by Marion Nestle
Jun 18 2014

Time Magazine: “Eat Butter.” Maybe in moderation, please?

I love butter as much as the next person, but when I went to New York’s Food Fest yesterday, the butter makers were all proudly displaying Time Magazine’s provocative June 23 cover.


The cover story is by Bryan Walsh.

It comes with an even more provacative video–one of those “everything you thought you knew about diet is wrong” things.

I’m quoted in his article, but I wish he had quoted more of my comments about context.

He says saturated fat consumption is down, but heart disease is still the number one killer of Americans.

Yes it is, but not nearly as much as it used to be (as I discussed in a previous post):

Americans must be doing something right.

The big problem is type-2 diabetes.  It’s going up in parallel with obesity: Fat calories and sugar calories contribute to obesity.

The dietary bottom line?  Eat your veggies, balance calories, and stay active.

Really, it’s not more complicated than that.

But that kind of advice will never make the cover of Time, alas.

Addition, June 20: David Katz on how easy it is to misinterpret studies of saturated fat (or sugars for that matter) and health.

  • TR

    Your definition of junk food qualifies butter as a junk food since it is “extracted” from milk. But then one could also say milk is a junk food since its “extracted” from a cow. Wow, two extractions needed to make butter = junk food huh?

  • TR

    You should realize that what you just said makes no sense whatsoever. Please go back to whatever profession you are educated for because Nutrition is clearly not it.

  • TR

    High insulin levels does not necessarily mean that “calories are stored into fat cells”, particularly if a person is insulin resistant. Diabetes can be much more complex than that.

  • TR

    And so where does the saturated fat in the mediteranean diet come from? How does that content compare to the average saturated fat intake of an obese american?

  • TR

    You overlooked the difference in physical activity levels of americans in the 20s, 30s,40s versus these days. Of course americans back then weren’t as obese as today. They were more physically active. Of course, they could eat higher calorie foods and not gain weight. Its not just the industrial foods that have been introduced. Although I agree that’s part of the picture, the picture is bigger than that.

  • TR

    Your last paragraph is most excellent. Although for such reasons, I wouldn’t compare health outcomes of Indians vs. Americans based on diet. Lotsa potentially confounding variables there.

  • TR

    What I find amusing is how so many here overlook how lifestyle plays into whether a food is good or not. I can guarantee that if I hiked 20 miles per day on the Appalachian Trail that any food I ate would be good for me and the higher in calories the better. On the other hand, If all I did was watch TV, any high calorie food would be “bad”. Whether a food is good or bad for an individual is highly relative to their personal lifestyle.

  • Jim Felder

    Don’t be didactic. By extracted I obviously mean that a specific component of a whole food, in this case the fat, is removed. A junk food is one that has no nutritional value beyond the calories it contains. Pure sugar is the classic example, but pure oils also qualify because they only have calories from fat with only trace amounts of nutrients. Butter isn’t as highly extracted since it still has some trapped milk solids, but it is very close. A close analogy is unenriched white flour that has had nearly all the nutrients removed and only starch and protein left behind.

  • Jim Felder

    The Mediterranean diet, IMHO, is good for people to the degree that its calories come from nutrient dense foods like whole vegetables, fruits, legumes and grains. That the Mediterranean diet is reasonably healthy, I think, in spite of the olive oil, not because of it. Humans have very little need for oil and then only essential fatty acids. You have a point about the O-3/O-6 ratio. But a diet heavy with leafy greens and legumes will have plenty of ALA without the need to add to the naturally occurring fats in these foods with extracted oils.

    Also consider that the Mediterranean diet is healthy in comparison to the US diet, not in comparison to diets of other populations around the world. Mediterranean people have CVD and cancer at much higher rates than peoples eating a traditional Asian diet.

  • Jim Felder

    One, CVD develops over a lifetime of poor eating. So all the lard, butter, etc from the 20s and 30 would show up in mortality numbers in the 40s, 50s and 60s.

    Mortality from CVD per 100,000 started a sharp upward climb in the 20s and 30s and peaked in 80s. Here is a paper for the UK that discusses heart disease rates period from 1885 to 2008.

    Pay particular attention to figure 2 which shows the relative increase in CVD mortality for one 5 year period compared to the previous 5 year period. Notice the rate of increase in CVD for 1938-1945. It suddenly drops. What happened in that period, WWII and a sudden removal of the butter and lard (and animal based foods in general) from the diet. And then after the war back came the butter and lard and back came the heart disease.

    Two they didn’t eat as much of these athrosclerotic foods. Since the late nineteenth the number of pounds of fat per person per year has steadily increased. As a result the absolute level of CVD mortality continued to increase until the late 1970s, though the rate of increase leveled off. Mortality in the 1990s and later actually started to decrease, not because we are eating any better, but because so many millions are on statin drug to reduce cholesterol.

    So the 1920s and 1930s hold example of a dietary paradise where we got to eat all the butter and lard we wanted without harming ourselves.

  • George

    Dairy fat has more SFA, yet is inversely correlated with heart disease, compared to meat fat. It’s probably more important that meat requires high temperature cooking and contains many other confounders,(heme iron, for example) than that it supplies SFA.

  • George

    It makes perfect sense. If you can’t use the energy you eat because you store it, you’re gonna be tired and hungry. Nutritionists have always known obesity is a form of malnutrition. It’s only pretending to understand physics that has steered them wrong lately.

  • George

    Probably true for the Mediterranean too…
    But what Indian experience does show is that high dairy fat consumption is not necessarily the death sentence Americans thought it was.

  • Emaho

    Well, as a Type 1 diabetic, I know that there is a serious problem with diabetic teenagers taking their insulin. This is because If they take their insulin, they gain weight. If they don’t take their insulin, they lose weight but of course they lose control of their blood sugar levels. Every year there is at least one or two articles in diabetes journals discussing this sad problem.

    Also, insulin resistant is almost always means that your muscles are resistant to the insulin while your fat cells are not. That is the definition of Type 2 diabetes and what some bariatric doctors call diabesity. However there are a small population of people that have their fat cells more insulin resistant than their muscles. They are very thin and have difficulty putting on weight.

    Finally, insulin helps make six or seven processes in the body function. Three of those are to help the liver turn excess sugar into fat, to help the fat cells absorb fatty acids and to restrict the fatty acids already in the fat cells from leaving. So high insulin levels most often do cause fat gain.

  • Emaho

    Yes, “pretending to understand physics” makes me so mad at them. These are highly paid professionals and they don’t understand simple thermodynamics nor biochemistry. They should be sued and put in jail for the damage they have done. I’m blind in the left eye because of those egotistical, greedy, lazy numbskulls. Maybe a few of them should be poked in the eye with a sharp stick.

  • Kelvin Nyota

    Great post on obesity. I find your topic to be very educative especially when you talk of obesity.

  • mr. tool

    I hate that people are so focused on grass fed animals.
    I attempted to get my chickens to eat grass.. They died.

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  • DarylT

    Despite what the article would have you believe there is plenty of research that shows saturated fat consumption raises bad cholesterol levels and that is linked to Coronary Heart Disease and Atherosclerosis. It’s also been shown to be the cause of Diabetes Type 2.
    (at 7.19 is a study correlating animal protein and cholesterol with heart disease)

  • DarylT
  • DarylT
  • DarylT

    Then presumably you’ll also be happy to not live as long as people who don’t.

  • DarylT

    “Nutritionists have always known obesity is a form of malnutrition.”

    Perhaps what you mean to say is that people over eat on calories because they are under eating on nutrition. So their body is still signalling that they need to eat.
    In other words eat more of the most highly nutritious food on the planet, whole plant based foods. Not fat.

  • gcooke777

    Reading the comments is more interesting than the article. Everyone here is apparently a registered dietician! From the perspective of sanity we should make a few qualifying statements…

    If your comment is aimed at weight issues it would be helpful to know that. If you comment is aimed at cardiovascular and or oncological health that is likely a different matter.

    To compare diets from different countries and rates of illness is folly. Obviously people of different genetic make-ups will have different proclivities for different diseases. An example is Caucasians are unable to get sickle cell disease but sickle cell disease also makes it harder to get malaria. That is likely why evolution let that gene survive in African peoples.

    For weight purposes it is a math problem. 3500kcals equals one pound. If. over time, you eat 3500kcals more than you use you will gain exactly one pound of SOMETHING be it fat or muscle plus or minus changes in hydration. A person that eats 2000 kcals a day and uses 1500 of them will gain 1 pound a week.

    Those extolling the virtues of dairy should realize that humans are virtually the only animal on the planet that continues to consume dairy products after they are weaned. That should be a dead giveaway that dairy is not likely a good plan.

    Those that eat a large amount of fruit should realize that virtually all studies show that sugar is sugar. Even the dreaded HFCS is about the same to the human body as cane sugar or grapes. If you wish to argue that grapes have vitamins then I will agree. Eating 200 calories of grapes is however about the same as drinking a mountain dew and taking a vitamin C tab and a mild laxative with it. No credible study says otherwise.

    Being overweight is more dangerous for you than smoking. An obese person lives on average 5 years LESS than a normal weight smoker. Yet there are slender type II diabetics and obese people with normal blood glucose levels. Certainly genetics plays a larger role than diet, weight, exercise, and even smoking some times.

    There are many people that eat right, exercise, have normal blood sugar, and don’t smoke that drop dead in their 40’s from massive heart attacks as an example. There are also overweight 98 year olds that smoked and led a sedentary life.

    The bottom line is if you eat right, exercise, try and maintain a normal weight, and avoid hazards like smoking you stand the best chance of a longer life (obviously). If there was some magic bullet, like ground pomegranate seeds, science would have found it and we would all be taking it.

    At 53 and 5’10” tall I weigh 165 pounds. 50 years ago I would look over weight, today I am told I’m skinny! Really??? So far I have no health problems other than some minor arthritis in my fingers from playing the guitar too much. My parents died in their late 80’s and I will likely do the same if I don’t mess it up by gaining weight, smoking, or get unlucky with a car accident or some weird cancer or infection.

    Life is a crap shoot. If you spend less of it stressing out at the whole foods store looking for the next craze you might enjoy the time you have more. Isn’t that really what it’s about? Enjoying how ever much time we have?

  • gcooke777

    since when is a drop from 40 percent of the population to 18 percent very little??? The rate of smoking has virtually been cut in HALF!

  • butter

    Consuming oily foods is filling and can lower the appetite and overall calorie intake. I take about 4-5 oz. of oil (mostly EFAs) per day with no weight gain and never hungry.

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