-3976.


About the author: 

Shannon Chau is currently studying Nutritional Science at the University of British Columbia with an aspiration to become a dietitian. Shannon has a particular interest in cooking and exploring Asian cuisine, and she also enjoys baking various desserts. She loves learning ways to substitute ingredients in recipes to make healthier creations!

Renée ChanComment