The average American ate 5 pounds of butter in 2008, according to the University of Wisconsin. We put it on our bread, on our pasta and in our baked items. We even have butter-flavored crackers and cookies. Butter, unfortunately, is high in cholesterol and fat. The leading cause of death in this country is heart disease, which is often the result of arterial plaque buildup caused by high cholesterol.
You have two kinds of lipoproteins that carry cholesterol through your body. High-density lipoproteins, or HDL, are beneficial, because they carry excess cholesterol to your liver, and then your liver removes the cholesterol from your body. Low-density lipoproteins, or LDL, are not so nice, however. They carry cholesterol slowly through your bloodstream, allowing it to collect on your arteries where it forms plaque that can interfere with the flow of blood to your heart or brain. When you eat large amounts of butter, your body accumulates LDL cholesterol.
Although some types of dietary fat offer health benefits, the Institute of Medicine recommends that you keep your intake of saturated fat to a minimum. One pat of butter has 4 grams of fat, 2.5 grams of which is from saturated fat. Eating too much saturated fat can raise your LDL cholesterol levels, further increasing your risk of cardiovascular disease. So this means a diet that incorporates a lot of butter can be dangerous to your heart.
Just A Pat
A pat of butter has 36 calories and 11 milligrams of cholesterol. This may not sound like much, but if you spread a pat of butter on a lot of things, it can really add up. The typical holiday meal might include a turkey that was coated in butter before it was roasted, along with buttered mashed potatoes, buttered corn and buttered squash. For dessert, you might have a pie that has butter in both the crust and filling. One meal can easily amount to 10 pats of butter, giving you 360 calories, 40 grams of fat and 110 milligrams of cholesterol just from the butter.
If you are concerned about cholesterol, but addicted to butter, don't despair. Your grocery store has plenty of substitutes. A pat of margarine has the same amount of fat and calories as a pat of butter, but it is cholesterol free. Margarine-like vegetable spreads are even healthier alternatives, because they don't have any cholesterol and have only 16 calories and less than 2 grams of fat per teaspoon. Olive oil, though not buttery, is a healthier way to add a pinch of fat to your meal without putting your heart at risk.
Maia Appleby is a NASM-certified personal trainer with more than 15 years of experience in the fitness industry. Her articles have been published in a wide variety of print magazines and online publications, including the Gale Encyclopedia of Nursing and Allied Health, New Moon Network and Bodybuilding.com.