August 2, 2020

What You Should Know About Cholesterol and Butter

The creamy cooking ingredient is delicious but not without its risks

Butter on Toast

Butter can be a rich, creamy delight, added to a hot piece of bread or used to cook some of our favorite foods. But it’s also known for not being very healthy, high in calories and fats.


Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

Cardiologist Dennis Bruemmer, MD, PhD, talks to us about why butter isn’t very healthy for you, alternatives to avoid, and alternatives to embrace.

The problem with butter

Like bacon and beef, butter is an animal product which, according to Dr. Bruemmer, means it’s probably high in cholesterol. “It’s about as fatty as you can get,” he says.

“It’s high in cholesterol and high in calories,” he adds, “and if you’re using so much, a quarter of a pound or a half a pound, to cook during the day and bake during the day, it just adds up. Butter contains high levels of saturated fat and that’s what drives up cholesterol.”

The issue with butter ties into larger issues with food consumption in the United States, Dr. Bruemmer says. “Over the past few decades, our patterns have changed here so that now 60% of our diets are ultra-processed food.”


“Processed food, you can still see that it’s food,” he continues. “Take a pickle, for example. It’s a cucumber that’s been processed, but you can still see it was food. With ultra-processed foods, like a donut or pizza, you can’t tell where the food came from.”

The consumption of ultra-processed food not only makes people gain weight and even eat more. And butter is often a processed ingredient that’s added to those ultra-processed foods, heaping its saturated fats on top of everything else.

Are there healthier alternatives?

Dr. Bruemmer says that occasionally using a little amount of butter to cook food in, in moderation, isn’t necessarily bad. It’s just that we tend to use so much butter, that health problems can develop.

While you’ll want to avoid margarine, as it can still contain high levels of trans fat and saturated fat, a better alternative he suggests is vegetable oil which cuts out the saturated fats contained in butter.


Dr. Bruemmer also stresses the success of the Mediterranean Diet. “It’s the only diet in trials that in control studies has shown to improve health and lower the risk of heart attacks. It’s high in fruits and vegetables, adds some fish and lean white meats with grains, but it’s low in dairy products and red meat.”

And if you’re looking for something to spread on your bread, he points out that olive oil and a tomato spread, part of the Mediterranean diet, is popular in the Catalan region of Spain. “It’s not high in saturated fats content,” he says.

Related Articles

Cholesterol blocking blood flow in artery
February 26, 2024
What It Means if You Have ‘Sticky’ Cholesterol

LDL cholesterol and lipoprotein (a) cholesterol are more likely to stick to your arteries and lead to dangerous heart events

person in wheelchair lifting weights in gym
December 26, 2023
7 New Year’s Resolutions To Improve Your Heart Health

Resolve to move a little more, drink a little less, eat a little healthier, sleep a little better and destress a lot

A bowl of high fiber lentil salad
March 9, 2023
31 High-Fiber Foods You Should Be Eating

From blackberries to barley, healthy high-fiber foods are plentiful

Person eating a poached egg out of an egg cup holder.
August 9, 2022
Is It Safe To Eat Eggs Every Day?

If you’re eating more than one egg per day, you might want to cut back

Familial high cholesterol
April 6, 2022
Is High Cholesterol Hereditary?

Your family tree may increase your risk of high cholesterol and heart disease

An illustration of two vials labeled "HDL" and "LDL"
March 27, 2022
What’s the Difference Between ‘Good’ and ‘Bad’ Cholesterol?

Understanding the difference between ‘lousy’ and ‘healthy’ cholesterol can help you keep your heart healthy

wine and cholesterol the connection
March 6, 2022
Does Alcohol Affect Cholesterol?

Spoiler alert: The potential benefits of drinking alcohol may be a tad overstated

Senior woman looks in a small mirror while examing the skin beneath her eyes
February 2, 2022
Can Cholesterol Affect Your Eyes?

An expert explains the link

Trending Topics

close up of keto gummies
Do Keto Gummies Work for Weight Loss? Are They Safe?

Research is inconclusive whether or not these supplements are helpful

Person in yellow tshirt and blue jeans relaxing on green couch in living room reading texts on their phone.
Here’s How Many Calories You Naturally Burn in a Day

Your metabolism may torch 1,300 to 2,000 calories daily with no activity

Older person postioned sideways showing dowager hump.
Dowager’s Hump: What It Is and How To Get Rid of It

The hump at the base of your neck may be caused by osteoporosis or poor posture