Featured food: butter

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnyone who knows me, or has been the (lucky) recipient of homemade Christmas cookies or other random baked items knows I ONLY USE BUTTER.  You’ll never find (bleh!) margarine in my house.  So I was very happy to read that US consumers are eating more butter.  Flavor trumps health halo.

According to consumption statistics, our average butter consumption is currently 5.6 pounds a year.  That translates into roughly 1/2 tablespoon per person per day, adults and children alike.  Not much compared to butter intake 100 years ago.  Before (gah!) margarine was actively pimped marketed as a health food, our average butter consumption was over 18 lbs per person per year, or roughly 1-1/2 tablespoons per person per day.

And not only are we eating more butter, we’re eating less margarine.  Margarine manufacturers are worried.  The article quotes a spokes person for a margarine manufacturing company.  His take: consumers want more natural foods and they believe margarine is not a natural food.  Is he suggesting it is?  I defy anyone to point to any plant or animal that yields margarine.  It’s not a natural food.  End of that discussion.

The uptick in butter consumption could be a result of the superior flavor or the superior cooking properties or peoples’ quest to eat more natural foods.  Or it could be related to the push-back on saturated fat consumption.  Butter is high in saturated fat.  Back when our understanding of heart disease was rather simplistic, saturated fat was believed to be the cause of heart attacks.  Margarine was touted as a healthier alternative, since it was primarily unsaturated fat.  Times, and nutritional science, have changed.  Now a very loud, if minority, opinion claims saturated fat has been unfairly accused of causing to heart disease, unleashing our pent up appetite for butter, cream, bacon and high fat meats.  This argument is ongoing.  Official organizations, such as the American Heart Association, stick to their decades-old recommendations to limit saturated fat intake to 11-13 grams per day total.  That 1/2 tablespoon average butter intake provides about 3.6 grams.

If there’s one good reason to limit butter and margarine it’s calories.  Both have about 100 calories per tablespoon.  It’s really easy to load butter or margarine onto your toast or bagel or muffin or French bread.  Before you realize it, you’ve added 100-150 calories.  If you like the flavor of butter, it might help to measure out a small amount, say 1 teaspoon, to see what that looks like, before spreading it on your toast.   This will help you control calories and saturated fat, while still enjoying the rich flavor.

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