Butter vs. Margarine: Which is Better for Your Heart Health?
Thursday, January 13, 2011

Butter or margarine?
Sorting through the spreads in the supermarket can be quite confusing! They all sound healthy, don’t they? Many labels list ingredients like yogurt, olive oil, canola oil, and omega-3 fats. Unfortunately, they often contain too little of these ingredients to make a positive difference. Before you give up and resort back to old-fashioned butter, learn why margarine is the best choice – as long as you choose the right type of margarine.

Butter is made from animal fat, so it is loaded with artery-clogging saturated fat and cholesterol. In fact, just one tablespoon of butter has 7.5 grams of saturated fat – a third of a day’s worth. In contrast, margarine is made from vegetable oils, so it’s cholesterol free. Although some margarine contains just as much fat, less of its fat is the unhealthy saturated kind.

While butter has its downsides, not all margarines are heart healthy. Some contain harmful man-made trans fat. Trans fat is created during a process called hydrogenation, which makes liquid vegetable oils more solid and less likely to spoil. Trans fat raises blood cholesterol and the risk of heart disease just like saturated fat. It can do even more damage by lowering “good” (HDL) cholesterol levels. That’s why your best bet is to pick a tub margarine that contains no trans fat and as little saturated fat as possible.

Picking a healthy margarine boils down to checking two simple things on the label:

1. The saturated fat – keep it to no more than 1.5 grams per tablespoon.
2. The ingredient list – the words “partially hydrogenated oil” should not be listed. If it’s on there, it contains trans fat.

A tub margarine that fits the above criteria is best, but some taste buds aren’t ready to say good-bye to real butter. If you insist on the real thing, use it sparingly and consider using whipped or light butter with canola oil.