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The Butter Battle

From what some new studies are suggesting, butter could be the new egg: nutritious and even weight-loss friendly. Here, a breakdown of both sides of the slippery debate

Just when we vegans thought we had the upper hand. Not only could we claim moral superiority, we also had a seemingly endless parade of health justifications to back us up. Red meat causes cancer! People aren’t meant to stomach dairy! Kale is such a super-food, it has its own national holiday! Sure, the Paleo craze stole some key players from Team Vegan, but we thought we could recover. But now this?

Many a vegan health-based argument has hinged on fat. There’s the lauded monounsaturated and polyunsaturated kind (hello, avocados) and the maligned saturated variety (goodbye, cheese). Clear cut, right? Maybe not.

In 2013, a report in the British Medical Journal by Dr. Aseem Malhotra, an interventional cardiology specialist registrar at Croydon University Hospital, London, suggested that butter and cheese may not be as bad for your heart as previously thought. And the latest study to cause major head scratching, an analysis of research studies on saturated fat in Annals of Internal Medicine from a team of international scientists, may turn our assumptions about the benefits and risks of saturated fat on their head.

In essence, the researchers found that eating saturated fat did not necessarily lead to heart disease, and they didn’t find any evidence that saturated fat increases heart attacks, either. Artery-clogging butter—saturated fats’ best friend—may not be harmful at all. In fact, it could be both nutritious and weight loss-friendly. Could butter be the new egg? The next cholesterol bomb comeback kid?

In the New York Times, Mark Bittman goes so far as to suggest that we’ve been brainwashed for decades due to ceaseless propaganda about saturated fat. Butter-rights activists have long argued that animal fats and cholesterol aren’t actually villains but vital factors in the diet, necessary for strong immune systems, growth and proper brain and nervous system function.

Part of the new debate is that butter may have hugely healthful short-chain fatty acids, fat-soluble vitamins and high concentration of CLA (conjugated linoleic acid)—in other words, butter may potentially build bone strength in a way that other foods don’t. Though some say that these benefits only come from high-quality butter from grass-fed cows.

It’s the sugar and overly processed foods that are getting the stink eye now more than ever. And while it’s tough to define what exactly constitutes “processed” (Where do you draw the line—canned food? Coffee beans? Please don’t say it…wine?), this argument certainly seems a bit more clear cut than fats.

While experts duke out all the finer points on the saturated fat showdown, we can at least all agree to amuse ourselves by reading pointed remarks on a Facebook group Facebook group called “Do not ban butter – it is a healthy fat!” I know some of us vegans may feel the need to do so with a pad of butter melting atop her plate of steaming collards.