Margarine enthusiasts, who love to boast the purported benefits of their spread, have treated butter as an unnecessary evil in the culinary arts for some time. The late 1990s margarine craze led to the drop of butter consumption as scientists increasingly emphasized trans fats could pose serious risks compared to other fats for heart disease. However, for the third consecutive year, America's love affair with butter is making a comeback, as consumption increases nearly 23 sticks of butter a year, suggesting a shift in nutritional views.
Butter’s comeback churned sales in 2013, as Americans spent $2 billion on products from Land O'Lakes Inc., Organic Valley, and others, compared with $1.8 billion on spreads and margarines, The Wall Street Journal reported. Although market research considers this a “comeback” for the product, butter consumption is nowhere near where it was in the “roaring twenties,” when Americans would have 18 pounds, or about 72 sticks a year. It is projected Americans will down an average of 5.6 pounds of butter, or about 22.5 sticks a year for every man, woman, and child — an estimate that has not been seen since World War II.
Americans’ shift from butter to margarine has been a back and forth battle. Sean O'Keefe, professor and food scientist at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, believes it has to do with how society has viewed trans fats over the years. "In the 60s and 70s, before trans fats were really thought to be bad, we looked at margarine and said it was healthier because it didn't have as much saturated fat. The opposite is the case today,” she told the WSJ.
Both butter and margarine contain at least 80 percent fat, said Jacqueline B. Marcus, author of Culinary Nutrition: The Science and Practice of Healthy Cooking. Consumers are advised to avoid butters that are the highest in saturated fat and should choose whipped butter that contains half the amount of saturated fat and cholesterol as regular butter. Although butter contains high cholesterol and saturated fat, margarine is not any better when it comes to trans fat. Typically, margarine is made by adding hydrogen to vegetable oil, as ingredients such as soybean and corn oils are liquid at room temperature. Therefore, the hydrogenation process can produce trans fats and increase bad cholesterol in the human body.
Recently, in a proactive cover story, “Eat Butter,” TIME magazine says scientists were wrong to label saturated fats the enemy, saying carbs, sugar, and processed foods are to blame for obesity, diabetes, and other weight-related diseases. Although the research doesn’t specifically focus on butter, it suggests Americans should reconsider the role of these fats in our diet. The reason being, saturated fats raise levels of benign large “fluffy” LDL cholesterol, and refined carbs raise levels of dangerous small dense LDL cholesterol.
Butter’s savory powers are not only good for your palate but also your health. Here’s three health reasons why Americans are making the switch to butter again:
1. High in Fat-Soluble Vitamins
Butter contains a plethora of fat-soluble, vitamins including vitamins A, E, and K2. Although we get plenty of vitamins A and E if we follow a healthy diet, consuming vitamin K2 can be difficult but is essential. A 2008 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found an increase intake of vitamin K2 may reduce the risk of prostate cancer by 35 percent. A low intake of the vitamin has been associated with cardiovascular disease, cancer, and osteoporosis.
2. Healthy Saturated Fats
The “war on fat,” was never proven to actually cause harm. Saturated fat is known to raise HDL – the good cholesterol – and change the LDL from small and dense to large LDL that is benign. A 2011 study published in the journal Nutrition found there exists a discrepancy between the scientific literature and dietary advice given. Findings on previous studies were put into perspective, as it was found they did not overlap whosoever when it came to their lines of evidence. The study did not find a cohesive connection between saturated fat and cardiovascular disease.
3. Lower Heart Attack Risk
While the Mayo Clinic suggests margarine is usually better when it comes to heart health benefits as opposed to butter, scientific studies suggest otherwise. A 1997 study published in the journal Epidemiology examined the effects of butter and margarine on heart disease and found margarine significantly increased the risk, while butter had no effect. Grass-fed butter can be a healthier alternative, as it can even reduce heart attack risk due to its high vitamin K2 content.