Newly discovered data suggests that safflower, corn, soybean, sunflower, and cottonseed oil may increase heart attacks.

Cultured Butter
Credit: © John Kernick

Have you ever been to a party when someone unveils a gorgeous cake and then a Debbie-downer says, "yeah, but how much butter is in that?" As if butter is cheating. Or butter is so much worse for you than any other ingredient.

For decades, butter has been thus vilified. We've been told, instead, to use vegetable oils rich in linoleic acid like safflower oil, corn oil, soybean oil, sunflower oil and cottonseed oil. Well, now a study confirms what some holdouts have long hoped for: Replacing butter and other saturated fats with vegetable oils high in linoleic acid does not do your heart any favors.


Using data that had never seen the light of day, scientists at the UNC School of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health found several unanticipated patterns: People who use vegetable oils do see lowered cholesterol, but they are also twice as likely to have a heart attack compared to butter eaters. Women and patients older than 65, in fact, were 15 percent more likely to die, compared to the control group.

Shocking, yes. Even worse, this wrongness, which has been promulgated since the 1960s, was recently recapitulated by the American Heart Association in 2009, when they reaffirmed the heart-health benefits of diets low in saturated fat and high in linoleic acid and other omega-6 unsaturated fatty acids.

Now the challenge is to understand why butter-alternative diets have these red flags. One possibility is that oils cause inflammations that correlate with heart disease. Another theory suggests that oils promote atherosclerosis—a disease of the arteries in which fatty materials leave plaque deposits on the inner walls. Bottom line for now: Say hello to your old friend buttter. Give her another chance.