Butter vs. Margarine vs. Olive Oil-The Skinny on Fats


The debate between butter and margarine has been going on for years. Here are the facts:

Butter contains both saturated fat and dietary cholesterol – both of which increase blood cholesterol. Saturated fats can raise LDL cholesterol (also known as "bad" cholesterol), which raises total blood cholesterol as well. Cholesterol in foods, on the other hand, has little effect on blood cholesterol in most people.

Margarine has always been made from vegetable oil. However, when margarine was first introduced to the marketplace, it was made from vegetable oil that went through a process called hydrogenation – the very process used to solidify liquid vegetable oil into a spread. This process made the fat from the oil become trans fats. What was thought to be a beneficial replacement for saturated fats was actually just as harmful as saturated fats.

In recent years, health care providers and the general public began to realize the negative health effects of trans fats. As a result, manufacturers have created non-hydrogenated margarine, which is now widely available. Non-hydrogenated margarine contains no trans-fat, and it's softer than the first-generation margarine stick.

The bottom line: non-hydrogenated margarine has a healthier profile than butter. However, if you like butter, you can have it, the key is to limit how much and count it as part of your daily saturated fat gram allowance. All foods can fit if you stay within the recommendations of fat for a healthy heart. The American Heart Association recommends the use of margarine as a substitute for butter. Many brands of soft margarine do not contain trans-fat anymore, and have replaced the bad, trans fats with monounsaturated good fats such as canola or olive oil. Check the Nutrition Facts label and choose one with zero trans-fat and no more than 2 g of saturated fats per tbsp. and with liquid vegetable oil as the first ingredient.