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What are the nutritional and culinary differences between butter and margarine?

July 11, 2017, 9:41 pm
Thanks for your question! Of course, this can be really confusing for a lot of people, and there is a good reason why.

In the past, butter came under a great deal of scrutiny when its high levels of saturated fat were associated with increased heart disease risk. Because butter is made by churning cream to separate the butterfat from the buttermilk. This is why buttermilk is naturally low in fat. The butterfat is collected and is what we know as butter.

And so it goes, margarine became the preferred spread due to its relatively lower fat and lower calorie
content. Health professionals agreed, but without any quality evidence that it would be a better choice for those with heart disease risk. However, that was before we knew about the health risks associated with trans fats.

Margarine, on the other hand, is made from blending vegetable oils with fat through a process called hydrogenation. If you look at the ingredients label on most margarine products, you will fine "partially hydrogrenated" vegetable oil listed. This results in the creation of trans fats, which have been proven (with quality evidence) to

increase the risk

of coronary artery (heart) disease. Generally speaking, margarine raises levels of LDL (bad cholesterol) and lowering levels of HDL (good cholesterol).

Butter is on the list of foods to use sparingly mostly because it is high in saturated fat, which also
increases levels of LDL. Classic stick margarines that are still widely sold are high in trans fats and are generally worse for you than butter. Some of the newer margarines, though, are low in saturated fat, high in unsaturated fat, and free of trans fats are fine as long as you don't use too much (they are still rich in calories).

Many commercial butters make combination spreads, cutting some of the butter with olive or vegetable oils for a smoother spread with less calories and greater nutritional benefit than butter alone. Healthier alternatives to butter and margarine include extra virgin olive oil and other vegetable oil–based spreads. If you're trying to lower your cholesterol, stanol-based spreads (for example, Benecol) are even better, since regular use can help lower LDL cholesterol levels.

You can quickly compare the health value of spreads (including butter and margarine) simply by looking at the nutrition labels on these products. The FDA requires nutrition labels to include information about both saturated fats and trans fats. Remember that with any fat, your goal is to limit intake of saturated fats and to avoid trans fats altogether. At The Sage, we encourage people to choose their fats wisely and in moderation - whether it be cooking, baking, or using as a spread.

Happy Eating!

Source: Harvard Health

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