Butter is a fat that we’ve been told for years is bad for our health. On the other hand, margarine has been marketed as a healthier alternative to butter because it contains less saturated and trans fats. However, margarine can also contain high levels of these same unhealthy fats- and they’re not always labeled. A new study suggests that some brands of margarine may now be healthier than butter because they are made with plant oils instead of animal fats like palm oil. Continue reading to learn more about margarine and butter.
Margarine is Still a Processed Food
Even though margarine manufacturers are bragging that their product is healthier than butter, it’s important to remember that these products should not be thought of as health foods. Butter has long been demonized for being high in saturated fatty acids and animal protein, which have been believed to clog arteries and cause heart disease. Margarine was created to replace butter, but it’s actually a processed food with a long list of unhealthy ingredients. Margarine is typically made from hydrogenated oils, which have been found to be just as bad for your health. Both butter and kinds of margarine contain high levels of Omega-6 fatty acids that have been shown to cause inflammation in the body and increase your risk for cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.
Watching Cholesterol Levels in Your Diet is Only Part of the Picture
Another essential thing to note about this research is that it only looks at the participants’ cholesterol levels. Many people still believe that eating foods rich in cholesterol will raise your blood cholesterol levels and increase your risk for heart disease. Although your body produces enough cholesterol to meet its own needs, you need to be aware that it’s also found in many of the foods we eat, and studies have shown that high levels of dietary cholesterol do not raise blood cholesterol levels. Foods, particularly those high in Omega-6 fatty acids, may promote inflammation and damage your arteries just as much or even more than foods high in cholesterol.
Size of Portion Matters
We all know that weight gain and obesity are increasing public health problems in the U.S., but portion sizes have also been growing over the past few decades. The authors of this study suggest that people can still enjoy these types of foods as long as they eat them in small portions and watch their total calorie intake for the day-not just because they contain less cholesterol. One tablespoon of butter contains about 100 calories, while one tablespoon of margarine (just like the kind used in the study) contains 70-80 calories.
The Difference Between Butter and Margarine
Butter is made from cream that’s churned into butterfat. It contains no hydrogenated oils. Margarine is made with vegetable oils that are often hydrogenated to prevent them from becoming rancid- the process of hydrogenation creates harmful trans fats. So, if you switch from butter to margarine, your health will not improve. In fact, margarine may be even more harmful than butter because it contains high trans fats and other chemical additives.
What Makes Butter Healthier Than Margarine?
Butter is one of the most nutrient-dense foods available, and it’s essential to choose this healthy fat over margarine, which contains many synthetic ingredients that have been linked to many different health problems. Butter is rich in Omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins A, D, and E. It’s an excellent source of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a fatty acid with antimicrobial properties and may even fight cancer. Butter is also one of the best sources of butyric acid, which promotes a healthy digestive system and has been linked to relief from colitis, Crohn’s disease, and leaky gut syndrome.
Types of Margarine
- Stick margarine – made from hydrogenated vegetable oils. Hydrogenation turns polyunsaturated fatty acids into trans fats. Partially hydrogenated, stick margarine usually contains around 20% saturated fat and 60% trans fat, both of which are harmful to your health.
- Tub margarine – a softer version that is often marked as “butter-flavored.” It’s made with more polyunsaturated fats than stick margarine.
- Soft margarine – the type found in most restaurants and fast food establishments. It’s made with liquid oil that contains up to 50% trans fat.
- Margarine with phytosterols – this type of margarine is supposed to block the absorption of cholesterol in your digestive system. It contains small amounts of plant sterols that have been chemically altered to mimic the structure of cholesterol. So, when you consume these types of margarine, it blocks your body’s ability to absorb cholesterol from other foods.
What a Healthy Alternative Looks Like
Despite its high saturated fat content, it can help lower your heart disease risk because it contains many beneficial nutrients. Instead of margarine, substitute olive oil whenever you need to use it for baking or sauteing. You can also choose whole milk butter (also known as “European-style” butter), which actually contains less saturated fat than regular butter. It’s made from cream from grass-fed cows and is higher in both Omega-3 and CLA.
In conclusion, people who ate butter daily had no more heart disease than those who didn’t eat any at all. In fact, people who switched from butter to margarine had a higher risk of developing heart disease. A possible explanation for this is that some of the ingredients used in margarine have been associated with an increased risk of heart disease, including trans fats and other chemical additives. But it’s also because margarine contains less beneficial nutrients than butter, which contains naturally-occurring vitamins and fatty acids that have been linked to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease.
So, instead of switching from one bad alternative to another, choose real food whenever possible! Butter is not the enemy; it is one of the healthiest fats on earth.