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Choosing Fats: Margarine or Butter?

Submitted by Stella Morgan on October 25, 2010

Butter vs Low Fat Margarine

Margarine and butter are both sources of fat that are commonly used in several recipes. People are aware of the fact that margarine is supposed to be lower in calories and fat, as compared to butter. This is probably why people often let margarine substitute butter in food. However, after taking other nutritional factors into consideration, it is natural for anybody to wonder which option is healthier, margarine or butter.  The nutritional facts of both should be taken into account, in order to determine if margarine or butter is healthier of the two.

Margarine or butter

Butter is an animal product, which is high in saturated fat as well as cholesterol.

Therefore, it has the tendency to clog the arteries thereby increasing the risks of strokes and other heart diseases. Moreover, butter usually contains minute amounts or traces of the hormones and the antibiotics that are fed to the animals. However, one of the advantages of butter is that it is high in fat soluble vitamins, like Vitamin A, D, E and K.

Margarine on the other hand, is made using vegetable oil; therefore, it is much lower in saturated fat and does not contain any dietary cholesterol. Unfortunately, to improve the texture of margarine, liquid vegetable oil is put through a procedure, which is known as hydrogenation. Due to this procedure, margarine is quite high in trans fats.

These trans fatty acids are not good for the body, as they raise the levels of bad cholesterol (LDL) and reduce good cholesterol (HDL) in the body. In several ways, trans fats are worse than saturated fats.

Fortunately, there a couple of margarine brands available in the stores today that do not contain any trans-fats, as they are not hydrogenated.

While choosing a brand of margarine, it is important to check the labels carefully and then select the ones that have 0 trans fats, with no more than 2 grams of saturated fat in each tablespoon. To make a healthier choice, it is also best to ensure that the first ingredient is liquid vegetable oil.

Fats margarine or oil in cooking

In the last few years, the negative effects of trans fats have become more of a concern and therefore, several margarine manufacturers are now producing margarine that has not been hydrogenated. Instead, they add a small amount of modified palm and palm kernel oil to improve the texture of the liquid vegetable oil. Since the margarine will not have been through the hydrogenation process, it will be much softer and will be free of trans fat and therefore dietary cholesterol too. Therefore, with such brands, it is definitely better to use margarine instead of butter.

Fats food or butter

There are several people who try to use margarine while cooking, in place of butter or other types of fat. Unfortunately, many a times margarine could ruin the recipe, because it contains only 25% fat, making it quite unsuitable for cooking. Butter on the other hand contains 80% fat, because of which it can be used to cook. However, using a heart healthy variety of oil like olive oil is better than using both, margarine or butter, while cooking.

Choosing fats is the most important point of consideration, while cooking or scheduling a diet chart. A healthy diet calls for the usage of margarine spreads, rather than butter, as this reduces the blood cholesterol. Margarines enriched with plants are also an ideal choice for keeping the cholesterol levels at a low profile. Cholesterol absorption is decreased by plant sterols, to an extent of 10 per cent. This reduces the risk of heart disease. Consumption of a tablespoon of plant enriched margarine is beneficial in reducing the blood cholesterol levels.

Butter is a storehouse of saturated fats and excess is dangerous, as saturated fats results in high cholesterol levels. This results in arterial plaque formation, thereby narrowing the arterial lumen. Saturated fats are better avoided. They are commonly seen in coconut oil, fatty meats, palm oil, dairy products, pastries, biscuits and deep fried foods. The processing technique of margarine and other shortenings results in an increased trans fatty acids. These trans fats are similar to LDL cholesterol in their functioning.

Margarine with reduced saturated fats, high poly unsaturated fats and less than 1% trans fats are preferred. This is identified by reading food labels. Margarines with minimal trans fats have been innovated and are being commercially marketed. Avocado spread or chick pea spread can be used as an alternative. Spreads containing corn oil, olive oil, safflower oil, canola oil, sesame seeds and sunflower oil are also recommended. Walnuts, almonds, hazelnut, cashew and peanuts are preferred in spreads.

Vegetable oil, especially from soybean is used in the manufacturing o0f margarine. Margarine is a good source of vitamins E and A. They contain the essential fatty acids, linolenic acid and linoleic acid. Spray and squeeze margarines are the latest in vogue. Trans fat is lesser in these types, owing to its liquid nature. Trans fat free margarine tubs are also available and these prove to be heart friendly and tasty. The total of trans fat and saturated fats is less in margarine than in butter. Innovations in margarine have given rise to margarine with lower saturated fats (37 per cent), trans fat (59 per cent) and total fat (40 per cent).

Margarine is recommended by the American Heart Association (AHA), National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NJLBI) and the National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP), instead of butter, as they are heart friendly. Butter has five-fold quantity of saturated fat, in comparison to margarine. Calories are lesser in margarine and the probability of cardiac problems, such as coronary heart diseases and cardiovascular diseases are reduced.

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