Butter or margarine, which one is the healthier diet option for you?
For many years, it has been assumed that margarine was better for you, because of less saturated fat. However, man-made trans-fats in margarine have been discovered to be far more dangerous to the human body than butter.
In fact, trans-fats have been determined to be so dangerous that certain cities in America like New York City have banned them being used in restaurants. In this article we will compare the two so you can make up your own mind about which you choose to include in your diet.
Butter is made from full fat cow’s milk, which is churned until it forms a solid. Salt is usually added as a preservative, and if kept in a cool place, can last for some time without spoiling.
One of the reasons why some experts say to stay away from butter is that it contains saturated fat. Saturated fat raises the bad form of cholesterol, known as LDL cholesterol, (think L for lousy, as compared with HDL (H for healthy). Saturated fat also raises the total blood cholesterol levels.
What most people don’t understand, however, is that the cholesterol in the food you eat has little to no effect on the blood cholesterol levels of most people, since the body produces cholesterol naturally itself. In addition, there are some foods that naturally lower cholesterol in the same way that foods like butter, eggs and dairy can increase it.
We also know that butter contains vitamins A, D, E, and K, which all help contribute to a healthy immune system, solid bones and teeth, healthy skin, and blood clotting respectively, as well as overall cell integrity. Vitamin D and dairy products generally have also been linked to successful weight loss, and prevention of certain cancers, such as breast cancer.
Butter helps produce hormones in the body, and supports brain function. Animal-derived fats also help us feel fuller faster (think how stuffed you feel after a restaurant meal if you have bread and butter before it).
As a way to combat the supposed health problems believed to be caused by butter, margarine was created toward the second half of the last century. However, many margarines are laden with man-made trans-fats, which are created during hydrogenation, the process of taking liquid vegetable oil and making it into a solid which is then spreadable like butter, or used for cooking or frying.
Not all vegetable oils are created equal. Olive oil and nut-based oils like peanut and walnut oil are good for cooking and add flavor to foods. In addition, they can help raise HDL (helpful) cholesterol in the body. There has been a lot of discussion recently about the benefits of the Mediterranean diet, focusing on the healthy fats derived from natural sources as being helpful for weight loss and maintaining overall health and cholesterol levels.
Some margarines claim to be heart healthy by adding olive oil, but there might actually be animal fat from dairy in them. A new generation of margarines which claim to be healthier due to plant sterols and stanols have actually been discovered to be more harmful than butter due to the way the body tries to digest and use them. Margarines have no vitamins except for small doses of Vitamin E in some oils unless they are fortified.
Butter or Margarine: Which one is right for you?
Animal fats will make you feel more full than vegetable-based ones. That can help you actually eat less.
Taste is another consideration. We each have our own preferences and should eat what we enjoy in moderation. Prices are now comparable between butter and margarine, and since butter does not have a lot of water and hydrogen in it, pound for pound you might find that butter is better value.
Cooking versatility in various recipes is probably equal for both butter and margarine, depending on the oil base of the margarine. However, butter can be heated to a much higher temperature, and it is not so full of chemicals.
Other health considerations besides cholesterol need to be taken into account before deciding. If you have kidney stones or gallstones, or any other medical condition that requires you to limit your fatty foods, or foods with calcium in them, you will probably want to opt for margarine.
If you choose margarine over butter, be sure you find one of the brands which are not made with trans-fats. If you choose butter, try to go for one with no salt.
If you are still undecided, check with your doctor or a dietitian to see which one they recommend based on your own medical history.