Why butter won’t make you fatter (but sugar will)

My mother was a health nut when I was growing up.  She made granola, bought raw milk from the farm, made bread and yogurt, snuck wheat germ into all sorts of things, fed us liver, and only bought ‘healthy’ cereal like raisin bran and grape-nuts. She made cookies occasionally, but there was never coke or koolaid in the house, or store-bought cookies or chips, or white bread, or much of anything that was highly processed.

In all my childish wisdom, I sometimes pined for what I wasn’t given. But the more I learn about diet and health as an adult, the more I realize that my mom was right on track with what she was trying to do for us.  Lately I’ve been doing a lot of reading about fat and sugar. I’ve learned some interesting things, and I thought I’d share the Cliff-Notes version of what I’ve read for those of you who might not have heard this information yet.

Do you steer clear of butter, and instead use low-fat margarine and ‘spreads’ in hopes of avoiding weight gain? I have in the past.  Turns out that little substitution may be doing your body more harm than good. Margarine is loaded with trans-fat, the worst kind of fat to ingest. And in fact, a reasonable amount of healthy fat (from butter, olive oil, pr coconut oil)  in the diet can contribute to greater satisfaction with what we eat and consequently less over-eating.

And the sugar story?  Turns out sugar when being digested creates byproducts that are the exact building blocks of fat cells.  Because of this, sugar calories (NOT FAT CALORIES) are the most likely culprit in the proliferation of fat cells in our bodies.  Obviously eating too much butter can also make you fat— moderation in everything is a good rule in life — but in general Americans these days are probably gaining weight from too much sugar.

Are you interested in more details?

The Healthy Home Economist explains more about the butter vs. margarine debate.

Kelly the Kitchen Cop discusses 20 health benefits of butter

Sugar: The Bitter Truth (a youtube video) will explain the exact way that sugar can so easily become more fat cells on our bodies.  It’s a long video but it is extremely enlightening.




  1. My goodness. I have recently discovered the same thing and have added all kinds of healthy fat back into my family’s diet… and I’m losing weight. It’s slow and I’m not great at avoiding sweets, but I do feel satisfied with less and I’m not exhausted all the time. It’s really amazing. It’s totally opposite of everything I’ve always been told about how to be healthy. The facts just seem to add up… good reading!

  2. This is so true. I have tried so many different weight loss techniques, most of which included fake, man-made substitutes and they usually get me no where. I just wind up feeling deprived and spending way too much money. When I started trying to save money and switched our eating habits to homemade, one-ingredient foods, the weight fell off. I didn’t even have to put much effort into it. A baked apple with butter and cinnamon became my best friend. It left me feeling fulfilled and content while also shedding the weight! Wonderful post Mary!

  3. A good many years ago, a friend, who happens to be a consultant physician told me to never touch margarine. Butter is natural. He recommended a diet with plenty of oily fish like tuna,and cottage cheese and avocado. And everything in moderation, of course! You are right. Sugar is the guilty thing here, and coming off sugar leads to a week long headache. Been there and done that. Excellent post!

  4. Love this post. And sugar is in most of the processed foods we consume in America. Spaghetti sauce, canned veggies, salsa, bread… most of it has added sugar in some form or another, weighing us down when we don’t realize it.

  5. For more in-depth reporting on the research behind why this is true, check out two books by Greg Taubes. Good Calories, Bad Calories looks at all the science thoroughly and somewhat densely. Why We Get Fat is a more readable version.

  6. Yeah! This makes me so happy. We get raw milk from a farm and I make butter so I don’t have to drink (or waste) all that cream. I was feeling a bit guilty about using real butter for everything.

  7. Great post! I, too, grew up with a healthnut mom. She was the renegade of her day. I fought it for a long time. I would trade my carob chips with an unsuspecting kid… just to get something pre-packaged. Now, as a mom, I understand why and what she was doing. She’s been a great resource, as I am taking my family on our own whole-food journey.

  8. I’ve always stuck whit butter, for baking and spreading. I totally agree that sugar is the worst culprit as long as you are moderate with fat intake. No fizzy drinks in our house, but I do bake cookies and white bread quite often.

  9. This is really facinating. I watched the whole 1:20 lecture on Sugar last night, (although, I admit I drifted off to sleep for part of the bio-chemistry). I came “this close” to throwing away the batch of caramel I made yesterday. LOL! But it makes sense. From personal experience, I know that eliminating coke made me loose quite a few lbs in my teens, and I was only drinking it about twice a week before that. It does make a difference!

    My mom cooked (almost) everything from scratch, whole wheat bread and cookies for example. But I grew up on margarine, mostly I think because of the cost difference. My husband is a butter-only guy, so now I use butter exclusively. And I feel like it’s worth paying 150% more for something real. Maybe someday we’ll have a cow and I’ll make my own. 🙂

  10. I stopped eating margarine after a doctor told my grandmother to stop eating it after she had triple bypass surgery.

    My husband switched from sugar cereals to oatmeal with a small bit of brown sugar for breakfast. Roughly the same amount of calories but much less sugar and he’s lost weight and feels full longer.

  11. Being a lover of buttery things – this post is a good reminder that what appears to be true often isn’t – we were told not to eat butter or eggs – and DUH – turns out both are very healthy for us – it is the tricky word “moderation” which bites most of us in our cellulite covered posterior! You are an excellent source of reasonable (usually fun!) information – thanks

  12. I’ve found the same things to be true! I have learned a lot from Mark Sisson at MarksDailyApple.com I have cut my sugar, lessened my intake of rice, beans and other starchy foods and quit wheat altogether for the last couple of months and suddenly, my clothes are getting too big!

  13. Thrand Godfrey says:

    Sorry but if you limit your carbohydrates and do not eat sugar Butter will not make you fat no matter how much you eat sorry but this is the truth.I went to get my health check up and had a 122 cholesterol and 112/71 blood pressure and 99 fasting sugar.The guy said my cholesterol was low at test were it showed up as 99 and I should eat some eggs.I started laughing at him and so did my wife.I had eaten 6 eggs and homemade breakfast sausage for breakfast no bread like I all ways do almost ever day.I am 40 by the way and look 25.I weigh around 175 and am not over weight.I eat butter all the time and a lot. I even drink Coconut oil 😀