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A rule of thumb in many health-conscious households is that butter is best left off the menu, but new research indicates that idea is overblown. Health experts are no longer steadfast with that standard, so toast-and-popcorn enthusiasts can theoretically lead healthy lives without the great, buttery sacrifice. A new study by the Public Library of Science journal (PLoS ONE) concludes that the dairy spread isn’t as detrimental as the general public believes.
Researchers fervently point out that they took a new approach to answering the classic question about healthy food, bypassing studies that look solely at food components such as saturated fat, unsaturated fat, omega-3 fatty acids or calcium. Instead, they looked at the whole foods that people eat, allowing them to determine the actual influence of individual ingredients like butter.
Their observation? There are more important things to worry about than butter.
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"I would say butter is neither good nor bad," Laura Pimpin of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science & Policy at Tufts University explained to NBC News. However, Pimpin, who lead the study, adds, "if you can replace it with the more healthful plant-based oils, do so."
While finding no clear evidence that butter does any harm or good for overall health by itself, the team did report people who ate the most butter were slightly more likely to die during the various study periods than those who ate little or none. The risk was very slight, though. There were even unexpected benefits.
"We found a very small protective effect of butter intake on type-2 diabetes—not enough to tell people to eat it, but enough to say this might not be of huge concern for policymakers," Pimpin explained.
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The team wrote: "Our findings suggest a major focus on eating more or less butter, by itself, may not be linked to large differences in mortality, cardiovascular disease, or diabetes. In sum, our findings do not support a need for major emphasis in dietary guidelines on butter consumption."
What might be a more beneficial focus, Pimpin explaines, is looking at the meals you consume with butter. "It may be the case that the bagel you spread your butter on, or the bread you spread it on may be more of a concern than the butter itself," she says.
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