Butter is a dairy product created from proteins and fats found in milk and cream. In the U.S., most butter is cow milk-based, but butter also comes from many other sources such as milk from sheep, goats, buffalo, and yaks.
Manufacturers and home chefs create butter by churning milk or cream to separate fat globules from the buttermilk. They also sometimes add salt and food coloring.
Rendering butter (removing the water and milk solids) produces butterfat-rich clarified butter, or ghee. Home chefs like cooking with ghee because it has a higher smoke point than regular butter, which browns or burns easily. The higher smoke point makes ghee well-suited for frying and sauteeing foods at high heat.
Non-dairy “butters” like peanut butter, apple butter, cocoa butter, and baby bottom butter are not butter in the literal sense but do resemble butter in consistency.
Some studies have found links between high-fat dairy products like butter and lower chances of obesity, diabetes, and heart problems. Still, remember that butter is high in calories and saturated fat. Scientists have debated the health benefits of butter for decades.
One tablespoon of unsalted butter contains:
- 102 calories
- 12 grams of fat
- 0 grams of carbohydrates, fiber, sugar, and protein
Butter is a source of:
Potential Health Benefits of Butter
In moderation, butter can be a healthy part of your diet. It’s rich in nutrients like bone-building calcium and contains compounds linked to lower chances of obesity. Butter can also be part of a low-carbohydrate diet, which may help people better maintain their weight or lose weight quicker than they would with a low-fat diet.
Butter has other health benefits:
It can help lower your chances of cancer. Butter is high in beta-carotene, a compound that your body converts into vitamin A. Beta-carotene has been linked to lowered risks of lung cancer and prostate cancer.
It could help your eyes. The beta-carotene in butter may help slow the rate of vision loss, or age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
It can help strengthen your bones. Butter contains vitamin D, a nutrient that is vital for bone growth and development. It also has calcium, which is essential for bone strength. Calcium also helps prevent diseases such as osteoporosis, a condition that makes bones weak and fragile.
It can help make your skin healthier. Butter also contains vitamin E, which plays a role in skin health. The nutrient reduces damage from UV sun rays, reduces skin inflammation, and improves how well skin wounds heal.
Potential Risks of Butter
Use this ingredient sparingly, especially if you have heart disease or are looking to cut back on calories. The American Heart Association (AHA)'s current recommendation is to limit consumption of saturated fat.
Whether you're cooking, or just putting it on your bread, there are some alternatives to butter that have a bit healthier profile:
Spreadable butters are typically a mix of butter and vegetable oil. This gives you about half the saturated fat of butter.
Buttery spreads usually have fewer calories than butter or margarine, as well as less fat and saturated fat. Some varieties are made with olive or canola oil.
If you're looking with something to put on your bread, some healthy alternatives include:
- Mashed avocado
- Extra virgin olive oil