Butter And Cholesterol: Understanding The Impact

Parul Dube

January 26, 2023

Butter is a key ingredient in many global cuisines, particularly in India, and is commonly used in cooking, baking, and as a topping for bread. However, butter consumption has been a subject of much debate, particularly concerning how it affects cholesterol levels.

Butter production involves churning cream, a milk product that is solid at room temperature and composed of 80% fat. The other 20% is water, proteins, and lactose.

Several variations of butter are available, such as regular butter, salted butter, and unsalted butter. Regular butter contains cream and salt, while unsalted butter simply uses cream. Salted butter is the most popular choice in grocery stores. 

Ghee, commonly called as clarified butter, is a common type of butter in India. This butter type is created by simmering butter until the water evaporates and the milk solids separate, leaving a golden liquid. Ghee has more fat than regular butter and has a unique, nutty flavour.

This article will comprehensively examine the link between butter and cholesterol, seeking to distinguish between real evidence and speculations.

The Butter Cholesterol Relationship: An Overview

Saturated fats, like those found in butter, are known to raise LDL cholesterol levels, commonly referred to as ‘bad’ cholesterol.

Research shows that high LDL levels increase the risk of heart disease. However, not all saturated fats are the same, and other factors can influence the cholesterol-raising effect of these fats. Also, the cholesterol-raising effects of saturated fats may be mitigated by other components in butter, such as fatty acids and vitamins. 

Butter contains a small amount of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which has anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties. Butter also contains small amounts of vitamin K2, vital for maintaining healthy bones.

What Does Research Say?

Research suggests that replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats, such as those found in nuts, seeds, and avocados, may lower LDL cholesterol levels.

However, it is essential to remember that butter is not the only food containing saturated fat; it is also present in red meat, cheese, and full-fat dairy products. Therefore, it is essential to consider overall saturated fat intake rather than singling out one food item.

Recent research contradicts the common perception that all forms of saturated fat are harmful. Prospective observational studies and randomised controlled trials have not found an association between higher total SAFA intakes and higher incident CHD events or mortality.

However, the research did not consider the replacement nutrients and was limited, making it inconclusive. The researchers suggest that replacing saturated fats with polyunsaturated fats could reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Is Butter Good for Cholesterol Levels?

It is important to remember that one should consume butter in moderation as part of a balanced diet. In addition, it should not be the only source of fat. A nutritious diet is beneficial, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats, such as olive oil, avocado, and nuts. It can help reduce the risk of heart disease and boost overall health. 

It is also essential to be aware of the other sources of saturated fat in the diet. The American Heart Association (AHA) suggests that individuals strive for a diet that contains no more than 5-6% of their daily caloric intake in the form of saturated fat. For example, if you require approximately 2,000 calories per day, no more than 120 calories should come from saturated fat. It is roughly equivalent to 13 grams of saturated fat each day. 

Another type of cholesterol is HDL (high-density lipoprotein), also known as “good” cholesterol. This type of cholesterol helps remove LDL cholesterol from the bloodstream.

Therefore a higher HDL cholesterol level can help decrease the risk of heart disease. According to a study, butter can also increase good cholesterol in the system more than a habitual diet.

Read more: Top Foods to Increase Good Cholesterol Levels!

The HealthifyMe Note

People who suffer from hypercholesterolemia, a condition where the body observes more LDLs, should limit their butter intake. In contrast, people with normal cholesterol levels can eat butter in moderation.

Ghee – The Indian Superfood

Ghee, which is the Indian version of clarified butter, shows dominance in Ayurveda and in preventing heart diseases too.

As per this research, the consumption of ghee would not increase the risks of cardiovascular disorders. The same study claims that men in rural India are prone to fewer coronary heart risks with a higher intake of ghee. So this means that clarified butter is good for cholesterol.

The HealthifyPRO Tip

If you are worried about your cholesterol levels or overall health, there are healthier alternatives to butter that you can use. For example, olive oil, avocado oil and coconut oil are all high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which are good for your heart health. You can also talk to a healthcare professional or registered nutritionist from HealthifyMe for personalised advice.

Butter Benefits & Side Effects

Although high in saturated fat, butter can still provide some health benefits. It is a good source of vitamin A, which is necessary for healthy vision, and vitamin K, which is important for bone health.

Additionally, butter made from grass-fed cows may contain higher levels of CLA, a type of fat with anti-cancer properties.

A study found that moderate consumption of butter instead of carbohydrates or saturated fats may not significantly affect cardiovascular disease risk.

However, be mindful of your intake of saturated fat from butter and other sources, as it can raise your LDL cholesterol levels and increase your risk of heart disease.


Moderate butter consumption can have some health benefits. It is a good source of healthy fats, including saturated fats, which can help to increase levels of good cholesterol in the body.

Butter is also a natural source of vitamin A, vital for maintaining healthy skin, eyes, and immune systems. Additionally, butter is a rich source of fat-soluble vitamins, such as vitamin K2, which can help to promote bone health. 

To summarise, butter can be part of a healthy diet, but one should consume it in moderation. Replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats can help to lower LDL cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease.

Ultimately, it is best to speak to a healthcare professional before making any dietary modifications. It is vital to have an overall balanced diet for optimal health rather than focusing on one particular food.

The Research Sources

1. Ueda P, Gulayin P, Danaei G (2018) Long-term moderately elevated LDL-cholesterol and blood pressure and risk of coronary heart disease. PLoS ONE 13(7): e0200017.

2. Hodson L, Skeaff CM, Chisholm WA. The effect of replacing dietary saturated fat with polyunsaturated or monounsaturated fat on plasma lipids in free-living young adults. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2001 Oct;55(10):908-15. doi: 10.1038/sj.ejcn.1601234. PMID: 11593354.

3. Nettleton JA, Brouwer IA, Geleijnse JM, Hornstra G. Saturated Fat Consumption and Risk of Coronary Heart Disease and Ischemic Stroke: A Science Update. Ann Nutr Metab. 2017;70(1):26-33. doi: 10.1159/000455681. Epub 2017 Jan 27. PMID: 28125802; PMCID: PMC5475232.

4. American Heart Association

5. Engel S, Tholstrup T. Butter increased total and LDL cholesterol compared with olive oil but resulted in higher HDL cholesterol compared with a habitual diet. Am J Clin Nutr. 2015 Aug;102(2):309-15. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.115.112227. Epub 2015 Jul 1. PMID: 26135349.

6. Sharma H, Zhang X, Dwivedi C. The effect of ghee (clarified butter) on serum lipid levels and microsomal lipid peroxidation. Ayu. 2010 Apr;31(2):134-40. doi: 10.4103/0974-8520.72361. PMID: 22131700; PMCID: PMC3215354.

7. Siri-Tarino PW, Sun Q, Hu FB, Krauss RM. Saturated fat, carbohydrates, and cardiovascular disease. Am J Clin Nutr. 2010 Mar;91(3):502-9. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.2008.26285. Epub 2010 Jan 20. PMID: 20089734; PMCID: PMC2824150.

About the Author

Parul holds a Masters of Medical Science in Public Health Nutrition from the University of Glasgow, Scotland, and has worked across the globe from the U.K to New Zealand (NZ) gaining her License with the Health Professionals Council (HPC, UK) and the NZ Nutrition Council. From being a Gold medalist in Clinical Nutrition to being awarded an internship with World Health Organisation (WHO, Cairo, Egypt) and Contracts with CDC Parul has had a wide spectrum of work experiences. She is very passionate about Nutrition and Fitness and holds strong to her guiding mantras ‘ Move more’ and ‘Eat Food that your grandmother can recognize’!

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