Butter. One of the great loves of our life, and also the bane of our existence. Like in all tumultuous relationships, we can’t deny its magnetic pull—but we also know deep down that our craving for it isn’t good for us (or so we think). We dabble in alternatives, like margarine, thinking they’ll fill our need, but we’re always left unsatisfied—and sometimes even worse off. What’s a butter-loving girl to do? Bring in an expert, that’s what. We spoke with Lauren Slayton, registered dietician and founder of Foodtrainers, and asked her to give it to us straight: Is butter really as bad for us as we fear? Is this roller-coaster relationship in any way worth saving? Suffice it to say, we were quite surprised by her answer.
First things first—in order to understand butter’s bad rap, you have to understand what exactly it is. “Butter is made from churning milk or cream, sometimes salted and sometimes not,” Slayton says. “So essentially, butter is milk fat.” Because butter is made from separating butter fat from buttermilk, it’s commonly associated with saturated fats—which a lot of people have thought to be the precursor to clogged arteries and heart disease. “I think the butter tide is turning, though,” Slayton says. “We pulled avocado from being labeled as ‘too much fat,’ and the same is now happening for butter.”
Wait, hold up—so are you saying that butter might be good for you? According to Slayton—yes, to some degree. “The old belief that saturated fat clogged our arteries and increased heart disease has been disputed,” she says. “It’s really crazy to think something so widely accepted could be so flawed.” (It should be noted that the disputes she refers to are most likely in regard to this study from 2014 that stated there was no link between saturated fats and heart disease—but some critics have pointed out flaws in the study since then.) She cites the harmful effects of the anti-butter low-fat craze, which she thinks has made us as a nation unhealthier, with the fat substitutes and trans-fats clogging our arteries even more than saturated fat. No longer are we restricted to seeing our ideal diets in the form of a food pyramid. Rather, we know now that there are hierarchies in every food group—and she considers whole, grass-fed butter a “good” fat.
Grass-fed butter is exactly what you think it is: butter made from cows that graze only on pasture and dried forage, instead of grain-based feeds made with soy and corn. So, what makes grass-fed butter so good? “Grass-fed butter contains omega-3s and also a vitamin called K2, which actually lowers your risk for heart disease,” Slayton explains. “It also contains CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), which some studies show can help your metabolism, though admittedly, some also do not—but it is also said to have strong anti-cancer properties.” (You can read more about the heart benefits of vitamin K in this study from Rotterdam.)
But, before you go out and slather butter on everything you eat (oh, to dream), remember this—as with all food groups, everything is best in moderation. Slayton says she recommends one tablespoon of added fats to each meal and suggests a mix of grass-fed butter and ghee, which is butter with the lactose removed (she swears by the brand OMGhee). And as for margarine, the oft-touted butter alternative? She says to stay far, far away. “It’s highly processed and contains almost all trans fats,” she warns. “Bad fats are not a part of any healthy diet. Butter is most definitely better.” With that, we will have butter with our (gluten-free, whole grain) toast this morning, thank you.