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Butter vs. margarine: What's better?

For years, butter has been living on the blacklist—a product thickening our waistlines and connected to causing heart disease. 

Studies and advances in nutritional sciences determined that cutting out a nutrient, even a not great-for-you one like saturated fat, wasn't a safe move because we weren't given clear recommendations on what to replace it with. In the American diet, we began overdoing it on the carbs and trans fats (think donuts, fried foods and candy bars).

These same studies also concluded that spreads high in trans fats and some vegetable oils high in polyunsaturated fat weren't doing us any favors either—they were linked to the ailment we were trying to move away from by saying bye-bye to butter: heart disease. A lot of effort has gone into reformulating spreads to up its heart-healthy quotient and removing hydrogenated oil and trans fat.

Thoroughly confused about what choices you should be making on your next grocery store trip?

Needless to say, the science of food can be confusing, so with all things health, moderation is most important. In short, neither butter nor spreads should be used in excess. Fat is an important staple in our diets; it's up to you to choose foods containing good fat versus bad fat.

As a bariatric dietitian, these are the recommendations I make for fitting fat into your diet.

  • Eat more often fish, flaxseed, walnuts, chia seeds and products containing those. They have omega-3s, the good form of polyunsaturated fats. Omega-3s are especially good for you, boosting mental health, reducing risk of heart disease, stroke and cancer and supporting a healthy pregnancy.
  • When picking a vegetable oil, choose an omega-3 option like flaxseed oil or canola oil or a neutral monounsaturated option like olive oil or safflower oil.
  • If you really need a solid fat..
  1. Pick margarine, but be a label reader. Choose one made from vegetable oils like flaxseed, canola, olive or safflower.
  2. Keep an eye on the ingredients list for partially or fully hydrogenated oil.
  3. Choose a plant-based source of saturated fat like coconut oil or palm oil. Do keep in mind that the jury is still out if these are a good choice for your heart, but have a different make up than animal-based saturated fat.


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