Yes. Butter is a ketogenic diet staple. It adds flavor and moisture to baked keto goods and is an essential ingredient in butter coffee.
But most importantly, butter is a reliable source of energy for this low-carb lifestyle.
But butter also gets a bad rap.
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends limiting butter and other sources of saturated fat to help reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease . Nutritionists will also frequently recommend replacing butter with sources of unsaturated fat, including margarine, for this very reason.
However, recent large-scale studies contradict this advice. They have shown that butter may actually not be as bad as commonly believed and that it can even be good for you.
Since you’re a keto eater getting a great deal of your energy from fat, you probably want to know where butter can fit into your diet. After all, it’s your health that’s at stake here!
To get through this conundrum, below is what you need to know about butter and health.
Why Butter Gets a Bad Rap
Mainly because butter is high in saturated fat , which health authorities considered bad for cardiovascular and even metabolic health.
Viewing saturated fat as unhealthy began after findings from the Seven Countries Study. Ancel Keys led this study in the late 1950s through the 60s and 70s.
This large-scale epidemiological study found that regions with greater intake of saturated fat had greater high blood cholesterol and heart disease incidences.
Based on some of the study’s findings, Keys proposed that saturated fat had the strongest effect on blood cholesterol levels and heart disease risk.
Nutrition experts and government guidelines have been corroborating these claims for over 60 years. Studies have been carried out showing an association between high cholesterol and heart disease.
However, even in Keys’ times, his peers have brought many of his ideas into question. Yerushalmy and Hilleboe, for example, commented that such a study can only show association and can’t be used as evidence of causation .
And since the 1990s, prominent American investigative science journalist Gary Taubes has blamed Keys for starting the low-fat dogma. He has also criticized Keys for not including more countries in his study, which could have led to different findings.
More recently, a huge systematic review and meta-analysis was published in a 2016 issue of PLoS One.
It looked into the link between butter and bad health . The study compared data from 15 different countries involving over six million people.
And what did they find? That there’s a weak association between how much butter people ate and their risk of getting heart disease, diabetes, and early death.
So, Is Butter Healthy?
Findings on butter, other dairy foods, and saturated fat are conflicting . To complicate matters further, many researchers have been questioning the cholesterol hypothesis since its inception.
For this and many other reasons, you won’t hear a simple yes or no answer to the above question.
Nonetheless, the AHA recommends eating saturated fat in moderation, or no more than 13g per day . That’s the amount found in roughly two tablespoons of butter.
Of course, most people on low-carb diets eat much more saturated fat than that. And yet, numerous studies found keto has a favorable effect on cardiovascular health !
Specifically, keto leads to drops in blood insulin, glucose, triglycerides, blood pressure, inflammation, and all those other cardiovascular disease drivers!
Furthermore, a review published last year concluded that being in ketosis through a keto diet positively affects the lining of arteries (endothelium) and the whole cardiovascular system .
And since some theories suggest that poor endothelial functioning may be a key driver of cardiovascular disease, this renders the whole butter good or bad debate pointless.
In short, we can’t say that butter is healthy, but we don’t have solid evidence it’s exactly a disease-causing ingredient it’s sometimes made up to be.
The keto diet, saturated fat, and butter are often seen as unhealthy because of the still-prevailing diet-heart hypothesis.
This hypothesis claims diets high in saturated fat cause high blood cholesterol, and high blood cholesterol leads to heart disease.
But this is an oversimplified way of looking at things.
In reality, we know very little about what it really is that leads to these kinds of health problems.
Is it low-grade inflammation? Perhaps it’s poor endothelial functioning? Or maybe elevated blood glucose or triglycerides?
And what about the positive impact keto, with its emphasis on high-fat foods, has on heart disease risk?
Looking at everything from different perspectives goes to show how complex nutrition is.
As many nutrition scientists are now acknowledging, it’s not individual foods or nutrients that are so much the problem, but the composition of our diets as a whole.
Looking at keto’s impact on health and well-being, it’s not of so much importance whether butter is “good” or “bad,” but how you can make it fit into a healthy diet — which keto definitely can be.
- Saturated Fat. American Heart Association website. Accessed July 2021. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/fats/saturated-fats
- U.S. Department of Agriculture. Butter, stick, salted. Apr 1, 2020.
- YERUSHALMY J, HILLEBOE HE. Fat in the diet and mortality from heart disease; a methodologic note. N Y State J Med. 1957;57(14):2343-2354.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/13441073/
- Pimpin L, Wu JH, Haskelberg H, Del Gobbo L, Mozaffarian D. Is Butter Back? A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Butter Consumption and Risk of Cardiovascular Disease, Diabetes, and Total Mortality. PLoS One. 2016;11(6):e0158118. Published 2016 Jun 29. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0158118
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- DiNicolantonio JJ, OKeefe JH. Added sugars drive coronary heart disease via insulin resistance and hyperinsulinaemia: a new paradigm. Open Heart. 2017;4(2):e000729. Published 2017 Nov 29. doi:10.1136/openhrt-2017-000729
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