Butter Can Be Bad For Your Health, Concludes Study Paid For By Dairy Industry. Wait, What?

When an industry funds a scientific study of what they do or produce, you can roll your eyes and safely assume that the data will show that the phenomenon being studied is healthy or at least not actively harmful. Right? No, not necessarily. A study evaluating the health effects of eating butter regularly surprised cynics by showing that the substance raised study participants’ cholesterol.

No study is perfect, but this one at least tried to put either butter or olive oil, randomly selected, in what was otherwise participants’ normal diets for two five-week periods. The study was even double-blinded, meaning that the participants and evaluators didn’t know who was consuming butter and who was consuming olive oil. (The researchers provided participants with rolls that already had either butter or olive oil baked in.)

The results showed that eating butter increased the total cholesterol level, including LDL cholesterol, the type that builds up in arteries and causes blockages, and the study showed higher levels on Team Butter than on Team Olive Oil, increasing their risk of cardiovascular disease.

This is all very interesting, but the problem is that the study was paid for by the Danish Dairy Research Foundation, which was presumably not looking for results that would point people toward eating less butter. The study doesn’t have much to say about whether eating butter is healthy in the long term, but shows that it does raise cholesterol levels.

“[H]ypercholesterolemic people should keep their consumption of butter to a minimum, whereas moderate butter intake may be considered part of the diet in the normocholesterolemic population,” concludes in the article’s abstract, which means “limit butter if you know that you have high cholesterol, and otherwise don’t worry about it.”

This study has made the news precisely because it’s an industry-funded study showing that some people should stay away from the food being studied, and that’s unusual. Just ask Marion Nestle, who regularly writes about “industry-funded studies with predictable results.”

Always look at studies telling you what to eat or what not to eat with a skeptical eye. Someone is paying for that study about orange juice or butter or coffee or frozen pizza, and they sometimes don’t have objective science as their goal.

A study about butter, funded by the butter industry, found that butter is bad for you [Washington Post]
Butter increased total and LDL cholesterol compared with olive oil however resulted in higher HDL cholesterol than habitual diet [American Journal of Clinical Nutrition]

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