The University of Copenhagen study, published last month in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, sought to examine the effect moderate butter intake has on cardiovascular disease risk markers compared to a diet with the same amount of olive oil.
Supported by the Danish Dairy Research Foundation (MFF), the study compared the effects of moderate butter intake, moderate olive oil intake, or a habitual diet on blood lipids, high-sensitivity C-reactive protein (hsCRP), glucose, and insulin.
“Butter is known to have a cholesterol-raising effect and, therefore, has often been included as a negative control in dietary studies, whereas the effect of moderate butter intake has not been elucidated to our knowledge,” said the study.
Before the study was published, MFF wrote that a "plausible result" of the University of Copenhagen study "may be that butter when eaten in moderate amount could be part of a healthy diet."
"Acquaintance of this might improve the image of butter benefiting the consumers, as well as the dairy industry," it said.
To test this hypothesis, 47 healthy men and women substituted part of their habitual diets with 4.5% of energy from butter - supplied by Danish dairy giant Arla Foods - or olive oil.
The University of Copenhagen team - Sara Engel and Tine Tholstrup - found that "moderate intake of butter" led to an increase in total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol - the 'bad' cholesterol that clogs arteries - when "compared with the effects of olive oil intake and habitual diet."
However, it also resulted in an increase in high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol - 'good' cholesterol that helps remove LDL cholesterol from the arteries - when compared with the habitual diet.
"We conclude that hypercholesterolemic people should keep their consumption of butter to a minimum, whereas moderate butter intake may be considered part of the diet in the normocholesterolemic population," it concluded.
MFF, which is chaired by Arla Foods' Hans Henrik Lund, told DairyReporter.com it is far from disappointed with the results.
"The Danish Dairy Research Foundation appreciates all kind of well conducted research about dairy products," said MFF's Louise Beltoft Borup Andersen. "We have noted that butter increased LDL-cholesterol as expected, but also HDL-cholesterol, which led the authors to conclude that there is room for a moderate intake of butter in a healthy diet for healthy people."
"We will communicate this conclusion as any other conclusion to representatives from the Danish dairy industry and other stakeholders and we look forward to more research within the area of dairy fats and health," she added.
Source: The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition doi: 10.3945/ajcn.115.112227
Title: Butter increased total and LDL cholesterol compared with olive oil however resulted in higher HDL cholesterol than habitual diet
Authors: Sara Engel, Tine Tholstrup