Butter or Margarine?

Once upon a time, we all enjoyed the sweet, rich cream taste of butter. But then, butter went over to the dark side: it was found to be loaded with saturated fats and cholesterol, increasing our LDL's and risk of heart disease. Bummer. At this point people started looking at margarine as a healthier choice. It was made out of healthier polyunsaturated oils, had no natural cholesterol since it did not come from an animal source, so Ta-da-ta-da! (A commerical for Imperial margarine, when you took a bite, the Ta-da-ta-da- jingle would play and a crown would pop up on your head. Guess you had to be there :)

But the butter vs. margarine issue isn't that simple. Butter does have 7 grams of saturated fat per tablespoon and 200 mg. of cholesterol. What does that mean to our health? The cholesterol you eat has less of an impact on your blood cholesterol than the saturated fat you eat does. (That is, unless you are a special case with very high cholesterol and high risk of heart disease, then listen to your doc as that small bit of dietary cholesterol may matter and you may want you to keep the cholesterol you eat under 3oo mg per day.)

Margarine, however, gets no free pass. Stick margarine gives us 3 grams of transfat and 2 grams of saturated fats on the average, even though it has no cholesterol. Margarine is created through a process called hydrogenation: polyunsaturated healthy oil is forced to suck up more hydrogen atoms by a process using heat. The more hydrogen it holds on to, the more saturated, firmer, and shelf stable it becomes, and the worse it becomes for us nutritionally. When these healthy oils go through hydrogenation they transform their shape and structure (think transformer trucks) so they're called transfats. The more transformation the oil has gone through, the more solid it becomes, pushing it to the dark side. They've now become saturated fats which increase our LDL (lousy) and decrease our HDL's (happy,) and make our platelets stickier, all of which increase our risk for heart attack and stroke--yikes!

So what do we spread on our toast?
  • Both have 100 calories per tablespoon, so there is no winner there if you are watching calories, unless you choose light.
  • We need to use less of both butter and transfatty margarine.
  • Ask yourself what are you using the butter or margarine for? So...

Major Health Rule: Use liquid oils whenever possible:
-olive oil on whole grain baguette
-canola oil and water to make biscuits, pancakes, etc.

  • Try nut butters on toast, or all-fruit jams, such as Simply Fruit (counts as a fruit serving!
  • Choose the softest margarine you can. Leave the stick margarine at the store. Find ingredients such as canola, corn, safflower, sesame, soybean, sunflower oils listed as the first ingredient.
  • Check labels: no transfats and less than 2 g. saturated fat on your spreads, if possible.
  • If your family loves butter, choose soft butter tubs that are whipped with heart healthy canola oil or olive oil. Land O Lakes makes a good one that has 4 g. saturated fats, 1.5 g. polyunsaturated fats, and 5 g. monounsaturated fats, and 0 g. of transfats. The heart healthy oils off set the not so healthy fat, and leave behind the creamery taste that you want.
  • Choose the lighter versions of margarine or butter for fewer calories: the first ingredient will be water, the second your healthy oils.
  • Cholesterol lowering spreads. Some spreads are available that have plant sterols or stanols that provide some heart health benefit in their ability to lower cholesterol. The trouble is, you need to consume 2 tablespoons of these to get the full benefit.
  • Use less spread. Period. A tablespoon is way too big a serving size. Think in terms of a teaspoon.
  • Increase the ratio of healthy oils to evil fats: more olive oil, less butter, margarine.
Moral of today's story: Go forth and take charge of your own heart health: go liquid first, and the softer the better.

And me? I have 2 types of olive oil on hand one for cooking and one with a special rich taste for salads. I use canola for things like cornbread or pancakes when I want no flavor added. When I want a little buttery spread, I reach for my Land O Lakes soft butter with canola oil, and use just a little of it. Yum! Balance is key. For our family and our health issues, I am trying to choose no hydrogenated transfats at all. My husband lost his parents way too young to cancer. They consumed lots of transfat loaded margarine, thinking it was healthier than butter. My parents stay active and healthy and are butter consumers. Ancedotal, but interesting...

To your health! Fire Up! You Can Do This!