A pat of butter melting and bubbling in a skillet.

Is Butter Better Now?

Time magazine’s cover exhorting people to eat butter could be viewed as a desperate attempt to revive dwindling print sales, but they claimed to be reporting on real science—a systematic review and meta-analysis published in a prestigious journal that concluded that current evidence does not clearly support cardiovascular guidelines that encourage cutting down on saturated fat, like the kind found in meat and dairy products like butter.

No wonder it got so much press, since reducing saturated fat intake is a major focus of most dietary recommendations worldwide, aiming to prevent chronic diseases including coronary heart disease. So, to quote the Center for Science in the Public Interest, “What gives? Evidently, shaky science…and a mission by the global dairy industry to boost sales.”

They interviewed an academic insider, who noted that some researchers are intent on showing saturated fat does not cause heart disease, which can be seen in my video The Saturated Fat Studies: Buttering Up the Public. In 2008, the global dairy industry held a meeting where they decided that one of their main priorities was to “neutralize the negative impact of milk fat by regulators and medical professionals.” So, they set up a major, well-funded campaign to come up with proof that saturated fat does not cause heart disease. They assembled scientists who were sympathetic to the dairy industry, provided them with funding, encouraged them to put out statements on milk fat and heart disease, and arranged to have them speak at scientific meetings. And the scientific publications we’ve seen emerging since the Mexico meeting have done just what they set out to do.

Damage Control

During this meeting, the dairy industry discussed what is the key barrier to increasing worldwide demand for dairy. There’s global warming issues and other milks competing out there, but number one on the list is the “Negative messages and intense pressure to reduce saturated fats by governments and non-governmental organizations.” In short, the negative messages are outweighing the positive; so indeed, their number one priority is to neutralize the negative image of milk fat among regulators and health professionals as related to heart disease.

So, if we are the dairy industry, how are we going to do it? Imagine you work for Big Butter. You’ve got quite the challenge ahead of you. If you look at recommendations from around the globe, there is a global scientific consensus to limit saturated fat intake with most authoritative bodies recommending getting saturated fat at least under 10% of calories, with the prestigious U.S. Institute of Medicine and the European Food Safety Authority recommending to push saturated fat consumption down as low as possible.

The latest guidelines from the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology recommend reducing trans fat intake, giving it their strongest A-grade level of evidence. And they say the same same for reducing saturated fat intake. Since saturated and trans fats are found in the same place, meat and dairy, cutting down on foods with saturated fat will have the additional benefit of lowering trans fat intake. They recommend pushing saturated fat intake down to 5 or 6%. People don’t realize how small that is. One KFC chicken breast could take us over the top. Or, two pats of butter and two cubes of cheese and we’re done for the day—no more dairy, meat, or eggs. That’d be about 200 calories; so, they are in effect saying 90% of our diet should be free of saturated fat-containing foods. That’s like the American Heart Association saying, “Two meals a week can be packed with meat, dairy, and junk, but the entire rest of the week should be unprocessed plant-foods.” That’s how stringent the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology recommendations are.

So, this poses a problem for Big Cheese and Chicken. The top contributors of cholesterol-raising saturated fat are cheese, ice cream, chicken, non-ice cream desserts like cake and pie, and then pork. So, what are these industries to do? See The Saturated Fat Studies: Set Up to Fail.

For those unfamiliar with Trans Fat in Meat and Dairy (and refined vegetable oils), I made a video about it!

What happened when a country tried to put the lower saturated fat guidance into practice? See the remarkable results in Dietary Guidelines: From Dairies to Berries.

Photo credit: andrewmalone via VisualHunt.com / CC BY

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About The Author

NutritionFacts.org's picture

NUTRITIONFACTS.ORG is a strictly non-commercial, science-based public service provided by Dr. Michael Greger, providing free updates on the latest in nutrition research via bite-sized videos. There are more than a thousand videos on nearly every aspect of healthy eating, with new videos and articles uploaded every day. NutritionFacts.org was launched with seed money and support by the Jesse & Julie Rasch Foundation. Incorporated as a 501c3 nonprofit charity, NutritionFacts.org now relies on individual donors to keep the site alive.

Dr. Greger is a physician, New York Times bestselling author, and internationally recognized speaker on nutrition, food safety, and public health issues. A founding member and Fellow of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine, Dr. Greger is licensed as a general practitioner specializing in clinical nutrition. Currently he proudly serves as the public health director at the Humane Society of the United States. Dr. Greger is a graduate of the Cornell University School of Agriculture and the Tufts University School of Medicine.

His latest book, How Not to Die, became an instant New York Times Best Seller. 100% of all proceeds he has ever received from his books, DVDs, and speaking engagements has always and will always be donated to charity. Dr. Greger receives no compensation for his work on NutritionFacts.org.

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