Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Butter and Margarine: Which One is Better and Healthier Choice

I used to be confused when it comes to choosing between butter or margarine. Which one is better? And which one is better to avoid?

To understand this, first you must understand that there are 3 different types of fats:

  • Saturated : occurs naturally in animal foods such as butter. This fat raises LDL (bad) cholesterol in blood, which can clog artheries, thus lead to heart disease.
  • Unsaturated : monounsaturated fats (eg. canola and olive oil) and polyunsaturated fats (sunflower and safflower oils and omega-3 varieties). This fat lower LDL (bad) cholesterol.
  • Trans-fat : naturally found in meat and dairy products. Type of trans-fat to watch out for is a synthetic trans-fat, which produced when vegetable oils are hardened in presence of hydrogen.

There are 2 ways of hardening oils:

  • Partial hydrogenation : produces elaidic acid (nasty trans-fat)
  • Complete hydrogenation : does not produce elaidic acid, but increases saturated fat level

Synthetic trans-fat mentioned above is the one we really have to avoid. This type of fat, raises LDL (bad) cholesterol and at the same time, lower your HDL (good) cholesterol.

In a nutshell, we should not take too much butter, margarine or spreads as they all contain saturated fats and are high in calories.

- Butter : almost 60$ saturated fat, but no synthetic trans-fat. Butter usually has 52 grams of saturated fat per 100 grams
- Margarine : usually has less than half the saturated fats of butter. In order to be labelled margarine, it must have a minimum percentage of unsaturated fats and a limited amount of saturated fat. The level of saturated fat may be as low as 11 grams per 100 grams or higher.
- Spreads : Less overall fat (more water) and much less saturated fat than buter, straight margarine or cooking margarine.
- Dairy spreads: combined butter and liquid vegetable oil, reducing saturated fat content but still higher than vegetable-based spreads. Dairy spreads have 19 to 35 grams of saturated fat per 100 grams
- Cooking margarines usually have 35 grams of saturated fat per 100 grams
- Vegetable shortening (such as copha) may have as much as 98 grams of saturated fat per 100 grams.

So watch out the next time you go shop. Check the labels carefully. But if you still prefer ones that contain high saturated fats, limit the consumption and take it as a rare treat.