butter
Diet & Nutrition

Did Butter Get a Bad Rap?

A research team led by scientists at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health has unearthed more evidence that casts doubt on the traditional “heart healthy” practice of replacing butter and other saturated fats with corn oil and other vegetable oils high in linoleic acid.

The findings, reported on April 12th 2016 in the British Medical Journal, suggest that using vegetable oils high in linoleic acid might be worse than using butter when it comes to preventing heart disease, though more research needs to be done on that front. This latest evidence comes from an analysis of previously unpublished data of a large controlled trial conducted in Minnesota nearly 50 years ago, as well as a broader analysis of published data from all similar trials of this dietary intervention.

A release from the university notes that the analyses show that interventions using linoleic acid-rich oils failed to reduce heart disease and overall mortality even though the intervention reduced cholesterol levels. In the Minnesota study, participants who had greater reduction in serum cholesterol had higher rather than lower risk of death.

The release quotes co-first author Daisy Zamora, PhD, a researcher in the Department of Psychiatry at the UNC School of Medicine, as saying, “Altogether, this research leads us to conclude that incomplete publication of important data has contributed to the overestimation of benefits – and the underestimation of potential risks – of replacing saturated fat with vegetable oils rich in linoleic acid.”

Along with corn oil, linoleic acid-rich oils include safflower oil, soybean oil, sunflower oil, and cottonseed oil.

The belief that replacing saturated fats with vegetable oils improves heart health dates back to the 1960s, when studies began to show that this dietary switch lowered blood cholesterol levels. Since then, some studies, including epidemiological and animal studies, have suggested that this intervention also reduces heart attack risk and related mortality. In 2009, the American Heart Association reaffirmed its view that a diet low in saturated fat and moderately high (5-10 percent of daily calories) amounts of linoleic acid and other omega-6 unsaturated fatty acids probably benefits the heart.

However, randomized controlled trials – considered the gold standard for medical research – have never shown that linoleic acid-based dietary interventions reduce the risk of heart attacks or deaths.

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