Butter is making a comeback as a healthy fat. But are the claims for the benefits of butter for real? How does butter fit into a healthy diet?
What Makes a Food Healthy?
Well, whenever anyone asks me whether a particular food can be considered healthy, I respond by saying that no food can really be designated as healthy or unhealthy in a vacuum. It depends on how much you’re eating, what you’re eating it with, and what you might be eating if you weren’t eating that instead.
No food can really be designated as healthy or unhealthy in a vacuum.
I wouldn’t endorse blending a stick of butter into your coffee every morning (although some would). And the fact that my famous pie crust is made with butter doesn’t justify a larger piece! But a pat of butter melted onto a baked sweet potato or drizzled over an ear of fresh corn on the cob? Go for it!
As for how much is too much, the USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest that you should consume about three times as much unsaturated fat as saturated. That sounds about right to me. Although saturated fat may not be as harmful as we once thought, evidence for the benefits of unsaturated fat continues to get stronger.
So, what would that look like in terms of a typical day?
Let’s say I start the day with some overnight oats made with whole milk yogurt and fruit. Most of the fat in the yogurt is saturated. For lunch, I have a big salad topped with a hard boiled egg and half an avocado, dressed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. That’s a little more saturated fat in the egg but mostly monounsaturated fat in the avocado and dressing. That afternoon, I have a handful of almonds for a snack—they contain a bit of saturated fat but are mostly unsaturated.
For dinner, I grill a piece of salmon, saute some spinach in olive oil and garlic, and add a baked acorn squash. Most of the fat in both the salmon and olive oil is unsaturated but both also contain small amounts of saturated fat. Later, I air-pop some popcorn and drizzle it with butter. As I said earlier, about two-thirds of the fat in butter is saturated and the rest is unsaturated. All told, that’s about 60 grams of unsaturated fat, 20 grams of saturated fat, and whole lot of delicious nutrition.
Almost any food can be consumed in quantities or contexts that are unhealthful and butter is no exception. But I think that a healthy diet can absolutely include butter—and be the better for it!
Image of buttered bread © Shutterstock