“In praise of….butter” is the title of a recent  editorial in The Guardian (21 April 2014). Butter has been condemned by health professionals ever since the Committee on Medical Aspects of Food Policy (COMA) made the recommendation in 1984 to reduce the saturated fat (SFA) in the habitual British diet from 20% energy to 15% energy. The rationale which underpinned this advice was that the total cholesterol in blood (TC) is increased by SFA and the TC is a risk factor for heart disease (1). According to the editorial:

Now this supposed menace (SFA) is finally being laid to rest. The latest study(2) finds that there is no evidence saturated fat increases the risk of heart disease. Of course, a few anti-butter killjoys and margarine fanatics will dispute this, and there are some respectable scientific critics as well. But enough work has been done to show that butter is not bad, that dairy does not equal death, and that you do not have to spread your toast with strange, and strangely unsatisfying, substances. Instead, put butter on straight away and watch it saturate the hot bread. Or wait a bit longer and see those yellow nuggets liquefying slowly. Butter, praise be, is back (3)”.

The fact that this topic has been chosen for an editorial in The Guardian indicates that there is widespread awareness that the vilification of butter is totally without foundation. It is worth noting that the original COMA target was reached in 2000(4). Currently the amount of SFA in the British diet is 12.7% of energy. Over this period the incidence of obesity has continued to increase. In men it has doubled since 1993, which is when detailed information was first collected (5). What is especially disturbing is that since 1994 the incidence of diabetes has more than doubled for both men and women (6).

The official advice on the NHS Choices website is that:

Most people in the UK eat too much saturated fat: about 20% more than the recommended maximum, according to the British Dietetic Association.

  • The average man should eat no more than 30g      of saturated fat a day.
  • The average woman should eat no more than      20g of saturated fat a day.

Eating a diet high in saturated fat can cause the level of cholesterol in your blood to build up over time. Raised cholesterol increases your risk of heart disease.

Foods high in saturated fat include:

  • fatty cuts of meat
  • meat products, including sausages and pies
  • butter, ghee and lard
  • cheese, especially hard cheese
  • cream, soured cream and ice cream
  • some savoury snacks and chocolate      confectionery
  • biscuits, cakes and pastries”(7).

Although this was updated on 16th June 2013, it is evident that whoever is responsible for the content is apparently oblivious of the latest thinking. Therefore it is interesting to consider some of the comments which have been published on the site. Here are a few extracts from the latest 5 comments:

  • Stumbled across this article whilst researching something else.
    What a complete and utter disaster………..when will we have an NHS that gives a monkeys about handing out the best advice.
    Come on folks….update your site to reflect the current research otherwise you’ll never save any of the 5.1 billion pounds that obesity is supposed to be costing us!!
    If you guys are writing rubbish like this people will follow it as you’re the NHS and most people trust you. ……..
    Please, please reconsider this article or remove it completely if you can’t give us the facts! Thanks”

    Nick. 28th March 2014

 

  • This is a very poor article and, in my opinion, completely wrong, saturated fat is not the enemy at all and there are an increasing amount of studies that back this up. Fat was mistakenly blamed for increases in CHD after WW2, which now could possibly be explained by a boom in smoking around that time (although we were ignorant of the adverse affects of smoking back then), and has been the scapegoat ever since. We’ve been eating less and less fat for some time now, it’s even difficult to find full-fat yoghurt at the supermarket, but we’re still getting sicker and more obese as a nation! As already mentioned, Gary Taubes’ book ‘The Diet Delusion’ is essential reading for anyone interested in the subject of how we came to be in the ridiculous situation.”
  • Jeznap. 25th March 2014

 

 

  • I think this emphasis on cholesterol being a bad thing is an excuse for processed food manufacturers to cut costs by using cheaper ingredients …..and a plot to push statins.
    Our bodies manufacture cholesterol, they do not simply accumulate it, and it serves a function in our nervous system. Without adequate cholesterol, we are susceptible to stroke, heart attack, heart failure and other maladies.
    I question the levels at which acceptable HDL/LDL and total cholesterol are set. I am very lean, take long walks, make my meals, etc., yet am measured as ‘borderline high’ for total cholesterol.
    Eskimos have eaten whale blubber for millennia – shouldn’t they have died out from coronary failure, given the article’s recommendations?
    Also, why should women eat a lower percentage of fat than men?
    I agree with previous commenters that over-consumption of sugar poses much greater danger
    . “
  • Stalinlobbyistsrule. 31 December 2013

 

  • This article is at least ten years behind the science. It is the same old failed low fat dogma that has not helped to stop the diabesity epidemic. Can the NHS not take a look at the facts? Give advice based on actual evidence and not give us old broken cliches about saturated fat and cholesterol. The NHS needs to stand up, admit past mistakes and give us nutritional advice which is based on research. Saturated fat is healthy. Cholesterol is a vital part of our biology. It is a key component of nearly all of our cells. This is not an accident. The liver makes cholesterol whether we eat it or not. I eat low carb and high fat and I have never felt better and never had such a good lipid panel. HDL through the roof and low trigs. I eat lots of butter, animal fat and coconut oil. As a nice bi-product my body fat has dramatically reduced because my body is adapted to metabolise fat. I eat delicious food, never go hungry and never count calories.Ancel Keys was utterly wrong about fat and heart disease. Can we please make choices based on evidence now? Come on NHS, pull your finger out!”

    Ian UK 22 December 2013

 

  • I thought low fat diets were “so over” but obviously not. Everyone I know who buys low fat dairy and drinks diet sodas is fat. Eat the full fat versions as they will satisfy you in smaller quantities. Fats are essential to health hence “essential fatty acids”. I am sticking up for saturated fats. They are unfairly maligned and actually they are really good for you in their natural forms. NHS hasn’t even evolved to start talking about low carb diets. It’s still recommending high carb low fat diets for diabetics and to the rest of us. So that we can become diabetic too and then they can prescribe us more pills!” Camels Toe 26 November 2013

 

It is surely highly significant that all of these 5 contributors are critical of the official line, which is remarkably short of supporters. There does not appear to be any attempt to counter the above arguments or to justify the original recommendations. It really is time the Department of Health and the British Dietetic Association took the trouble to conduct an objective evaluation of the latest scientific evidence. Their credibility is under serious threat and unless they revise their position in the near future, they risk becoming a laughing stock!

Many consumers, especially those who take the Healthy Eating advice seriously are choosing “low fat” foods under the mistaken impression that these will be good for them. In reality they are missing out on some valuable nutrients while at the same time are almost certainly increasing their intake of sugar which undoubtedly contributes to diabetes not to mention, heart disease, obesity and cancer.

  1. Department of Health and Social Security (1984) “Diet and Cardiovascular Disease” London: HMSO
  2. http://annals.org/article.aspx?articleid=1846638&atab=7
  3. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/apr/20/n-praise-of-butter
  4. http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20130103014432/http://www.defra.gov.uk
  5. Health Survey for England 2010 Adult Trend Tables
  6. Health Survey for England 2009
  7. http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Goodfood/Pages/Fat.aspx