Butter has a pretty screwed-up reputation. Yes, it technically contains a lot of saturated fat, but if you like it smeared on toast, melted on veggies, or mixed into sauces, you shouldn't be afraid to build it up... buttercup. (Sorry.) And in case you forgot, "We shouldn't be afraid of eating any one type of food — that's no way to live," says Barbara Linhardt
, MS, RD, a dietitian at Mind Belly
To be fair, some of the negative press has to do with actual research: Studies have linked diets rich in saturated fat to higher total cholesterol and a greater risk for cardiovascular issues, Linhardt says. "Butter is very high in saturated fat compared to other fat sources, so it became an easy scapegoat," she says. But it's not that simple, because often these studies don't take the subjects' whole diet into consideration — in other words, a whole mix of foods and other factors can contribute to a person developing cardiovascular disease. So, just because butter is high in fat, that doesn't mean this research has conclusively proven that butter itself will harm you if you're up on your other healthy habits.
If you prefer cooking with oils, that's great, too. Fats found in some vegetable oils, like olive, have been linked to improved health, Linhardt says. "Increasing these fats, instead of saturated fat in your diet, have been shown to improve cholesterol levels and decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease," she says. But if you really just like butter, here are some reasons why that's totally okay, too:
It has all kinds of fat.
Butter isn't just pure saturated fat. "One common misconception about fat sources is that they're all made up of one type of fat," Linhardt says. "In actuality, fats like butter, olive oil, or palm oil are comprised of different levels of fatty acids." Butter is more complex, and has mono- and poly-unsaturated fat, both of which have been tied to improved health in other research, she says. Linhardt also says that saturated fats from animals versus plant sources have different effects on your body, so it's another reason why those studies might have contributed to the negative link.
It keeps you full.
Eating fat slows your stomach emptying, so you stay fuller longer, Linhardt says. "It's also an excellent source of calories, which at face value sounds bad, but actually is a plus because it fills you up." (No rumbling stomach an hour after you eat = a good thing.) You've probably heard of people putting butter in their coffee, a.k.a. "bulletproof coffee," and the same logic applies. Butter also has some omega-3 and omega-6 fats that slow down how your body processes the caffeine, so you feel more alert for longer, according to Cleveland Clinic
It even has some vitamins.
Like other dairy products, butter has a small amount of vitamin A and vitamin D, which are fat-soluble vitamins that absorb easier in your body when taken with fat, Linhardt says. "You can actually see the vitamin A, as beta-carotene, which is what gives butter its yellow-ish hue," she says. Look for butter that's free-range, because the cows that produce it tend to eat more vitamin A-rich plants, so your butter in turn has more vitamin A, she says. "Some butter producers may add annatto, a food coloring, to their butter to make it seem more yellow than it is," she says. Check the ingredients before you buy, and that should tell you if it's in there. As for the fountain of movie theater butter, that's usually not real butter, but rather a combination of flavoring, chemicals and fats, she says.
It's great for cooking.
Throw in some butter when you're cooking sauces to thicken them up. Put it in your baked goods to help with browning. "Butter also contains water, so it adds steam, which creates flakiness in baked goods," Linhardt says. Technically, butter can burn easily, so if you're roasting vegetables or frying meat, oils might be better, she adds.
Oh, and we forgot to mention one key thing: Butter is delicious.