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Is butter good for you?

Despite sensationalist news headlines and one-off pieces of research, the bulk of the evidence still proves that diets lower in saturated fat reduce our risk of heart disease.

a curl of freshly churned butter on a wooden spoon
The link between a higher intake of saturated fats, elevated blood cholesterol and heart disease is well established.

The current body of evidence supports replacing saturated fats (such as those found in butter, coconut oil and fatty meat) with unsaturated fats (such as those found in nuts, seeds, oily fish, avocado and healthy plant oils) to reduce the risk of heart disease. Therefore, the Heart Foundation’s position remains the same – that we should continue to replace saturated fats in our diets with unsaturated fats. 

What does the evidence say?

  • Replacing saturated fat with polyunsaturated fat decreases LDL cholesterol (unhealthy) cholesterol and the total/HDL cholesterol ratio
  • The World Health Organization found convincing evidence that substituting saturated fat with polyunsaturated fat reduces the risk of heart disease
  • It has been estimated that replacing 5% of energy from saturated fat with polyunsaturated fat reduces risk of heart disease by 10% [Mozaffarian, 2010]
  • Replacing saturated fat with refined carbohydrate foods (eg. white flour, sugar) does not have any heart health benefits.

How much saturated fat do Kiwis eat?

  • For your heart, we recommend limiting saturated and trans fat* intake to 8% of total energy.
  • The latest adult national nutrition survey tells us that on average, our saturated fat intake is higher than recommended at 13% of daily energy.  

* New Zealand margarines are typically very low (i.e <1%) in trans fat. Currently New Zealanders eat well below the upper levels of trans fat recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO)

Butter or margarine?

While using small amounts of butter every now and then shouldn’t be a problem for most people, the clear, unequivocal evidence remains that there are far healthier fats for our heart. It is better for our hearts to replace saturated fats with unsaturated fats. Making the simple swap from butter to margarine spreads is one way to do this.

For those who choose not to use margarine spreads, consider avocado, hummus, plant oils (such as olive or avocado oil) and nut or seed butters as good options for a less-processed, more whole food approach. Alternatively you may choose to use no spread at all.

Putting aside the butter versus margarine debate, we need to remember that it’s our whole dietary pattern that counts. The total available evidence tells us that a heart-healthy dietary pattern is based largely on minimally-processed foods and includes plenty of vegetables and fruit; some whole grains in place of refined grains; legumes; nuts; seeds; and other sources of healthy fats such as oily fish or olive oil; and may contain non-processed lean meats or poultry and/or dairy.

By following this pattern, the fats in our diet will take care of themselves.

Still feeling confused about saturated fat and butter? We've compiled some frequently asked questions and given our responses.

Common Qs and As about butter

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