The Butter Debate

The HealthGal Health Guide
  • This is the second part of "Is butter suddenly better?"


    Dr. David Katz M.D. MPH has been quite vocal and negative with regards to the conclusions made by some high profile individuals (NOT all health experts) who now suggest eating more butter and other high-saturated fat foods.  But as David Katz points out, people who eat a diet high in saturated fat often don’t just eat butter and beef and lots of bacon and eggs, they also include bread and muffins and sweet cereals and chips and dips.  Plenty of individuals who decide to cut saturated fat from their diet, often replace it with something else, that is not necessarily healthy like high-sugar grains and pastas and foods high in sodium.  In fact, Dr. Katz and other experts who evaluated the conclusions by the studies ask, where is the sugar discussion in all this?  Man does not eat saturated fat alone.

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    I can tell you that most of the clients who come to me tend to have diets full of processed foods, or they try trendy diets for a short period of time that highlight eating a lot of protein, especially meat, or juicing for days, which can mean a high sugar diet that does not have enough calories and is often lacking vital nutrients like protein, or they describe some other dietary approach that cannot be sustained for very long.  In most cases dieters abandon their latest, favorite diet, and then they go back to eating “a lot of everything,” and that usually includes fat, salt and sugary foods.  As Dr. Katz points out, “there are many ways to eat badly.”


    So if you look at the meta-analysis in that context, then if you choose to eat a diet specifically high in saturated fat or omega-6 fatty acids (polyunsaturates considered less healthful) and you don’t change anything else in your diet, or you remove saturated fats from your daily menu and you don’t change anything else in your diet, your cardiac risk profile may not change a whole lot. 


    That’s because it is very likely that you are eating a whole lot of other unhealthy foods – so removing one group of unhealthy foods (saturated fat) may not make a big dent in improving your cardiac profile.  To take that concept and simplify it to say “saturated fats are no longer bad for you” is incredibly irresponsible, and it downright misses the actual information this meta-analysis presented.  It DID NOT say “saturated fat is healthy or beneficial” and it very much showed that if you do choose (healthier) omega-3 fats and monounsaturated fats, you would more than likely to experience a cardiac health boost.


    How to stay heart healthy and avoid weight gain

    Take the phrase “you are what you eat.”  If you choose mostly whole foods and a mostly plant-based diet including fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, lentils, legumes, simple healthy oils, whole grains, you will have a diet mostly rich in healthy fats and nutrient-rich foods. 


    If you then decidee to also add fish and eggs, dairy products, and very lean meats as your secondary choices, then you will have added low levels of saturated fat.  A diet with these choices offers zero grams of trans fat and very little added sugar, except as it occurs naturally in foods, where it is usually accompanied by fiber.  This kind of menu plan consumed on a regular basis has been shown to support health, especially cardiac health.  A diet high in saturated fat has still not been shown to support health and is believed to increase cardiac risk.  If you have any further doubt about that, check out the US News & World Report review of the Ornish Diet.


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    Intuitively, I think you know that if you overeat any food or nutrient, even something healthy very suddenly becomes a food hazard, hence the recommendation to eat a balanced diet and to use portion control with even healthier foods.  Sure we also need occasional treats, because we have become accustomed to food rewards.  A balanced diet means that it is OK to gently pepper your weekly diet with small amounts of less healthy foods – the key being small amounts.  Food, however, is really supposed to be fuel. 


    And the sources of our fuel choices should correspond to the best health information that we currently have.  To take a study's complicated results and have it misinterpreted is bad for your health, though it may allow you to eat foods you really want to eat.  And deep down inside, I believe most of you know it.


    Amy Hendel is a Physician Assistant and Health Coach with over 20 years of experience.  Noted author, journalist and lifestyle expert, she brings extensive expertise to her monthly shareposts.  Her most recent book, The 4 Habits of Healthy Families is available for purchase online, and you can watch her in action on her shows Food Rescue and What's for Lunch?  Sign up for her daily health tweets or catch her daily news report at


Published On: April 07, 2014