After decades of being treated as an outcast at the dinner table, many experts are now challenging the longstanding health advice on butter consumption.
Where dairy fat was once seen as the enemy when it came to heart health, increasing evidence suggests that the bad reputation of full fat dairy may be unjustified. Some experts now believe that it was too simplistic to suggest that full-fat dairy is bad for cardiovascular health because it contains saturated fat.
Butter, in moderation, can be part of a healthy balanced diet. Recent evidences suggests that up to 14g of butter per day was not associated with a higher risk of disease. Suggesting a small amount can be part of a healthy balanced diet for the general population. High fat dairy foods such as butter and cream are not recommended as one of your three serves of daily dairy due to their high energy density. A balanced diet includes mainly fruit and vegetables, as well as wholegrains, dairy and other protein sources, and also sources of unsaturated fats such as plant oils, nuts and avocadoes as they support heart health.
"Butter has been garnering a better health perception over the last 18 months."
- American Restaurant Association’s David Maloni, told CNBC in March.
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 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 higher in beta-carotenes. This 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.
"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 McDonalds 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.