Butter vs. Margarine: There's still a controversy

By: Kim Beavers Email
By: Kim Beavers Email

Which one is better, butter or margarine? It really depends. Let's review both.

Margarine

According to The Food Lover’s Companion, margarine is a butter substitute developed by French chemist Hippolyte Mege-Mouries in 1869. It was a result of a contest promoted by the Emperor Napoleon III to find an inexpensive alternative for the then expensive butter.

Margarine has evolved over time, and today’s margarines are based on vegetable oils. However, for oil to become solid, it must go through a chemical process called hydrogenation. It is this process that creates the Trans Fatty acids known now to contribute more toward heart disease risk than the saturated fat found in butter.

Several companies have taken Trans Fat out of their products, and this gives us better margarines to choose from. This change also requires greater label scrutiny.

To choose the best margarine:

  1. Look for the words "Trans Fat free" or "zero Trans Fat" on the label.

  2. ALSO look at the ingredient list for the words "partially hydrogenated fat". If partially hydrogenated fat is in the ingredient list, the margarine could have up to 0.5g Trans Fat per serving and still say “zero” Trans fat on the label. Avoid margarines with hydrogenated oil in the ingredient list.

  3. Lastly, look for one with 2g saturated fat or less per tablespoon.

Local quick picks (no partially hydrogenated oil):

  • Smart balance HeartRight Light

  • Smart balance Light

  • Country Crock Omega Plus

  • Parkay Squeeze

  • Promise Buttery

  • I Can’t Believe It’s not Butter Original

Butter

The nutritional breakdown for 1 tablespoon of butter is:

100 calories
11g fat and
7.5g saturated fat

Basically, with only a tablespoon of butter, you end up with about one third of your saturated fat intake for the day. It's easy to get too much saturated fat using butter.

I must admit I do like butter my grandmother used. She used nothing but butter, and I never argued with her; her mind was set. So for me to say you should never use butter would be very hypocritical. Of course you can use butter, but do save it for special occasions or when something really needs the flavor or function of butter, like baked goods.

Different options for butter are also becoming more and more available. They are usually a mixture of oil, butter and water which decreases the calories, fat and saturated fat considerably. One of the best ones I have tried is Land O Lakes Light butter with canola oil.

Per tablespoon:
50 calories
11g Fat
2g Saturated fat

Other butter replacement options include using a nice olive oil or some canola oil to cook with. When butter or margarine is replaced with liquid vegetable oils, both saturated fat and Trans fat can be decreased.

The bottom line: Choose your fats wisely, and always use a light hand, as all fat is a concentrated source of calories.


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