Q: Margarine versus butter – which is better for me?
A: Let us start by comparing the two. Butter naturally contains more cholesterol and saturated fat – cholesterol because it is an animal fat. Saturated fat and cholesterol in excess will raise LDL and HDL cholesterol. While raising HDL cholesterol levels is actually favorable, it would be best to choose a food that does not elevate LDL levels in the process. Increased LDL cholesterol is a risk for heart disease.
On the other hand, margarine is made from vegetable oils, so it contains no cholesterol but instead polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, which are heart healthy fats. Margarines, however are not completely innocent as they may contain trans fat, which is created through the process of hydrogenation of these oils in order to make a shelf-stable product. Trans fats increase LDL cholesterol levels in addition to saturated fat.
Do check the nutrition label of margarines for the lowest trans fat amount and make sure hydrogenated oils or partially hydrogenated oils are not on the ingredients list. Some people feel that butter is a more natural choice than margarine and that eating something more natural will give them piece of mind.
In the big picture, portion control and moderation are emphasized with either type of fat. Using butter should not be a daily occurrence, in other words. This may be a good opportunity to try various oils, such as canola oil, olive oil, sesame seed oil, flaxseed oil, peanut oil and others. These oils and those that originate from other nuts and seeds provide those heart healthy fats, poly and monounsaturated fat. It is recommended to use these fats more often. These oils can offer an enriching and unique flavor to dishes as well.
When it comes to heart health, a good rule of thumb to remember when choosing dietary fats, opt for a fat that is liquid at room temperature rather than solid.
For nutritional counseling, Norman Regional Health System offers the guidance of registered dietitians. Those interested can schedule an appointment for an assessment with a referral from their family physician.