After decades of being treated as an outcast at the dinner table, many experts are now challenging the longstanding health advice to reduce butter consumption. 

Where butter was once seen as the enemy when it came to heart health, more and more research confirms that fat in the diet is not the culprit and full fat dairy products are not linked to a higher risk of heart disease.  

Experts now believe that old advice from the 1970s that saturated fats like butter be cut to just 10 percent of a daily diet “should not have been introduced”.

Butter, in moderation, can easily fit into a healthy balanced diet.  

"Butter has been garnering a better health perception over the last 18 months."
- American Restaurant Association’s David Maloni, told CNBC in March.

Emerging evidence such as from Georgia State University has also raised concerns about emulsifiers, which are commonly used in food processing and are also found in margarine, and their potential to disrupt the healthy bacteria in the gut and promote inflammation. These disruptions in turn are linked to increased risk of obesity and metabolic disorders – the same ailments consumers once hoped to avoid by choosing margarine over butter.

Consumption of margarine in both the US and the UK has dropped. According to British industry publication The Grocer, UK sales are falling by more than 7 percent a year. The new understanding of butter and health, combined with a growing interest in natural ingredients and the great taste of butter, has put butter back on the table of many consumers.  

However, as butter enjoys its renaissance, it is worth pointing out that not all butters are created equal. The composition of milk, and the products made from it, varies depending on a cow’s feed and New Zealand cows are predominantly pasture-fed. Milk from predominantly pasture-fed cows, rather than grain-fed, is typically richer in omega-3 fatty acids, conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), vitamin E and beta-carotenes. The latter gives our butter its typical yellow colour, so you can actually see ‘goodness’ in our New Zealand milk.  

Meanwhile, CNBC notes that this overall shift in attitudes toward butter and margarine is being reflected in menus, most notably with McDonald’s in America opting to switch from margarine to butter on their Egg McMuffins last year.

"Butter consumption remains solid after years of decline and increasing in terms of domestic per-capita consumption [in the US]," BB&T Capital Markets analyst Brett Hundley told CNBC. Whether it’s McDonald’s or someone else, there is a trend towards natural ingredients, and butter certainly fits into that.

Alexander DD, Bylsma LC, Vargas AJ et al. (2016) Dairy consumption and CVD: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Brit J Nutr 115:737-750.

Qin LQ, Xu JY, Han SF et al. (2015) Dairy consumption and risk of cardiovascular disease: an updated meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr 24(1):90-100.

Chassaing B, Koren O, Goodrich JK et al. (2015) Dietary emulsifiers impact the mouse gut microbiotia promoting colitis and metabolic syndrome. Nature 519(7541):92-6.

Georgia State University