Butter Vs. Margarine Controversy

By: Cassidy Hobbs
Johnston County FCS Agent

It can be easy to get caught up in making healthy decisions. There is an overwhelming amount of “nutrition advice” online, on television, and in conversation. Often times, the information given can conflict what other sources of advice tell you, or better yet, things change over time and cause confusion.

The butter versus margarine controversy isn’t dead yet. When research discovered saturated fat was a leading contributor to heart disease, margarine was thought to be a better alternative. Unfortunately, the butter substitute was a source of transfat. Before you throw out your margarine, consider the following.

There are three types of fat whose addition results in“total fat” on a nutrition label. Total fat is the sum of saturated fat, unsaturated fat, and transfat. Saturated fat raises your risk of heart disease. Heart disease is an umbrella term that results when the arteries harden and become more narrow. As a result of heart disease, one may experience a heart attack, stroke, heart valve problems, heart failure, or high blood pressure. Saturated fats are solid at room temperature and raise your low-density lipoprotein (LDL) levels, or bad cholesterol. Sources of saturated fats are coconut oil, palm oil, butter, lard, and red meat. If you thought coconut oil was good for you, check the label to see why it is not. Coconut oil is 92% saturated fat, containing 13g of saturated fat out of 14g of total fat. That means there are 13g of saturated, “bad fats” and only 1g of unsaturated, “good” fat for a total fat of 14g.

Unsaturated fats raise your high-density lipoprotein (HDL) levels, or good cholesterol. Unsaturated fats are “healthy fats” because they provide protective benefits. Unsaturated fat is associated with lowered risks of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, some cancers, and protect against cognitive decline and macular eye degeneration. Sources of unsaturated fats are olive oil, canola oil, vegetable oil, corn oil, and oils that are liquid at room temperature. Additional sources of these healthy fats include nuts, seeds, fish, and avocados.

Transfats are a double-whammy. Transfats raise LDL and lower HDL. Transfats were originally crafted with good intention. Food companies used hydrogenated oils, transfats, to increase the shelf-life of products in order to make the product cheaper. Research indicated the negative health effects of transfat, and as a result, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ruled that products may no longer contain transfats by the Spring of 2018. When you look at nutrition labels, transfat should always state “0g.” Transfats used to be found in margarine and vegetable shortening, however, thanks to the FDA, transfats are no longer found in these products.

Because of the saturated fat in butter, margarine was suggested as a substitute. Due to the transfat in margarine, it was suggested to switch back to butter. Remember, transfat is worse than saturated fat. Now, you can switch back to margarine because transfat is not allowed in foods, and current day margarines use unsaturated, plant-based, vegetable oils. If you love the taste of butter, but want to avoid the saturated fat, you can always opt for ghee or clarified butter; however, the best option is always unsaturated oils! Unsaturated fats have protective health benefits in addition to keeping you full and satiated for greater weight loss and weight management results. You can use an equal amount of oil in substitution of a recipe’s measurement of butter. Try out this recipe for a delicious, butter-swap breakfast complement.

For a scrumptious lunch or dinner, prepare a taste of healthy fats with these grilled salmon kabob!

If healthy lifestyle swaps is something you’d like to learn more about, contact Cassidy Hobbs at the Johnston County Cooperative Extension by calling 919-989-5380. You may also email Cassidy atcdhobbs3@ncsu.edu. Cassidy will be offering a program titled “Med Instead of Meds” at the Johnston County Agriculture Center beginning March 19th at 5:30. This program will teach you how to follow the number one evidence-based “diet” for health, weight loss, weight management, and chronic illness management and prevention.  For more information about the program, visit the Johnston County Cooperative Extension Website, www.johnston.ces.ncsu.edu.