Butter is a fat that many people on low carb, high fat diets rely on as a source of energy.
While low carb diet enthusiasts argue that butter is a nutritious fat that can be enjoyed without limits, some health experts warn that eating too much butter may harm your health.
This article explains whether butter should be used as a main fat source by those following low carb diets.
There are many types of low carb diets, including those that are high in fat, such as the Atkins diet and ketogenic diet.
To reach the set macronutrient ranges for low carb, high fat dietary patterns, fat-rich foods must be included at every meal and snack.
For example, the typical macronutrient breakdown for a traditional ketogenic diet is around 70–75% fat, 20–25% protein, and 5–10% carbs (
Other types of less restrictive low carb eating patterns, such as a low carb paleo diet, typically restrict carbs to under 30% of calories, leaving more room for fat- and protein-rich foods (
As you can see, many high fat, low carb dietary patterns require a high number of calories in the form of fat, especially for those on a ketogenic diet.
Though many foods are rich in fat, many people following high fat, low carb diets rely on concentrated fat sources, such as olive oil, coconut oil, and butter, to meet their macronutrient needs.
Many low carb diets, including the ketogenic diet and Atkins diet, are high in fat and very low in carbs. People following these diets rely on concentrated fat sources like butter to meet their macronutrient needs.
Given that butter is a saturated fat, its effects on health are controversial.
For decades, the consumption of saturated-fat-rich foods, including full fat dairy products like butter, was blamed for causing heart disease.
However, recent research has shown that, although the consumption of saturated-fat-rich foods like butter may increase several heart disease risk factors, including LDL (bad) cholesterol, it does not seem to increase the risk of heart disease itself (
In part, this may be because while butter intake increases LDL (bad) cholesterol, it also increases heart-protective HDL cholesterol, meaning the LDL to HDL ratio — an important marker for heart disease risk — is maintained (
For example, a review that included 636,151 people from 15 different countries demonstrated that butter intake was not significantly associated with stroke or heart disease and even had a slight protective effect against diabetes development (
However, the study showed a relatively weak association between butter intake and all-cause mortality.
Plus, some researchers argue that while moderate butter intake may be healthy for people with normal cholesterol levels, it may not be safe for those with genetic disorders, such as familial hypercholesterolemia (
This condition results in abnormally high cholesterol levels and a greater risk of heart disease (
Furthermore, following a butter-rich diet that’s also high in processed foods and low in nutrients, which is common in the Western world, is likely to affect health differently than a diet that’s high in butter but rich in healthy foods like fiber-rich vegetables.
As you can see, this area of research is highly complex and multifactorial, and it’s clear that more high quality research is needed to better understand how butter affects overall health.
While butter intake may increase heart disease risk factors, current research doesn’t show a significant link between butter intake and heart disease or stroke. This area of research is complex, highlighting the need for more high quality studies.
Given that butter is delicious and highly controversial, it tends to get a lot of attention, especially from those following low carb, high fat diets.
Though current research has shown that butter is not the heart-disease-promoting, unhealthy fat choice it was once thought to be, that doesn’t mean it should be the only fat that you consume.
Why butter shouldn’t be the only source of fat in your diet
Butter, especially from pasture-raised cows, has many beneficial qualities.
For example, butter from pasture-raised cows is a better source of antioxidants like beta carotene, and it has a more favorable fatty acid profile than butter from conventionally raised cows (
Additionally, butter is highly versatile and tasty, adding flavor to both sweet and savory dishes alike. It’s also a good source of vitamin A, a fat-soluble nutrient that’s critical for immune health and vision (
However, butter is not as nutritious as other fat sources and should not be the only source of added fat in any diet, including low carb diets.
Avocados are another fat choice that has been well studied for their role in promoting overall health, including boosting HDL (good) cholesterol and facilitating weight loss (
Avocado oil, coconut products, nuts, seeds, full fat yogurt, chia seeds, egg yolks, and fatty fish are just some of the other exceptionally nutritious fat-rich foods that can be consumed on low carb diets.
Relying on butter as a main fat source when following a low carb dietary pattern means missing out on all the health benefits that other fat-rich foods have to offer.
This is not to say that butter can’t be included as part of a healthy eating pattern. However, it’s always best to diversify your diet and consume many nutritious sources of a macronutrient rather than just one.
Butter can be included as part of a healthy, low carb diet. However, there are many healthy fats to choose from and butter should not be relied upon as a main source of dietary fat.
Butter, especially butter from pasture-raised cows, can be consumed as a healthy fat option by those following low carb diets.
However, that doesn’t mean that low carb diets should be high in butter. In fact, it’s probably not a good idea for any dietary pattern to be high in butter.
Aside from the fact that it’s not yet known exactly how butter affects your long-term health, especially when used in large quantities, eating a butter-centric, low carb diet means that there’s less room for other nutritious fat sources.
To include butter as part of a healthy, low carb diet, the key is to enjoy it in small quantities.
For example, adding a dollop of butter from pasture-raised cows on top of non-starchy veggie dishes can help low carb dieters boost the fat content of their meals to reach their fat needs for the day.
Even if you’re following a more extreme low carb, high fat diet like the ketogenic diet, butter should be just one of many fat choices included as part of meals and snacks.
If you’re following a low carb diet and find yourself relying on butter as your main source of fat, try experimenting with other options.
For instance, if you like to cook your eggs in butter in the morning, perhaps use olive oil, avocado oil, or coconut oil when preparing lunch and dinner.
There are many healthy sources of fat to choose from, so don’t be afraid to experiment and branch out from your typical go-to’s.
In addition to choosing a variety of healthy fats, it’s important to focus on the overall quality of your diet rather than individual foods. No matter the dietary pattern you choose to follow, whole, nutrient-dense foods should make up the majority of your calorie intake.
It’s a good idea to choose a variety of fat sources when following a low carb dietary pattern. Although butter can be included as part of a healthy, low carb diet, it should not be consumed as a main source of dietary fat.
Many low carb dieters rely heavily on butter to get their fat fix. However, this may not be the healthiest option.
Although butter can be consumed as part of a nutritious, low carb dietary pattern, it shouldn’t be the only source of fat you eat, no matter your macronutrient needs.
Instead, aim to eat a variety of nutritious fat sources to maximize your nutrient intake and diversify your diet.