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Know Your Dietary Fats: Is Butter Healthy For You?

Know Your Dietary Fats: Is Butter Healthy For You?

Butter is a key component in cakes, desserts, pancakes, and a variety of other dishes and pastries. Butter was traditionally made by churning cream and separating the resultant liquid from a solid mass. But delicious as it may be, one must still ask: is butter healthy? It contains dietary fat, which is a substance that may potentially be damaging to one’s health. Find out more here.

What is dietary fat?

Dietary fat provides energy that powers cell growth, keeps the body warm and can protect internal organs. It also helps absorb nutrients and produce certain hormones. There are four main types of dietary fat. These are categorized as bad and good fats: saturated, trans fats, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated.

Saturated and trans fats are called “bad” fats, as they increase LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol (a fat-like substance present in all cells), otherwise known as “bad” cholesterol. They are often made from animal sources and are detrimental to health as they contribute to cholesterol buildup in the arteries. Among foods high in saturated fat is butter, while healthy fats come from plant sources.

Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats—so-called “good” fats—can lower bad cholesterol levels and are beneficial when consumed as part of a healthy diet. They are considered “good” because they deliver cholesterol from different parts of the body to the liver, where it is excreted. Mono- and polyunsaturated fats are normally found in liquid form from vegetable sources: canola oil, extra virgin olive oil, and coconut oil, for instance.

How do fats affect health?

Apart from the bodily functions of fat previously mentioned, fats also have adverse effects. Fats contain 9 calories per gram, regardless of the type; they contain even more calories than do carbohydrates and proteins, each of which contains four calories per gram. Eating large quantities can lead to weight gain.

High levels of LDL cholesterol, which can build up in the arteries, can form plaque, causing the passageways to become narrow and hard. This can restrict the flow of blood that carries oxygen to the heart. If blood flow is blocked altogether, a heart attack may occur.

Is butter healthy, or should it be avoided?

Margarine is butter’s “healthy” substitute. It is made of vegetable oils whereas butter is derived from animal fat. However, exercise caution as some types of margarine have trans fats. The general rule is that the more solid it is, the more trans fats it has. This can raise LDL cholesterol, lower HDL cholesterol, among other effects. Fats containing partially or fully hydrogenated oils should be foregone, as these contain trans fats.

Cardiology experts say that butter is a rich source of saturated fat and should not be consumed excessively. Neither is better than the other. Health experts recommend opting for liquid oils such as extra virgin olive oil, or limiting oneself to one (1) teaspoon of real unsalted butter, its least processed form.

Key Takeaways

The conversation on dietary fat, particularly, is butter healthy or not, has led to one major lesson: getting caught up in the nitty-gritty of every food’s nutritional value can mislead us to replace healthy fats with sugars and simple carbohydrates that could actually be more damaging.

Not all fats are bad and should not be totally eliminated from our diets. Fats can be consumed at a healthy level by choosing food with good fats and balancing how much of it you eat with how many calories you burn off. It also involves eating more vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, poultry, fish, legumes, non-tropical vegetable oils and nuts, and less sodium, sugar and red meats.

The best sources of fats are oily, cold-water fish (salmon, tuna), avocados, nuts and vegetable oils. These are known to fight inflammation which risks heart disease.

Learn other Nutrition Facts here.

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Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Sources

Dietary Fats, https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/fats/dietary-fats Accessed 16 July 2021

Margarine or Butter:: The Heart-Healthiest Spreads, https://health.clevelandclinic.org/margarine-or-butter-the-heart-healthiest-spreads-infographic/ Accessed 16 July 2021

The truth about dietary fat, https://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/the-truth-about-dietary-fat Accessed 16 July 2021

LDL: The “Bad” Cholesterol, https://medlineplus.gov/ldlthebadcholesterol.html Accessed 16 July 2021

Is Butter Really Back?, https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/magazine/magazine_article/is-butter-really-back Accessed 16 July 2021

Saturated Fat, https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/fats/saturated-fats Accessed 16 July 2021

We Repeat: Butter is Not Back, https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/2016/06/30/we-repeat-butter-is-not-back/ Accessed 16 July 2021

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Written by Louise Nichole Logarta Updated Jul 30
Fact Checked by Kristel Dacumos-Lagorza
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