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Butter: How healthy is it?

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Miriam Steinbach studied sociology with politics and psychology in Heidelberg. She then completed her journalistic traineeship at a daily newspaper in Karlsruhe and wrote texts for a health and lifestyle magazine. Her keen interest in digital brought her to in 2019. Since then, she not only writes about mindfulness and yoga, but also likes to try it out.
For many years, butter had the reputation of being unhealthy. In the meantime, however, studies have shown that it is not as harmful as assumed. Read more here about the effect of butter on the body, whether margarine is healthier and what other alternatives there are.
Is butter harmful?
Butter contains primarily fatty milk cream. Accordingly, butter contains many ingredients that are also found in milk. These include calcium, lactose, iodine, vitamin D, vitamin A and vitamin E, and proteins. Butter is also easily digestible.
The fat content of butter is usually 80 to 90 percent. It is thus hardly surprising that it is a real calorie bomb. 100 grams contain about 740 calories. And that’s not all: the spreadable fat also contains cholesterol. However, it is important to take a differentiated look at it.
Butter consists of various fatty acids. A large proportion of these are saturated fatty acids. For a long time, it was assumed that they increase the harmful LDL cholesterol in the blood. The greater the LDL cholesterol content, the more likely it is that deposits will form in the walls of the blood vessels. This increases the risk of cardiovascular disease.
However, recent studies show that saturated fatty acids are less harmful than suspected. Because fatty acid is not equal to fatty acid. Butter contains short- and medium-chain fatty acids. These have no influence on the ratio of the questionable LDL cholesterol to the good HDL cholesterol in the blood. Rather, the liver and intestinal cells obtain energy from them.
Butter also contains long-chain unsaturated fatty acids. They are important for the metabolism. Among other things, the so-called omega-3 fatty acids have a good effect on our cardiovascular system.
Especially butter made from milk from pasture cows has a high content of omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins. As a rule, it is marked «made from pasture milk» on the packaging.
Butter is therefore safe in small quantities. A guideline is 30 grams a day. It is also worth considering using reduced-fat butter or spreads mixed with vegetable oils or yogurt. These help to save calories. They also have a favorable fatty acid distribution and are easier to spread.
Butter is only suitable for frying at low temperatures.
What types of butter are there?
Butter is composed of fat, water, protein, lactose and minerals. The cream is whipped until butter globules and buttermilk are formed. This is the basis for the different types of butter.
Milk-soured butter: This is the most common type of butter. Its special feature: after the separation of globules and buttermilk, lactic acid cultures are added.
Sweet cream butter: Lactic acid cultures are not used in the production of sweet cream butter. As a result, it tastes milder and sweeter. It is therefore suitable for baking, but also as a spread.
Sour cream butter: Lactic acid cultures are added at the very beginning. As a result, the buttermilk also takes on a sour taste. This type of butter is not suitable for pure consumption. It is rather used for frying or for hearty dishes such as goulash.
There is also the common butter with reduced fat content. These include:
Three-quarter butter: the milk fat content is 60 to 62 percent. It also bears the designation «reduced-fat».

Semi-fat butter:It has a fat content of 39 to 41 percent. It can also be identified by the words «low-fat» or «light».
Dairy spread fats: They have a so-called fat content of «X of one hundred». This means that each product states its exact fat content individually. The X can be less than 39 percent, between 41 and 60 percent, and between 62 and 80 percent.
Butter or margarine: which is healthier?
In terms of fatty acids, margarine is healthier. The German Nutrition Society (DGE) recommends vegetable fats and advises against animal fats. Most margarines contain rapeseed, linseed or sunflower oil. They contain polyunsaturated fatty acids, which have a positive effect on high blood pressure, blood clotting and the heart. In addition, margarine does not contain cholesterol.
The DGE therefore advises people with cardiovascular diseases and high cholesterol levels in particular to reach for margarine rather than butter.
However, margarine is not without its disadvantages: as with butter, the fat content of margarine is up to 90 percent. Vitamins are also missing and have to be added artificially. In addition, margarine is more processed, as the vegetable fats are partially hardened to make them spreadable. In the past, this often resulted in trans fats, which increase harmful cholesterol in the blood.
In the meantime, manufacturers like to mix in solid palm and coconut fats or harden the oils completely. This can be recognized by the designation «completely hydrogenated» on the list of ingredients.
However, palm oil is also controversial. On the one hand, for climate policy reasons, since rainforests are often cleared for its production. It is also high in fat and contains saturated fatty acids.
It is therefore worth taking a look at the packaging. Organic margarines usually contain no chemical additives and in some cases no palm oil. If you want to save on fat with margarine, it’s best to reach for reduced-fat varieties.
Butter products for frying and cooking
Classic butter is only suitable for frying to a limited extent. The reason: when heated, the milk proteins burn off. Since butter has a water content of 16 percent, it also splatters. These products are therefore better suited for frying:
Clarified butter
Butterfat (butter oil)
So-called fractionated butter such as ghee
Alternatives to butter
There are several alternatives to butter, especially for cooking. We present them to you:
Olive oil
Olive oil is pressed from the entire fruit, including the kernel. Of all vegetable oils, it has the highest amount of omega-9 acid, which is good for the cardiovascular system and cholesterol levels. Polyphenols provide flavor and have anti-inflammatory and cancer-preventive effects.
According to experts, however, some products contain plasticizers and pesticides, and there is often cheating in the country of origin and quality class. Good quality at moderate prices is available from direct sellers.
Coconut oil
The tasteless, long-lasting oil is produced from the dried flesh of the coconut. At room temperature it becomes solid and is therefore called fat.
Of all vegetable fats, coconut fat has the highest proportion of saturated fatty acids, especially lauric acid. It increases the good cholesterol in the blood, which protects against fat deposits. In addition, the caprylic acid it contains promotes the formation of ketone bodies, which evenly supply the brain with energy.
The high-quality fatty acids are only found in cold-pressed, natural coconut fat. Because of its high content of saturated fats, it is chemically stable, can be heated to high temperatures and is therefore ideal for cooking, baking and frying.
Rapeseed oil
This vegetable oil is obtained from rapeseed by hot or cold pressing. It contains many unsaturated fatty acids, a better ratio of omega-3 and omega-6 acids than olive oil and has hardly any cholesterol. It is also rich in vitamin E and carotenoids that scavenge free radicals.
The cold-pressed oil should not be used for frying, as it destroys the valuable fatty acids and can form harmful trans fats. Only the refined, hot-pressed variety can tolerate higher temperatures. Buy the oil in dark bottles and store it in a dark place, preferably in a cool place.

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