Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Which is better for you: Butter or Margarine?

I was taking a client on a healthy shopping session when we ran into a couple, maybe newly weds , arguing whether or not to include butter in their shopping basket. Very impressive, I thought. At least people are getting health conscious more than before.

First we were told to steer clear of the saturated fats in butter and switch to margarine. Then we discover the dangers of trans-saturated fats in margarine, resulting in many of us switching back to good old butter. So which one really is better for us?

Many people prefer the taste of butter over margarine and are drawn to the idea that it is a more natural product.  However, it is high in saturated fat.  Saturated fat not only raises total cholesterol but it also significantly increases the LDL (bad) cholesterol – the type that clogs the arteries and can lead to heart disease.  Healthy eating guidelines advise that we should consume no more than 10% of total calories as saturated fat. 

Margarine usually contain fewer saturated fats than butter as they are predominantly made from plant rather than animal derived oils.  However, plant oils tend to be liquid at room temperature.  Therefore, in order to make them more solid and spreadable, manufacturers have traditionally used a process called hydrogenation.  During this process trans fats may be formed - a type of fat known to be even more harmful to health than saturated fat as they raise  LDL (bad) cholesterol and reduce HDL (good) cholesterol.

Increased awareness of the harmful effects of hydrogenated fats has resulted in a questioning of the real health benefits of margarine. However, margarine is still recommended as the healthier option. This is partly because changes in processing techniques have greatly reduced the amount of Trans fatty acids likely to be found in most margarine, but also because margarine is generally much lower in saturated fat than butter.  They are also a good source of heart friendly monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. 

Monounsaturated fats are particularly effective at helping to protect against heart disease as they not only reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol, but also increase HDL (good) cholesterol.  Polyunsaturated fats are a good source of immune strengthening omega 3 and omega 6 essential fatty acids and will also help to lower LDL cholesterol. 

On whole, margarine really does seem to be the healthier choice but have different types. H ere is a guide to choosing a healthy option.
 1. Choose a spread that has a low total fat content.  Ideally, look for a spread that has less than 55g of fat per 100g.

2. Look for one with low saturated fat content.  Less than 10g per 100 grams.

3. Choose one with low Trans fatty acid content.   0.5 grams or less per 100 grams.

4. Go for a spread made from olive, rapeseed or groundnut oil as these are likely to have the highest monounsaturated fat content. 

Many of the cholesterol-lowering spreads contain stanols and sterols.  These are ingredients derived from plants that can actually reduce the amount of cholesterol that the body absorbs.  These spreads can be effective at lowering cholesterol, but they should be used as part of a healthy, balanced diet and not as a substitute for other.  Well established ways of reducing the risk of heart disease, such as increasing the consumption of fruit and vegetables, quitting smoking, eating less saturated fat and taking more exercise.