Few things are better without butter. In a complicated world, the decadence butter lends to food is something that most of us can at least agree on. But in the world of nutrition, butter is not so easily agreed upon. For the last several decades, butter has been demonized as the harbinger of heart disease, diabetes and death, thanks to its high saturated fat content. Other beloved foods like cheese and meat have suffered a similar fate, but is saturated fat really that bad for you?
Doctors and scientists are now realizing that saturated fat is not the sole culprit of these conditions, and in fact, there is no association between saturated fat intake and disease at all in healthy adults. And even for people with established heart disease, reducing saturated fat intake alone is not enough to promote improvement and reduce heart attack risk.
Lister Hospital cardiologist Dr. Aseem Malhotra, who is also an adviser to the U.K. National Obesity Forum, and his co-authors recently published an editorial in the online edition of the British Journal of Sports Medicine. Malhotra says that they want to help people see that saturated fat is not the problem and shift the focus onto the real causes of disease.
In an interview, he explained, “One thing that’s very clear when you look at the totality of the evidence: saturated fat does not clog the heart arteries. And sadly, for many years—for decades, in fact —this has been the primary focus of treatment of heart disease and public health advice.”
Doctors are now looking towards a “whole diet” approach, rather than focusing on a single nutrient. After all, it isn’t just one thing that makes people sick. During the saturated fat frenzy, people began turning to carbohydrates to fill the void left in the absence of fat. But researchers now know that consuming too many refined or process carbohydrates can also increase the risk of disease, especially in the form of insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. But, these foods can also play a role in the onset of heart disease.
Registered dietitian and nutrition epidemiologist at McMaster University in Hamilton, Russell de Souza, says that he favors the “whole dietary approach” and believes it is definitely a step in the right direction.