Butter Vs Margarine
In recent times Australians have started turning their back on margarine in favour of butter, rejecting the long held idea that margarine is the healthier choice. Fear around the manufacturing process of margarine and its chemical composition (no, it is not one molecule away from becoming plastic) has lead consumers back into the arms of the more traditional form of solidified fat. The mixed messages in the media often have consumers wondering, “Which one should I be eating”?
Fat Vs Fat
While both are high in fat and energy the biggest difference between the two comes down to the types of fat they contain. Butter is made of animal fat and therefore higher in saturated fat than margarine. Saturated fat increases LDL cholesterol, the kind of cholesterol linked to cardiovascular disease that our doctors keep warning us about. Margarine is made up of primarily polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fat, which lowers LDL cholesterol and can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease making it a healthier option for those trying to reduce the amount of saturated fat in their diet.
What about trans-fats?
Trans-fat act much like saturated fat in the body and will also raise LDL cholesterol. There is a common myth that margarine is high in trans-fats and therefore bad for your heart health. When margarine was first manufactured it would go through a process called hydrogenation. This process would result in the development of large amounts of trans-fats. These days margarine undergoes a more healthy process called interesterification, which does not produce trans-fats, though small amounts are formed during other manufacturing processes.
Trans-fats are also found naturally in animal products meaning that butter, being made from milk, contains small amounts of naturally occurring trans-fats. In Australia, the level of trans-fats in margarine is limited to less than 2% of all fats. Most butter contains around 4% trans-fats so it’s always a good idea to read the nutrition labelling. Ideally it’s best to choose products that contain less than 1% trans-fat.
Butter is natural and therefore must be better
There is no denying that butter is less processed than margarine and contains naturally occurring nutrients such as vitamin A. Butter is also popular for baking due to its naturally superior flavour. In order to make margarine more appealing and to match the nutrient profile of butter it must undergo numerous manufacturing processes such as fortification, bleaching and deodourising. While these processes may sound scary, they do not make margarine any less safe to consume than butter. In Australia all food products are monitored by Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ) to ensure that food safety standards are met.
At the end of the day neither butter nor margarine should be considered a health food and both should be used sparingly. None the less butter and margarine are both perfectly safe options when consumed in small quantities as part of a well balanced diet. Some people may use their medical history to inform their choice when deciding to go for either margarine or butter. For example, if you are concerned about developing or managing existing cardiovascular disease you may want to stick to margarine and other plant sterol based spreads. If you’re baking and it’s all about flavour, butter might be the way to go. Alternatively you could opt for more nutritious sources of healthy fats and replace butter and margarine with avocado, nut butters or olive oil.
This article was written by Katherine Ramsden, Nutritionist at Nutrition Force
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