Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Health Tips: Margarine vs Butter

Ding, ding, ding!  Put those boxing gloves on.  One of the biggest nutrition battles of the ages is about to go down here.  Margarine vs Butter. 

If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me which is healthier, I would actually have some money!  So for those of you who have ever wondered the same thing, I am going to break it down for you.  For both products, I will go through the good, the bad, and the ugly (the stickiness that makes it hard to say which is best).

Now, before I begin let me give you a little background information about my perspective.  Growing up, we always had margarine in the house, but referred to it as "butter."  And, this is embarrassing, but for a surprisingly long time I didn't know the difference.  You will find both in my refrigerator.  Since we didn't have real butter around the house I am just now learning the joy of baking with butter (so yummy!) but I still prefer margarine if I am spreading on toast or something like that.  With that being said...Let's get ready to rumble!
The Good: Butter is a natural source of fat.  I looked at the label of the package I had in my refrigerator.  What did I find?  Cream.  That's it.
The Bad: Fat and calories.  1 measly tablespoon of butter rings in 100 calories, 11 grams of total fat, and 7 grams of saturated fat.  The official position of most major medical groups is that diets high in saturated fat increase your risk of heart disease.
The Ugly: There is some new research that puts those official positions into question.  Some feel that dietary fat and cholesterol may not have the effect previously thought.

The Good: Lower fat and calories.  1 tablespoon of margarine has about half the fat (5 grams) and calories (50) of butter.
The Bad:  Margarine relies on hydrogenation to turn liquid oil into a solid spread.  This process creates trans fats which is worse for your heart than saturated fat.
The Ugly: Since food manufacturers are now required to display trans fat on nutrition labels, many have decreased trans fats in their products.  However, any product containing less than a half a gram of trans fat can claim zero grams per serving.  So make sure you look for hydrogenated oils on the ingredient list!

When considering margarine or butter, remember that neither is a health food.  As one of my teachers at K-State said one time, we all have to die from something.  So pick your poison! 
Another option?  There are margarine spreads that do not have hydrogenated oils, such as Smart Balance.  These products contain plant sterols and/or stanols, which can lower cholesterol as well.  They are not necessarily recommended for those with normal cholesterol, and they are a bit pricey!

 Clear as mud?

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