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From the 1970s, we've all known one truth. Eating butter, giving your child butter - that block of churned yellow dairy, lying innocuously in a dish on the table - is as deadly as snorting cocaine. If we're going to eat butter, we may as well put a sign on our forehead saying "Give Me a Heart-Attack Now". Butter is the bad-boy of the recipe-book. It clogs up our arteries, leaving them furred and ripe for that deadly stroke; blood paused in our veins like water in a stopped-up sink.
No two ways about it: butter is the most evil substance that ever existed.
Or is it?
Recently, more and more of us are abandoning the apparently-healthier margarine, with sales in the UK falling by 7% in the last year. Meanwhile, sales of butter are rising, with sales rising by 4% a year. Here, we look at the reasons, and try and find out which is actually healthier.
Where did we get the idea that butter was bad?
The original research was found in 1913, where a Russian scientist called Nikolaj Nikolajewitsch Aritschkow fed a large amount of animal fats to rabbits. All the animals' cholesterol levels rose to dangerously high levels. Of course, rabbits do not normally eat dairy (unlike humans', their systems cannot digest it), so this was - in retrospect - not surprising. Nevertheless Nikolajewitsch Aritschkow reported his findings about butter and the rest of the world accepted that his theory applied to humans and ran with it.
Thus the "bad butter" myth was born.
In 1953, Ancel Keys conducted research, collecting data from six countries including France and Spain, where the diet is high in fat and heart disease is low. When he discovered these findings, he omitted data from France and Spain from his study, claiming the research was poor. Using the remaining data, he claimed a diet high in fat leads to heart disease.
This prompted the American Heart Association to target fat as the major cause of heart disease in 1957.
But surely, if they say it, it must be true?
Actually, a 2013 study in the British Medical Journal compared death-rates in Australian middle-aged men with heart disease who ate butter to middle-aged men with heart disease who ate margarine. They found men who followed heath advice, and ate margarine, were more likely to die. One possible explanation for this is that margarine is high in Omega-6 fatty-acids, which displaces heart-healthy Omega-3 fats in the body.
The Framingham Heart Disease Study (between the 1960s and the 1980s) measured many factors that could predict heart disease over a twenty year period (including eating butter, compared to eating margarine). They found that people who ate the most butter were least likely to have a heart attack. In fact, in the second decade of the twenty-year-study, the participants who ate only margarine were a whopping 77% more likely to have a heart attack than the participants who ate a small amount of butter.