Is Butter Healthy For You

by John Staughton (BASc, BFA) last updated -

Butter is a dairy product that forms when milk or cream is churned, either from a fermented or a fresh source. It is traditionally derived from animal milk, most commonly cows. However, other kinds of butter can also be derived from milk animals like sheep, buffalo, goats, and yaks. In this article, we are focusing on butter made from cow’s milk.

There is evidence that this delicious spread has been used in various cultural cuisines for more than 4,000 years, and in-depth studies of Indian culture, as well as the Bible, tell us that it has been around for millennia, has long been considered sacred, and has long been respected for its nutritious potential. However, in recent decades, a shift in opinion has given butter something of a bad name, and people are turning towards margarine, or other overly processed and chemically altered substitutes, rather than butter. Not only is this decreasing the amount of organic food that is in the diet, but also eliminating the possible health benefits that butter can bring to your life.

Nutrition Facts

Butter, without salt
Serving Size :
Water [g]16.17
Energy 717
Energy [kJ]2999
Protein [g]0.85
Total lipid (fat) [g]81.11
Ash [g]0.09
Carbohydrate, by difference [g]0.06
Sugars, total including NLEA [g]0.06
Calcium, Ca [mg]24
Iron, Fe [mg]0.02
Magnesium, Mg [mg]2
Phosphorus, P [mg]24
Potassium, K [mg]24
Sodium, Na [mg]11
Zinc, Zn [mg]0.09
Copper, Cu [mg]0.02
Manganese, Mn [mg]0
Selenium, Se [µg]1
Fluoride, F [µg]2.8
Thiamin [mg]0.01
Riboflavin [mg]0.03
Niacin [mg]0.04
Pantothenic acid [mg]0.11
Vitamin B-6 [mg]0
Folate, total [µg]3
Folate, food [µg]3
Folate, DFE [µg]3
Choline, total [mg]18.8
Vitamin B-12 [µg]0.17
Vitamin A, RAE [µg]684
Retinol [µg]671
Carotene, beta [µg]158
Vitamin A, IU [IU]2499
Vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol) [mg]2.32
Vitamin K (phylloquinone) [µg]7
Fatty acids, total saturated [g]50.49
4:0 [g]3.23
6:0 [g]2.01
8:0 [g]1.19
10:0 [g]2.53
12:0 [g]2.59
14:0 [g]7.44
16:0 [g]21.7
17:0 [g]0.56
18:0 [g]10
20:0 [g]0.14
Fatty acids, total monounsaturated [g]23.43
16:1 [g]1.82
16:1 c [g]0.96
18:1 [g]20.4
18:1 c [g]16.98
20:1 [g]0.1
Fatty acids, total polyunsaturated [g]3.01
18:2 [g]1.83
18:2 n-6 c,c [g]2.17
18:2 CLAs [g]0.27
18:2 i [g]0.3
18:3 [g]1.18
18:3 n-3 c,c,c (ALA) [g]0.32
18:1 t [g]2.98
Cholesterol [mg]215
Beta-sitosterol [mg]4
Tryptophan [g]0.01
Threonine [g]0.04
Isoleucine [g]0.05
Leucine [g]0.08
Lysine [g]0.07
Methionine [g]0.02
Cystine [g]0.01
Phenylalanine [g]0.04
Tyrosine [g]0.04
Valine [g]0.06
Arginine [g]0.03
Histidine [g]0.02
Alanine [g]0.03
Aspartic acid [g]0.06
Glutamic acid [g]0.18
Glycine [g]0.02
Proline [g]0.08
Serine [g]0.05
Sources include : USDA [1]

Butter Nutrition

Butter is mainly composed of high saturated dairy fat content. Dairy fat contains approximately 400 different fatty acids, which makes it one of the most complex natural fats. [2] [3]

According to the USDA, a tablespoon (14.2g) of butter may contain 102 calories, 0.06 grams of carbohydrates, and 7.17 grams of total saturated fat. It may also contain 3.3 grams of monounsaturated fats and 0.4 grams of polyunsaturated fats. It can even contain some amount of natural trans fat, which is actually beneficial to health. In terms of vitamins and minerals, butter may contain vitamins A, B12, D, E, and K as well as small amounts of calcium, phosphorus, and potassium. It can also contain beta carotene. However, since it is usually consumed in small amounts, the nutrient intake is negligible. [4]

Is Butter Healthy For You?

Butter can have health benefits when had in moderation. Let us look at the most important points centered around butter consumption and its health benefits.

Nutrient-rich Dairy Fats

According to research papers, dairy products like butter, ghee (clarified butter), and cream may be fat-rich dairy products that can be rich in nutrients along with health-benefiting compounds like milk fat globule membrane (MFGM), conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), and short-chain free fatty acids (SCFAs). These compounds can have various beneficial actions on human health, such as antidiabetic, anticholesterolemic, and antimicrobial activities. [5]

For instance, a large percentage of SCFAs is butyric acid. In preliminary studies, butyrate, a form of butyric acid is shown to help reduce inflammation, may improve gut health, and may be used as a potential treatment for Crohn’s disease. [6] [7]

Sliced butter with a knife on a wooden plate

A little butter goes a long way in terms of taste and satiety. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Source Of Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA)

Butter may be a rich source of conjugated linoleic acids (CLA), a naturally occurring fatty acid that is beneficial to health. CLAs may be produced during the digestion of unsaturated fats in cows and sheep, which is why these fatty acids are mainly found in meat and dairy products. [8]

Over the last few years, researchers have found that CLAs may help change body composition. In Elsevier’s Journal of the American Dietetic Association, a report suggested that CLAs may specifically help reduce body fat and increase lean body mass. Moreover, researchers found that CLAs may have anticarcinogenic, antiatherogenic, antidiabetogenic, and immune-modulating properties. Due to this, CLAs have garnered much public attention and are being sold as a dietary supplement. However, the studies have been limited to animal models and a large-scale human clinical trial is required to fully understand the effect of CLAs on the body. [9]

Also, one of the most important findings in recent research, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, is that there may be no real association between the naturally occurring trans fat in dairy products and the risk of myocardial infarction. The same study found that the content and composition of CLAs found in grass-fed butter may also offset the adverse effects of saturated fat. [10] [11]

Can Be High In Calories & Saturated Fat

The main reason for the no-butter campaign in the late 1970s was because research reports directly linked dietary fat to obesity and other health problems related to metabolism and weight gain. However, the era of low-fat foods caused its own set of health problems and did not really solve the problem of obesity trends. In the 2016 report titled “Is Butter Back?”, a meta-analysis of butter consumption and risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and total mortality showed that there may be little to no association between the two. [12] [13]

However, it has been proven that excessive amounts of saturated fat may lead to weight gain and it is best to limit the amount, instead of removing fat as a food group in general. So, in terms of consumption of butter, it is best to take into account that this dairy spread can be high in calories as well as saturated fat and accordingly, incorporate it in your daily diet. [14]

Ingredients Can Be Pure & Natural

Butter has been used for centuries for baking and cooking. With the backlash against butter in the last two decades, there has been a flurry of substitute products including margarine that has hit the supermarket aisles. Many margarine may be low in saturated fat but can contain dangerously high levels of trans fats. According to Harvard Health, new margarine brands are out in the market, which does not have trans fats and is low in saturated fats. It is therefore advisable to buy margarine after a thorough evaluation of the nutrition labels. [15]

However, margarine may still be a debatable healthy butter substitute as it may contain sweeteners, fatty emulsifiers, preservatives, and coloring agents. On the other hand, butter is pure dairy fat.

May Help In Satiety

Anecdotal evidence shows that using a little bit of high-fat butter instead of low-calorie spreads may help keep the person satiated. However, many reports show that there is no real difference in satiety when you compare fats high in monosaturated fatty acids (peanut or canola oil) to those rich in saturated fatty acids (butter). [16] [17]

How Much Butter Can You Eat In A Day?

According to the 2015-2020 US Dietary Guidelines, people may gradually move towards shifting to reduce saturated fats intake to less than 10 percent of calories per day. So if you are following a 2000-calorie diet, saturated fats should be about 200 calories which equal about 2 tablespoons of butter. [18]

It would be better, as Harvard Health suggests, to have butter as needed sparingly and to limit the amount of saturated fat altogether. A healthy alternative to butter would be olive oil. A realistic option is to eat different kinds of fats such as olive oil, avocado, nuts, seeds, and fatty fish. [19] Protection Status
About the Author

John Staughton is a traveling writer, editor, publisher and photographer with English and Integrative Biology degrees from the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana (USA). He co-founded the literary journal, Sheriff Nottingham, and now serves as the Content Director for Stain’d Arts, a non-profit based in Denver, Colorado. On a perpetual journey towards the idea of home, he uses words to educate, inspire, uplift and evolve.

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