Butter is making a comeback — and it has nothing to do with Paula Deen. Once maligned as a high-calorie, artery-clogging disaster, butter is now re-emerging as a staple in the diets of some health-minded folks. Case in point: Coffee aficionados are mixing their brew with butter, and Paleo folks are debating whether the spread belongs on their list of OK-to-eat foods. Clarified butter, also known as ghee, is even experiencing a culinary moment as it becomes popular outside of traditional Indian cuisine.
So should butter be a mainstay in high-fat diets? Or should you swear it off in the name of better cholesterol? Read on to find out.
Bulletproof Coffee: Bringing Butter Back to the Breakfast Table
If you think whole milk feels like a splurge, the idea of mixing up a cup of Bulletproof coffee, which requires adding one to two tablespoons of grass-fed, unsalted butter to your java, might seem downright sinful. Nonetheless, the trend has caught on among followers who say it’s both energizing and filling. BulletProof coffee is the brainchild of Dave Asprey, a Silicon Valley investor turned health nut, who lost more than 100 pounds by eating a diet rich in healthy fats.
“One of the big misconceptions is that eating fat makes you fat, because it has more calories.”
Asprey was inspired to swap out butter for traditional coffee creamers while on a trip to Nepal. “I happened upon yak butter tea, a traditional high-energy food eaten by Tibetans,” Asprey says. “Normally at high latitude you feel really unwell, but I drank it and felt rejuvenated.” Upon his return to the U.S., he came up with his own version, made with specialty Bulletproof beans, Brain Octane (a healthy oil made from coconut and palm kernels) and butter.
After weighing 300 pounds in his 20s, Asprey eventually slimmed down by incorporating more healthy fats, and fewer trans fats, gluten, sugar and other inflammatory foods in his diet. Now, his new book “The Bulletproof Diet,” claims to offer a weight loss solution that lets you have your butter, and eat it too.
“Butter has always been a healthy part of the diet in almost every culture; butter is a traditional food,” Asprey says. The one caveat: Asprey advises only buying butter made from grass-fed or pastured cows. “If you’re going to eat butter, the health of the animal that made the butter is really important.”
Does Butter Make You Fat?
In just one tablespoon of butter, there are 100 calories and 11 grams of fat (including 7 grams of saturated fat) — which makes it hard to argue that butter is a “health” food. Yet, the nutrition facts might not tell the whole story here. “One of the big misconceptions is that eating fat makes you fat, because it has more calories,” Asprey says.
“Do I think people need to cut butter out completely? Absolutely not.”
Plus, a recent study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that people who ate more saturated fat didn’t necessarily have higher rates of heart disease — indicating that high-fat, meat-filled diets might not necessarily be your heart’s worst enemy. Though controversial, the research got people wondering if butter wasn’t quite so bad.
Lisa Cimperman, RDN, LD, and a clinical dietician at University Hospitals Case Medical Center, says she gets questions about butter from her patients all the time. “We learned at one point that saturated fat increased cholesterol levels and increased our risk for heart disease, so everybody went low-fat and we replaced all those calories with simple sugars and refined carbohydrates,” Cimperman says. “In doing so, we actually didn’t improve the quality of our diets and we just continued to get fatter — and our rates of heart disease were just as significant as before.”
Asprey advocates a diet rich in vegetables, high-quality protein, such as grass-fed beef or wild-caught fish, and supplemented with butter and healthy fats, such as guacamole, tropical oils (like coconut), fish oil, or nuts.
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So Is Butter Healthy Now?
Despite the health hype, your best bet with butter is still to eat it in moderation, Cimperman says. She recommends people use it when they crave a buttery taste, such as on toast, rather than cooking with it. “Do I think people need to cut butter out completely? Absolutely not.” Cimperman says. “But I would encourage other oils and fats that are unsaturated as the mains source of fat, and butter as an accent.”
For anyone on a high-fat diet rich in meats, oils or butter (including the Paleo peeps out there), Cimperman said she’d still advise being wary of saturated fat, despite recent studies. “For anyone who is going to do the Paleo diet, limiting saturated fat is one of the things I would talk to them about, and with that emphasizing unsaturated fats as other things to eat.” Some of her favorites: peanut butter and other nut butters, oils, nuts and fish.