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Don’t be terrified of butter, it’s about moderation, says doctor

Substitutes to butter can sometimes be harmful to heart health

21:16 March 17, 2017
Dr Rachel Leiper, Family Medicine Specialist, at King’s College Hospital London Medical and Surgical

Dubai: Contrary to the common belief that pure butter should be avoided because it is bad for health, an Abu Dhabi-based doctor has said that there is enough evidence that shows it can be good for the body if eaten in moderate quantities.

Dr Rachel Leiper, Family Medicine Specialist, at King’s College Hospital London Medical and Surgical Centre, Abu Dhabi, said that the dairy product, made up largely of saturated fats, “is not as bad for you as we once thought” and sometimes replacing pure butter with other butter substitutes is not always the best option.

“Dairy products are good in providing vitamin K and also calcium,” she says. “Furthermore, the butyric acid is surprisingly good for your gut ‘healthy’ bacteria which is increasingly interesting in health and nutrition. Also, Some dairy also contains something called CLAs (conjugated linolenic acid) and these seem to have some health benefits but these have to be grass fed dairy.”

Dr Leiper pointed out that though some butter substitutes can be lower in fat, some margarines for example can often be worse than pure butter, especially those that are high in transfats and hydrogenated fats.

“Butter substitutes can vary, so it depends on the substitute. The margarines to avoid are those which are full of transaturated and hydrogenated fats. They now tend to be less common fortunately but there is good evidence that these are actively bad for your heart health.”

She added that calorie wise, consuming certain butter substitutes like margarine can give the same calories per gram of fat as when consuming pure butter.

“A fat is a fat. Butter and certain spreads give you 9 calories per gram of fat. Some of the spreads, however, are mixed in other ingredients like maize starch and then the fat is emulsified with water so that it becomes lower in fat. You can see that if you try to bake with it or let it melt. It separates. So apart from calories, butter and margarine are actually identical.”

Replacing butter completely

Dr Leiper said that the current recommendations for health are the ‘Mediterranean’ type diet, which contains the healthy fats known as MUFAs and PUFAs — or monounsaturated fatty acids and polyunsaturated fatty acids.

There has been good evidence that these fats protect health and the heart and are an essential part of a balanced diet.

“While butter is not bad, it is true to say that PUFAs and MUFAs are probably better for the heart,” she added. “Eating foods that contain PUFA or MUFA fats like olive or rapeseed oil will have much better effect on the heart health by lowering the bad cholesterol (LDL).”

Some butter substitutes could be high in MUFA of PUFA like those that are sunflower oil based usually or sometimes olive oil based.

“These tend to be lower in saturated fats and therefore relatively better for heart health. I personally try to go for the rapeseed or olive oil based spreads as they are higher in Omega 3. We need to keep the balance of these essential fatty acids too,” she said.

For those who enjoy the taste of butter, she recommends using it a bit less, and to include it in a diet full of vegetables, MUFAs, sea food, nuts, legumes and low in processed meats. “Be more active and you will be even better off,” she said.