Health

Ending the war on butter: Are fatty foods really OK to eat?

June 12, 2014 at 10:46 AM ET

Fatty foods are good. Carbs are bad. Wait, what? 

In a provocative cover story, "Eat Butter," Time magazine says scientists were wrong to label saturated fats the enemy — that carbs, sugar and processed foods are mainly to blame for obesity, diabetes and other weight-related diseases, according to a growing body of research. 

The research doesn't specifically focus on butter, but suggests that Americans should reconsider the role saturated fats play in our diets. A recent study from University of Cambridge in England questioned the link between so-called "bad" fats, such as butter and pork, and heart disease. The Cambridge researcher also found no evidence that polyunsaturated fats, or "good" fatty acids such as salmon, walnuts and healthy oils, lower risk of heart disease. 

Video: TODAY nutritionist Joy Bauer discusses a new Time magazine story that reveals the benefits of saturated fats. The magazine declares it’s time to end the war on butter.

Fats don't hurt our hearts? What's the real deal? 

Some of the confusion comes from the decades-long war on trans fats, the artery-clogging ingredient found in baked goods and desserts. Science has shown that trans fats are harmful because they increase risk of heart disease because they both raise level of bad cholesterol (LDL) and lower levels of good cholesterol (HDL). Last year, the Food and Drug Administration said it would require food makers to phase out trans fats.

But saturated fats are different from trans fats.

"I do agree butter, along with other saturated fats like poultry skin, coconut oil, full fat dairy and certain cuts of red meat, are no longer the enemy," TODAY diet expert Joy Bauer said Thursday. “But, before people go slathering butter on things like bagels, mashed potatoes and pasta, they need to know that it's way more complicated than that." 

"We always knew that saturated fats elevate LDL-cholesterol (also known as the bad cholesterol)," said TODAY diet expert Joy Bauer Thursday. " 

However, scientists now know that there are two different kinds of bad cholesterol particles — one is small and dense (the kind linked to heart disease) and the other is large and fluffy (the kind that seems to be mostly benign). Saturated fat raises the level of larger particles that don’t appear to be harmful. 

On the other hand, refined carbohydrates (white bread, bagels, crackers, baked goods, cookies and soda), do increase the smaller, more dangerous LDL particles. 

"And unfortunately when fat was vilified back in the 1970s, we replaced those fats with…you guessed it…refined carbohydrates. That’s why we’re in trouble now," Bauer said. 

That's why it's important to reduce intake of refined carbs. 

Bauer advises: "if you love butter, add a small amount on vegetables, not a big hunk of bread. If you’re into full-fat milk, add it into your coffee —and nix or minimize the sugar — versus drinking a glass with a stack of cookies.”

The Time report isn't the first to support eating saturated fats. In a recent story in The New York Times, scientist Fred Kummerow, a pioneer in trans fat research and one of the first researchers to link heart disease and processed foods, said moderate amounts of saturated fat in butter, cheese and meat don't clog arteries and may be beneficial in moderate amounts. 

Moderate consumption is key. While the Time article says we can end the war on butter, other research points to risks from eating a lot of red meat. A study from Harvard suggests women who eat a lot of red meat may have a slightly higher risk of developing breast cancer



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