To butter, or not to butter? That is the question that has been plaguing health-conscious individuals for decades, ever since we were told that butter — and fats in general — was bad for us, and that orange- or yellow-like margarine was a viable replacement.
Until it wasn’t. Once it was revealed that hydrogenated fats and oils were actually detrimental to our system, the margarine vs. butter debate took a wild new shift. Sure, margarine products have come a long way since the early ’90s, but some of the new “healthy” labelling can be equally confusing.
If you ❤ to spread, but are concerned about what it’s doing to your actual heart, rest assured. We’ve decided to get to the bottom of this margarine debate for you.
MYTH: Butter is better because it is natural
Since butter is made from animal fat, it is high in saturated fat and cholesterol. And any diet that is high in saturated fat leads to increased cholesterol levels. In turn, elevated cholesterol levels put us at risk for heart disease and stroke. Besides, many butter products out there also contain artificial ingredients and additives in order to prolong their shelf lives and keep production costs down. Be sure to read any label before you make a purchase.
FACT: Margarine contains “good” fats
Unlike butter, margarine is made from vegetable oils, which means that it contains unsaturated “good” fats known as polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. If you’re looking to get your hands on some, a good indicator is how hard the margarine is. If it’s solid and thick, like butter, chances are it’s higher in the bad trans fats (read the label and look for non-hydrogenated varieties). The smoother the better, plus it’s way easier to smear on your toast!
MYTH: Low-fat margarine is better
When it comes to margarine, there are plenty of things to read on the label, but fat isn’t tops. Instead you should be looking at what kind of fats the product is made of, and add up the total of saturated and trans fats listed. Anything coming in at under 1.5 grams or less per serving is probably a good choice. If you can find a product with zero trans fats, that’s your winner.
FACT: Margarine can reduce your cholesterol
If you have high cholesterol, margarine spreads that are fortified with plant stanols and sterols — a naturally occurring substance found in plants — could potentially work to lower the bad LDL levels of cholesterol in your body. But be sure to check in with a doctor first to see which brands are suitable for you.
MYTH: You can eat more margarine than butter
As the old saying goes, good things come in small doses. While studies have shown that margarine can be beneficial to the overall system, that doesn’t mean we should start melting it in abundance for our popcorn or slabbing it onto toast like it’s going out of style. A little goes a long way — just a dab will do!
FACT: The Canada Food Guide recommends margarine
We now know that we need a certain amount of daily fat in order to keep our bodies in healthy shape. According to the Canadian Food Guide, that includes 2-3 tablespoons of fat from unsaturated sources like olive, sunflower, canola, corn, flaxseed, soybean and peanut. You can get those fats from sources like soft margarine, mayonnaise, dressing and the like, but the guide recommends to limit hard margarine, butter and lard as much as possible.