Butter has long been a subject of controversy in the world of nutrition.
While some say it cranks up cholesterol levels and clogs your arteries, others claim it can be a nutritious and flavorful addition to your diet.
Fortunately, a lot of research has been conducted in recent years evaluating the potential health effects of butter.
This article looks closely at butter and whether it’s good or bad for your health.
What is butter?
Butter is a dairy product made by churning milk, separating the solid fats from the liquid, known as buttermilk.
Although butter is also made from other mammals like sheep, goats, and buffalo, this article focuses on butter made from cow’s milk.
Many different types of butter are available, including salted, unsalted, grass-fed, and clarified butter, which varies based on their respective ingredients and production method.
Due to its high fat concentration, butter has a rich flavor and creamy texture.
It works incredibly well for high-heat cooking like sautéing and pan-frying and can help prevent sticking while adding flavor.
Butter is also widely used in baking to add texture and volume to baked goods and desserts.
It can be spread on bread, roasted veggies, pasta dishes, and many more.
Summary: Butter is traditionally made from cow’s milk, though various varieties are available. It’s used in cooking and baking and can be added to many dishes.
One tablespoon (14 grams) of butter provides the following nutrients:
- Calories: 102
- Total fat: 11.5 grams
- Vitamin A: 11% of your daily need
- Vitamin E: 2% of your daily need
- Vitamin B12: 1% of your daily need
- Vitamin K: 1% of your daily need
Although butter is high in calories and fat, it also contains various essential nutrients.
For example, it’s a good source of vitamin A, a fat-soluble vitamin for skin health, immune function, and healthy vision.
It also contains vitamin E, which supports heart health and acts as an antioxidant to protect your cells against damage caused by molecules called free radicals.
Additionally, butter contains very small amounts of other nutrients, including riboflavin, niacin, calcium, and phosphorus.
Summary: Butter is high in calories and fat but contains several vital nutrients, including vitamins A and E.
Butter is a good source of conjugated linoleic acid
Butter is an excellent source of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) — a type of fat found in meat and dairy products. CLA has been linked to impressive health benefits.
Test-tube studies show that CLA may have anticancer properties and could help reduce the growth of breast, colon, colorectal, stomach, prostate, and liver cancer.
Other research suggests that supplementing with CLA could decrease body fat to aid weight management.
According to one 24-month study, consuming 3.4 grams of CLA per day decreased body fat in 134 overweight adults.
It may also help enhance immune function and decrease markers of inflammation to support better health.
For example, a study in 23 men showed that taking 5.6 grams of CLA for 2 weeks decreased levels of several proteins involved in inflammation, including tumor necrosis factor and C-reactive protein.
Remember that most available research is conducted using highly concentrated forms of CLA in supplement form rather than the amount found in normal serving sizes of butter.
Additional studies are needed to understand how CLA may impact health when consumed in average amounts from foods.
Summary: Butter contains CLA, a type of fat that may have cancer-fighting properties, help reduce body fat, and improve immune function.
Butter contains butyrate
Butter is rich in butyrate, a type of short-chain fatty acid that has been associated with several benefits.
Butyrate is also produced by the beneficial bacteria in your gut and is used as a source of energy for the cells in your intestines.
It can promote digestive health by reducing intestinal inflammation and supporting the uptake of fluids and electrolytes to promote regularity and electrolyte balance.
Suggested read: 5 science-based health benefits of milk
Additionally, it may aid in treating irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a condition characterized by symptoms like stomach pain, bloating, constipation, and diarrhea.
Due to its anti-inflammatory properties, some research suggests that butyrate could be beneficial in treating Crohn’s disease.
According to some animal studies, butyrate may also improve insulin sensitivity, boost metabolism, and decrease fat cell formation to support weight control.
However, these studies were performed using concentrated doses of butyrate. More studies are needed to evaluate how the butyrate found in normal serving sizes of butter may affect human health.
Summary: Butter contains butyrate, a fat that may improve digestive health, decrease inflammation, and support weight control, according to human and animal studies.
Butter is high in saturated fat
Butter contains a good amount of saturated fat found in foods, including meat and dairy products.
About 63% of the fat in butter is saturated fat, while monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat make up 26% and 4% of the total fat content, respectively.
Historically, saturated fat was commonly believed to be an unhealthy, artery-clogging form of fat, assumed to harm heart health.
Yet, recent research has found no link between saturated fat intake and increased risk of heart disease or dying from heart disease.
Still, saturated fat should be combined with various other heart-healthy fats as part of a well-rounded diet.
One review of 15 studies noted that partially replacing saturated fat in the diet with polyunsaturated fat was associated with a 27% lower risk of cardiovascular events, which are incidents that cause damage to your heart.
According to the most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans, limiting saturated fat intake to less than 10% of your daily calories is recommended.
This means that butter can be enjoyed in moderation but should be paired with other healthy fats from nuts, seeds, olive oil, and fatty fish.
Suggested read: 10 health and nutrition benefits of macadamia nuts
What’s more, saturated fats like butter are especially useful for high-heat cooking as they’re resistant to oxidation and have a high smoke point. This can help prevent the build-up of harmful free radicals when cooking.
Summary: Butter is high in saturated fat. Though saturated fat may not be linked to a higher risk of heart disease, replacing it with polyunsaturated fat is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular events.
Butter is high in calories
Butter is high in calories — packing about 102 calories into each tablespoon (14 grams).
While this is fine in moderation, overdoing it can quickly cause extra calories to stack up.
If you don’t make other dietary modifications to account for these excess calories, it could contribute to weight gain over time.
Theoretically, adding just one serving per day to your diet without making any other changes could lead to approximately 10 pounds (4.5 kg) of weight gain over the course of a year.
Therefore, it’s best to enjoy butter in moderation and swap it in for other fats in your diet to keep your calorie intake under control.
Summary: Butter is high in calories, which may contribute to weight gain if eaten in high amounts.
What does the research say about butter?
Despite its longstanding reputation as an unhealthy ingredient, most research shows that butter can be included in moderation as part of a balanced diet and may even be associated with several health benefits.
For example, one review of 16 studies found that a higher intake of high-fat dairy foods like butter was tied to a decreased risk of obesity.
Another extensive review of more than 630,000 people reported that each serving of butter was associated with a 4% lower risk of type 2 diabetes.
Not only that, but other research shows that eating moderate amounts of dairy foods like butter may be linked to a lower risk of heart attack and stroke as well.
Still, some studies indicate that eating butter may have adverse health effects.
For instance, one 5-week study in 47 people found that moderate butter intake increased heart disease risk factors, including total and LDL (bad) cholesterol, compared to olive oil.
Suggested read: 13 cholesterol-lowering foods to add to your diet
Similarly, another study reported that eating 50 grams of butter daily for 4 weeks increased LDL (bad) cholesterol in 91 adults.
Additionally, butter is high in calories and saturated fat, so it’s essential to keep your intake in check and enjoy a variety of other healthy fats.
Further research is needed to determine how a regular butter intake may impact your overall health.
How much butter can you safely eat?
Limiting your saturated fat intake to less than 10% of your total daily calories is recommended.
For example, eating 2,000 calories per day would equate to about 22 grams of saturated fat — or approximately 3 tablespoons (42 grams) of butter.
Therefore, it’s best to stick to 1–2 tablespoons (14–28 grams) daily, combined with other healthy fats like olive oil, nuts, seeds, coconut oil, avocados, and fatty fish.
Summary: Enjoying butter in moderation may be linked to a lower risk of obesity, diabetes, and heart problems. However, it should be enjoyed along with other healthy fats as part of a nutritious diet.
Butter contains nutrients and beneficial compounds like butyrate and conjugated linoleic acid.
High-fat dairy products like butter have been linked to a reduced risk of obesity, diabetes, and heart problems.
Still, butter is high in calories and saturated fat and should be enjoyed in moderation. It’s best to consume it alongside a mix of heart-healthy fats like olive oil, avocado, nuts, seeds, and fatty fish.