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Butter Can Be Better

The days of butter being labelled a dietary villain may be over. A new butter has been shown to help reduce blood cholesterol levels when eaten as part of a moderate fat healthy diet, in research undertaken at The University of Auckland.

The findings have been published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, January 2002 issue.

Dr Sally Poppitt from The University of Auckland Human Nutrition Unit and Professor Garth Cooper, School of Biological Sciences, said the results on the new butter product were very promising.

"They also offer a great opportunity for the dairy industry, New Zealand's biggest export earner."

The researchers trialled a modified butter which was developed by a team of researchers at the New Zealand Dairy Research Institute in Palmerston North (now owned by Fonterra), and also regular butter. The modified butter was altered to increase the proportion of unsaturated fats, which are thought to be 'heart healthy', by giving the milking cows a specially formulated feed supplement.

The Human Nutrition Unit's nine week trial involved 20 healthy young males. To make sure that diet was well controlled all of the men left home and moved into the residential facility of the Nutrition Unit where they slept and where they were given all of their meals each day. Their diet was carefully designed to make sure that nobody lost or gained any weight, was well balanced for all essential nutrients and had only a moderate fat content.

For three weeks of the trial a regular dairy butter taken from the supermarket shelves was included as part of this diet and for another three weeks a modified butter was included. In the three weeks between the diets there was a break and the men all returned home to resume their normal life.

Dr Poppitt said, "the results from the study showed that the modified butter significantly lowered circulating levels of cholesterol by about 5-10%. Blood cholesterol levels also fell slightly on the regular butter treatment.

"Even small reductions in blood cholesterol are encouraging clinically. This suggests that the risk of long-term heart disease was also gradually falling. Heart disease is a major problem in New Zealand, particularly for men where more head of population per capita die of heart attacks and stroke than in very affluent countries such as the United States.

"It was particularly interesting that blood cholesterol decreased in these young, healthy, normal weight men who are thought to be the group most resistant to improvements in health through dietary change.

It was concluded in this nutrition intervention study that the improvements in blood cholesterol that occurred on the modified butter were comparable with improvements that may be achieved when switching from normal butter to hydrogenated spreads such as margarines.

The results also showed that, when eaten by healthy young men as part of a strictly balanced diet that is not high in fat, there was no evidence that normal butter worsened risk factors commonly associated with coronary heart disease.

Fonterra, which funded the research, says that the initial trial results are exciting but that decisions about the possible commercialisation of the modified butter are still some way off.


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