Butter's Not So Bad (Spread It Around)

Butter

Photo by: Thinkstock

Thinkstock

Butter is ready for its close-up — and gets it on this week's cover of Time magazine, where a solitary, sensuously lit shaved curl of golden deliciousness poses alluringly against a black background.

"Eat Butter," the attending coverline directs in a bold yellow font, adding, in smaller, whiter type, "Scientists labeled fat the enemy. Why they were wrong."

Inside, senior writer Bryan Walsh declares the "war on fat" — "for decades ... the most vilified nutrient in the American diet" — to be over. Even as we sought to reduce our intake of saturated fats in the name of good health, in the 70s and 80s, Bryan notes, the rates of obesity and diabetes in the United States skyrocketed. That, he contends, is because we were replacing those fats in our diets not with healthier foods, like fruits and veggies, but rather with carbs, sugar and processed foods, which turn out to be far fiercer public health foes.

Bryan told CBS News that after speaking with a host of doctors and nutritionists, he concluded that Americans "probably would have been much better off if we had just not worried so much about fat," but rather focused on eating a balanced diet emphasizing healthy, whole foods.

In other words, butter was not the bad guy after all. Neither were red meat and eggs, also unfairly maligned. Walsh explains why here, but it really boils down to LDL cholesterol, the "bad" cholesterol that saturated fats are known to raise. It turns out all there are two different kinds of LDL cholesterol: the small, dense kind that are in fact, linked to heart disease, and the large, fluffy kind that appear to be essentially benign. The small, dense ones are actually increased not by saturated fats but by the carbs, sugars and processed foods we replaced them with.

Bryan and Time weren't the first to call for butter to be reinstated into our collective good graces, of course. "Butter is back," Mark Bittman trumpeted in the New York Times in late March. While more research on the effects of saturated fat is needed, Mark wrote, "The days of skinless chicken breasts and tubs of I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter may finally be drawing to a close. You can go back to eating butter, if you haven't already."

So there seems to be consensus: Bring on the butter, in moderation and as part of a balanced diet, featuring lots of fruits, veggies and whole grains.

The war is over. All they are saying is give peas (hot and buttered) a chance.

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