Fat update: butter vs. cheese
The fat debate rumbles on and will no doubt be unresolved until we hear next year from the UK expert body, the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition.
In the meantime, there are plenty of controlled studies which have looked at the relative benefits, or harms, of consuming high amounts of dietary fat. One such study, in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, compared the cardiometabolic effects of consuming the same amount of saturated fatty acids from either cheese or butter.
In a multicenter, crossover, randomised controlled trial, 92 obese adults with low HDL cholesterol were assigned to sequences of five predetermined diets matched for calories. These were consumed for 4 weeks each followed by a 4 week washout period. The diets were: high cheese, high butter, high mono-unsaturated fats (e.g. olive oil), high polyunsaturated fats (e.g. vegetable oil) and a low fat, high carbohydrate diet (<25% calories from fat).
Eating butter or cheese significantly raised LDL and HDL cholesterol compared with the other diets, with the largest differences seen between the high saturated fat and high polyunsaturated fat diets. Despite providing the same amount of saturated fat in the diet, the LDL cholesterol rise after cheese consumption was lower than for butter, suggesting that dairy fatty acids are less atherogenic. Participants with high baseline cholesterol were more susceptible to LDL cholesterol rises after eating butter than those who had lower baseline levels. This suggests that butter consumption could be particularly harmful for those with pre-existing raised cholesterol.