Our favorite fat is now getting a good rap.
Just when we weaned ourselves off butter, it’s now getting a pat on the back. Nutritionists are praising the fat’s health benefits and cooks are re-embracing it in the kitchen. British chef Jamie Oliver’s newest book Comfort Food is especially butter-laden, pairing the fat with everything from carrots to oysters. Oliver may be on a global crusade to cut processed food out of children’s diets, but as his book shows, he’s happy to butter them up.
But wait. Won’t all that fat make you fat? Quite the opposite, says the latest research. There’s solid evidence that a diet high in saturated fat is better for weight loss than a diet high in carbs. That’s because carbs are turned to sugar, while fats burn slowly, explains Duke University Lifestyle Medical Center’s Eric C. Westman, MD.
No wonder butter sales are booming—at the highest they’re been in forty years, according to The American Butter Institute. And the choices have grown too. While most of us grew up with traditional pasteurized butter, now you can buy organic butter or European-style, which has a higher fat content—at least eighty-two percent—and less moisture, making it denser and creamier (try Plugra). And then there’s grass-fed butter, the nutritionist favorite for flavor and health (top picks: Organic Valley Pasture, Kerrygold, and Anchor). “Butter from cows that have grazed on grass instead of grain has more conjugated linoleic acid [CLA], a nutrient that may help the immune system,” says Frances Lagerman-Roth, a nutritionist in New York.
Athletes are finding that butter may actually improve performance too. The Los Angeles Lakers pre-game drink is “Bulletproof coffee”: java, grass-fed butter, and heavy cream all blended together. The caffeine provides instant energy, while the butter provides fat that the body slowly metabolizes, so energy is maintained for hours—i.e., until the end of the game.
But what if you’re not an elite athlete? Karl Nadolsky Jr, DO at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, cautions that boosting your regular diet with bulletproof coffee adds about 456 calories and 46 grams of fat. Walter Reed is planning a study to ascertain the wider health effects—specifically jumps in cholesterol—of the butter trend, but it’ll be going against the tide, as most preconceptions about saturated fat have been debunked. A recent University of Cambridge study found no link between saturated fat restriction and heart disease prevention and “it turns out that a diet rich in saturated fat increases good cholesterol while decreasing the bad,” says Westman.
Whatever butter you stick with, steer clear of salted versions. Salt is a preservative, so salted butters have a longer shelf life than sweet or unsalted, meaning what you find at the store tends to be less fresh. You can always add a pinch of salt at the table.
But just a pinch. Salt hasn’t made its comeback—yet.