Better With Butter? Here's Why Americans Are Consuming More : The Salt Cholesterol worries waned as margarine's trans fats became the new bogeyman, leading more Americans back to the real deal.

Better With Butter? Here's Why Americans Are Consuming More

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For decades, we were told that fat was bad, especially butter. Americans have recently renewed their love of butter. But just as we've begun to slather it on comes word that there might be a shortage. NPR's Allison Aubrey investigates whether we ought to be alarmed.

ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: There's a growing number of Americans who seem to believe that everything is better with butter. Ashleigh Armstrong says she's definitely in this camp.

ASHLEIGH ARMSTRONG: Yes, I love butter. Everything's better with butter. I say it all the time when we're eating.

AUBREY: Ashleigh's in her late-20s. I caught up with her at a cafe in Washington's Union Station. She and her partner, Simon Anderfuhren, who's French, were waiting to board a train to New York. And they're eating a buttery snack with their afternoon coffee.

ARMSTRONG: I am just breaking off a nice party piece of this croissant.

SIMON ANDERFUHREN: I'd say it's very good for an American croissant.

ARMSTRONG: Mmm. It's flaky. It just creates this wonderful dough in your mouth while you're chewing it. It's delicious.

AUBREY: Now Ashleigh's butter habit represents a paradigm shift in the U.S. that's been taking place gradually.

HARRY BALZER: Americans are eating more butter. There's no question about it.

AUBREY: That's Harry Balzer, an analyst for the marketing research firm NPD Group that tracks Americans' eating habits. He says back in the early 1990s, only about 30 percent of households he surveyed were cooking with butter or spreading it on their morning toast. What most families were eating was margarine.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Imperial - only our taste deserves the crown.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Taste Parkay Margarine. The flavor says butter.

AUBREY: But jump ahead to today and many American families are no longer using margarine.

BALZER: The increase in butter consumption in America coincides with the decline in margarine consumption. As a matter of fact, the increase in butter is really a story about the decrease in margarine.

AUBREY: So what explains this change? Well, for years, Americans had been getting the message to avoid animal fats to protect our hearts. Cholesterol was the nutritional bogeyman. And margarine is cholesterol-free.

BALZER: But back in 1992, 44 percent of all Americans were concerned about the amount of cholesterol that was in our food. Today, that number is 27 percent. It's dropped quite a bit.

AUBREY: And this is likely because the science of fat has really evolved. There was the revelation that trans-fats found in lots of margarine were really bad for us as well as the new evidence that eating some animal fat is not so bad. There's also a growing movement towards clean, less processed foods. That's another reason croissant lover Ashleigh Armstrong likes butter.

ARMSTRONG: I just want the good stuff. I'm not going to have the fake stuff. Butter is more for me.

AUBREY: Now you might assume that the rebound of butter would explain some of the news stories that have hinted at a possible butter shortage. But turns out, no, we're not eating that much more. What's really gobbling up supplies of American-made butter is the appetite of butter lovers in other countries, including Egypt and Morocco. Turns out, exports are way up. Here's dairy economist Brian Gould of the University of Wisconsin.

BRIAN GOULD: Since the early 2000s, we've basically gone from zero exports of butter to where it's 10 or 11 percent of our market. That's an incredible growth rate.

AUBREY: Now as for the stories making the rounds on the Internet about putting butter into your tea or coffee, well, Ashleigh's boyfriend, Simon, had this to say about it.

ANDERFUHREN: In France, we put butter on bread and then we dip it in the coffee.

AUBREY: Ah. So maybe that was the genesis of the whole butter and coffee.

ANDERFUHREN: Maybe, but we never just put a spoon butter in the coffee. Never.

AUBREY: So here's to good bread with your butter and coffee. Allison Aubrey, NPR News.


THE NEWBEATS: (Singing) He likes bread and butter. He likes toast and jam. That's what his baby feeds him. He's her loving man. I like bread and butter. I like toast and jam. That's what baby feeds me. I'm her loving man.

SIMON: You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News.

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