The Link Between Butter Consumption and Chronic Disease

Study evaluates the association between consuming butter and the development of diabetes and other chronic diseases.

A meta-analysis published in PLOS ONE concluded that butter consumption had little to no association with cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and mortality.

The researchers combined 9 research studies into a meta-analysis of relative risk based on systematic review, and a search of multiple online academic and medical databases. The 9 studies included 15 country-specific cohorts that represented 636,151 unique individuals, with a total of 6.5 million person-years of follow-up.

Over the total follow-up period, the combined studies included 28,271 deaths, 9783 cases of cardiovascular disease, and 23,954 cases of new onset type 2 diabetes. Standardized butter consumption across all 9 studies was 14 grams per day, corresponding with the US Department of Agriculture’s 1 estimated serving of butter, which is 1 tablespoon.

Overall, average consumption across all studies ranged from approximately one-third of a serving per day to 3.2 servings per day. The results of the meta-analysis found only a weak association with total mortality.

Furthermore, there was zero association found with cardiovascular disease, and was slightly inversely associated with diabetes.

“Even though people who eat more butter generally have worse diets and lifestyles, it seemed to be pretty neutral overall,” said lead researcher Laura Pimpin, PhD. “This suggests that butter may be a middle-of-the-road food: a more healthful choice than sugar or starch, such as the white bread or potato on which butter is commonly spread and which have been linked to higher risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease; and a worse choice than many margarines and cooking oils — those rich in healthy fats such as soybean, canola, flaxseed, and extra virgin olive oils – which would likely lower risk compared with either butter or refined grains, starches, and sugars.”

The findings suggest that butter alone does not cause serious health issues and doesn’t need to be avoided.

“Overall, our results suggest that butter should neither be demonized nor considered ‘back’ as a route to good health,” said senior study author Dariush Mozaffarian, MD, DrPH. “More research is needed to better understand the observed potential lower risk of diabetes, which has also been suggested in some other studies of dairy fat. This could be real, or due to other factors linked to eating butter — our study does not prove cause-and-effect.”