By Dr. Jack Rutherford
Butter or margarine? Which is better for my heart?
Answer - neither. I joke with my students that both of these spreads fall in the same food group as Vaseline – they are all just grease. But it is true that if you’re going to consume one or the other, margarine is made from vegetable oils, so it contains no cholesterol. Margarine also has more of the “good” fats, namely monounsaturated and polyunsaturated, than butter. These good fats help lower low-density lipoproteins (LDL), the “bad” cholesterol. Butter, on the other hand, is made from animal fat and therefore contains cholesterol and saturated fat.
It is important to remember when you’re shopping for margarine that not all margarines are created equal. Some may even be worse than butter. Margarines solid at room temperature, typically packaged in one pound sticks, have trans fats, whereas soft margarines in tubs have little or no trans fats. Trans fats lower high-density lipoproteins (HDL), the good cholesterol in your body. Some soft margarines are even supplemented with plant stanols and sterols, which can help reduce LDL cholesterol levels.
When choosing a spread, read the nutrition labels and compare the amounts of saturated and trans fats. Look for products with the lowest combined amount. If you can’t give up butter completely, there are other alternatives than margarine. Look for whipped or light butter or products that are a blend of butter and olive or canola oil. These products have less saturated fat and calories per serving than regular butter. Butter sprays are still another alternative. They contain no fat or calories (or nutritional value) whatsoever. Chances are, the reason you’re using any spread is for taste, not for its nutritional value, so the important thing is to use it sparingly.