You might want to think twice before pouring butter on that bowl of popcorn.
A study published in PLOS ONE late last month concluded that butter has no or little impact on whether a person develops heart disease or diabetes.
Headlines followed that proclaimed, “Butter is Back.”
However, a trio of nutrition experts interviewed by Healthline cautioned that although butter and other saturated fats might not be as unhealthy as previously believed, they still pose health concerns for people who eat too much of them.
Unsaturated fats such as vegetable oils, fish, and some nuts, as well as a balanced diet and exercise, are still preferable, they said.
“That’s the number one practice that we preach,” said Bethany Diggett, M.S., R.D.N., L.D., a clinical dietitian at the University of Kansas Hospital. “Anything in moderation is OK. With moderation, you have room for everything.”
The problem with saturated fats
Diggett explained that saturated fats are the fats that stay solid at room temperature.
They can commonly be found in dairy products and fatty meats.
These fats are harder to digest and therefore can form plaque and more easily clog up your arteries, she told Healthline.
Some saturated fats are better than others.
The nutrition experts agreed dairy products have some healthy components than can help balance out the ill effects of fats.
Katie Ferraro, M.P.H, R.D., a registered dietitian and assistant clinical professor of nutrition at the University of California, San Francisco, School of Nursing, told Healthline that dairy products like whole milk, yogurt, and cheese can provide you with calcium, protein, and vitamin D.
Kristin Kirkpatrick, M.S., R.D., L.D., a licensed, registered dietitian who is wellness manager at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute, told Healthline these full-fat dairy products also tend to fill you up more quickly.
That can help you eat less and perhaps even lose a little weight.
The nutrition experts said butter is preferable to margarine, but it is still one of the less desirable saturated fats. For starters, there are more than 100 calories per tablespoon.
Diggett said she recommends that her clients limit saturated fats to 7 percent of their daily calorie intake.
“The recent studies are not a license to put butter everywhere,” added Kirkpatrick. “Butter is not a health food.”
Moderation and balance
The nutrition experts stressed that people should focus on their overall diet as well as foods versus the components of those foods.
“You have to look at your diet as a whole,” said Kirkpatrick.
Having a candy bar once a week isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Eating one or two a day probably isn’t healthy.
Kirkpatrick noted that what you put butter on also makes a difference. Butter on a sweet potato is better than butter on a white potato.
Ferraro echoed that sentiment.
She said slathering butter on a serving of vegetables counteracts the health benefits of that dish.
“There are plenty of ways to ruin good food,” she said.
Ferraro added lifestyle choices are also important.
If you don’t exercise, then what you eat can take a bigger and quicker toll.
Eating a lot at restaurants can also have negative effects.
You may think you’re making a healthy choice by ordering fish from the menu. But if the chef douses it with butter, then it might not be the best selection.
“If you eat at restaurants a lot, then that’s a lifestyle choice,” she said.