Nutrition experts weigh in on how to include butter in a meal plan if you have diabetes.
Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that nearly 37.3 million Americans (or 11.3% of the U.S. population) have diabetes. Whether you personally have diabetes or someone you know is struggling with this medical condition, it’s likely you’ve questioned what foods you can (and perhaps cannot) eat when following a diabetes-friendly diet, butter being one of them.
Rest assured, we’ve got you covered in this article. We’ve talked to registered dietitians and certified diabetes educators to get the facts on what you need to know when including fats, like butter, in your diet.
How Dietary Fats Affect People with Diabetes
You may remember the era when low-fat everything reigned supreme. Thankfully, research has come a long way since then and has shown how the right kind of fat can actually help conditions like diabetes. The key word here being right fats.
For a quick refresher, there are three main types of fats found in the diet: unsaturated, saturated and trans fatty acids. While trans fats have been banned due to the unfavorable effects they have on health, unsaturated and saturated fats are both found in the standard American diet. You can get a deep dive in our article on the difference between these two types of fats but, simply put, unsaturated fats have been found to provide more heart-healthy and anti-inflammatory benefits, while it’s recommended that saturated fats should be limited in your diet.
Saturated fats are typically found in animal products and are solid at room temperature. The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends limiting your intakes of saturated fats to no more than 10% of your daily caloric value, or around 20 grams per day based on a 2,000-calorie diet. On the flip side, unsaturated fats, like monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids, are liquid at room temperature and are primarily found in oils like olive and canola, nuts, seeds and fatty fish. Specific kinds of unsaturated fats, like the omega-3 fatty acids, should be consumed at least twice a week, ideally from seafood sources.
Now, how exactly do these fat types affect someone with diabetes?
According to New Jersey-based dietitian Erin Palinski-Wade, RD, CDCES, author of 2-Day Diabetes Diet, “Diets high in saturated fat are associated with a higher risk of heart disease and stroke, which are common comorbidities for diabetes. In fact, people living with diabetes have twice the risk of developing heart disease than those who do not have diabetes.” Plus, she shares, “Saturated fats can also cause insulin resistance, which makes maintaining healthy blood sugar levels more difficult.”
On the flip side, Palinski-Wade reminds us that mono- and polyunsaturated fats have been shown to have positive effects on diabetes management and may improve heart health and insulin sensitivity. A 2019 research article published in the British Medical Journal supports this sentiment and found that those participants with type 2 diabetes who consumed higher amounts of polyunsaturated fatty acids compared to carbohydrates or saturated fats had a lower total mortality risk as well as a lower risk of dying from cardiovascular disease.
Point being, diabetes diagnosis or not, it’s important to pay some attention to the type of fat you’re consuming.
Can You Eat ButterIf You Have Diabetes?
Yes, nutrition experts agree that all foods fit, even if you have diabetes. Sarah Koszyk, M.A., RDN, a dietitian and co-founder of MIJA, shares, “Like all things in life, enjoying foods like butter in moderation is key to maintaining balance and reaching optimal nutrition, health and wellness.”
However, both Palinski-Wade and Koszyk remind us that butter is a source of saturated fat, with 7 grams per 1-tablespoon serving. Considering this is a nutrient that countless health organizations recommend should be limited in your diet, they recommend you heed this advice and use butter sparingly.
If you enjoy the taste of butter, consider using it in moderation (like a pat, or 1-teaspoon portion) where you really notice the flavor profile of this ingredient versus as an everyday cooking fat option.
Tips to Include Butter in a Healthy Diabetes-Appropriate Diet
While you may have vivid memories of your grandma mixing a stick (or two) of butter into her mashed potatoes, experts (chefs included) want to remind you that a little goes a long way, especially with a flavor enhancer like butter.
Consider these tips Koszyk and Palinski-Wade recommend to help maximize the flavor of your favorite butter brand while keeping your portions in check:
Spread 1 teaspoon of butter over a steamed vegetable like broccoli, asparagus, zucchini or cauliflower. Add some spices and herbs to the veggies for additional flavor. (Consider making one of these 10 best vegetables for diabetes.)
Melt 1 teaspoon of butter and dip a steamed or boiled artichoke in it as you scrape off the hearty base of the petal.
Sauté mushrooms using a teaspoon of butter to serve over roasted chicken or a grilled or roasted fish for a more intense flavor.
Consider swapping out butter for a vegan baking alternative like coconut oil, applesauce or avocado, or using half butter and half butter alternative in your baked goods.