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Butter vs. Margarine: Enough Already

February 26, 2013 by Joanna Drake, Registered Dietitian

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I remember the first time someone held a buttercup below my chin and told me I liked butter. Apparently the fact that my chin reflected yellow was the giveaway. Turns out, if this is the gold standard for liking butter, everyone likes it (except men with beards). In reality, however, the physiological reason for the reflection is in the buttercup and not the person.

That aside, many people do love butter and may be confused about the ongoing debate as to which is better for us - butter or margarine?Butter is made from animal fat which is high in saturated fat. Diets high in saturated fat can lead to increased cholesterol levels, a risk factor for heart disease and stroke. Some argue that the type of saturated fat in butter is healthier than other types, thereby making butter a good choice. There’s not enough evidence to support this claim.

Margarine is made from vegetable oils, which are low in saturated fat (except palm and coconut oil), and are high in mono and polyunsaturated fats. These fats can make margarine a healthier choice than butter, but it depends on the type of margarine you choose.

Hard margarine (sold in blocks) is very high in trans fat from hydrogenated oil. Trans fat is worse for us than saturated fat. It not only increases bad blood cholesterol; it lowers good blood cholesterol too.

The best choice is a soft margarine (one that comes in a tub and is soft and spreadable) that is low in both saturated and trans fats. Read the list of ingredients on the package and look for the words ‘non-hydrogenated’. Check out the Nutrition Facts Table, and choose a margarine with two grams or less of saturated and trans fat combined per serving.

Small amounts of butter can certainly fit into a healthy diet. What’s important is total fat in the diet and that most fat is healthy (unsaturated). Use butter when it counts the most for taste and function. (For example, margarine for shortbread cookies just doesn’t cut it for me.) But if you are making the choice of what fat source to spread regularly on your toast, your best bet is to use a non-hydrogenated soft margarine.


Related Posts:

Nutrition to Prevent a Broken Heart
St. Valentine Cares About Your Heart Health

Recommended Resources:
HealthLink BC: Heart Healthy Eating?

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