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Butter Was Back, But Now, Maybe Not?

Illustration for article titled Butter Was Back, But Now, Maybe Not?

There’s beef in the butter aisle. Last week, we learned that we could indulge in butter-y goodness again and this week, maybe we can't.

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A nutrition science and policy researcher named Alice Lichtenstein got so fired up about the New York Times' "Butter is Back" article that she wrote a contradicting letter to the editor, saying that re-embracing butter and fatty pork is going to kill us all.

At this time the best advice we can give people is to consume a heart-healthy diet that emphasizes vegetables, fruits and whole grains; includes low-fat dairy products, poultry, fish, legumes, nontropical vegetable oils and nuts; and limits intake of sweets, sugar-sweetened beverages and red meats.

Particularly in an era when dietary restraint is not our strong suit, returning to butter and fatty cuts of meat may likewise return us to the high rates of heart disease we had decades ago, not a place that any of us wants to see again.

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In short, stop telling greedy Americans to eat fatty shit because they will clog their arteries and wonder why they are dying. Love, Alice Lichtenstein.

But is she right?

During the 1990s, there was a fat-free craze (Remember those Snackwell's creme sandwich cookies? Mmm…) prompting companies to tell us that we were all killing ourselves with fat so they extracted it from our foods and saved us. What these food companies didn’t mention is that they filled those foods with other chemically-based and manufactured ingredients to keep the calorie and fat portions down. My inner hippie disapproves. As a result of side-stepping fat, many people looked to carbs to fill up. But now, NPR writes, research shows that fatty foods “namely plant-based fats found in nuts and olive oil, as well as those found in fatty fish, are beneficial” and can reduce heart disease (unless you agree with the Lichtenstein camp). Elsewhere, experts say reduce something else: refined carbs.

Carbohydrates are tricksy — you need them for energy but if you eat too much, you’ll contradict your weight-loss plan, if you have one. The solution, chomp down unrefined carbs in moderation. Whole grains like lentils, brown rice, fruits and raw vegetables are good, while white bread, white or quick-cooked rice, those Cocoa Puffs and Snackwell's cookies are bad (I am crying tears of sadness too). The rub here is often healthy options take longer to prepare and we Americans love a fast meal. Also, foods that would have the least amount of chemical-tampering are often the most expensive — just compare the price of an organic pack of, say, bacon to one that came from who-knows-where, the mystery meat is usually cheaper — which shuts even more people out of the healthy food bubble.

So how do you pick a healthy meat? There’s another argument that says with all the manufactured GMO-oddities animals are eating these days, feasting on most meat is dangerous. Hell, even if you're a fancy, food-loving enthusiast like 2 Chainz who eats a lot of fish, your diet could still be susceptible to chemically-enhanced proteins.

Neal Barnard, a physician and vegetarian activist who leads the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, writes, "Before you fry up that bacon, hold the fork." His conclusion about the recent meta-analysis is this: "The study had some interesting statistical quirks that made [saturated fat] look safer than it really is."

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Ultimately, who the fuck knows, do what works best for you.

Image via Africa Studio/Shutterstock.

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DISCUSSION

stoprobbers
stoprobbers

YOU GUYS: EAT FOOD. THAT IS IT. FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, JUST EAT FOOD.

People who get so fired up and nitpicky about single sources of "problems" are just falling for EVEN MORE food propaganda. The key to diet is and always has been balance. You need fat. You need carbs. You need salt. You need vitamins. So EAT THEM. Get them from real food instead of from pills or processed crap. The fat marbling in a steak will NOT KILL YOU.

A shocking thing happens to your body when you start eating real food again: your cravings change. Suddenly you find yourself craving vegetables, or lentils. Your body remembers there is more than one source of iron and when you crave it (as I always do right before my period) you find yourself not just craving beef, but spinach as well. A slice of toast with butter satisfies a fat craving the way three cans of Pringles never can. You start feeling better (because food! You're eating real food!!) and junk food that once was so appealing just... isn't anymore.

And if you get drunk and chow down on McDonalds... NOTHING BAD HAPPENS! Because you eat food the rest of the time! (OK, that's a lie, the McDonalds will make you feel like crap but you'll have a real meal 10 hours later and everything will be okay. Bodies are shockingly communicative and resilient.)

Honestly, the Michael Pollan method is the best method I have ever found, not just for losing weight but for having your diet actually help you feel better on a daily basis: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

It really is that easy. (And yes, it works for all socioeconomic levels too, and does not require you to eat rice and beans every night. I am sensitive to the many, many factors outside of nutritional content that are influential on diets. A little forethought and some focus when choosing convenient meals can go a LOOOOOONG way.)