Lower Cholesterol: Butter versus Margarine

Lisa Nelson, RD, LN Health Pro
  • This seems to be an area of confusion for many people.  Some swear by butter only and others opt for margarine for heart health.  Who is right?  It's time to clear up the confusion!

     

    First of all, both are fats.  Therefore, the number of calories in 1 Tbsp of butter is equal to the number of calories in 1 Tbsp of margarine.  The difference is the type of fat they each contain. 

     

    Butter consists of saturated fat.  Saturated fat is found mainly in animal sources.  Sources of saturated fat include meat, milk, cheese, ice cream, shortening, lard, coconut oil, and palm oil.  The more saturated fat a product contains the more solid it will be at room temperature.  For example, a stick of butter has more saturated fat than tub butter.  Saturated fat leads to increased cholesterol levels.

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    Margarine is made of partially hydrogenated vegetable oils.  Vegetable oils are unsaturated.  Unsaturated fats are better for our health than saturated.  The key words to make note of are "partially hydrogenated".  To make oils solid, hydrogen is added resulting in a trans fatty acid byproduct.  These trans fatty acids have given margarine a bad rap, because they are just as bad for our cholesterol levels as saturated fat.  So what is the solution?  Read labels when you are shopping.  As of January 2006, all packaged food products must list the content of trans fats on the nutrition fact panel.  Therefore, check the margarine food label to make sure trans fats equal zero.  Some products have also added a label that states "no trans fat" or "trans fat free". 

     

    Regardless of which you choose, margarine or butter, you still need to limit the amount you add to foods.  One tablespoon of margarine or butter equals approximately 100 calories.

     

    Bottom Line:  Margarine is the better choice over butter for your heart health.  Select margarines that have zero trans fats.  Even better, opt for a "light" margarine with "no trans fats".

     

    What have you learned? Test your knowledge with this quiz: Butter vs. Margarine

     

    You'll receive regular heart health and weight loss tips from dietitian Lisa Nelson when you sign up for The Heart of Health ezine, along with the free e-course How to Lower Cholesterol in 8 Simple Steps.

     

     

Published On: November 17, 2008