This topic always creates some lively debate. Butter or marg? Which is better for you? Well hopefully this post will help you to make that decision.
The ‘natural’ theory
Some people may say that butter is better because it is natural and comes from a cow, whereas margarine is not as it’s made in a factory. The truth is, margarine comes out as the nutritional winner. Let's talk about why.
When we look at animal fats, what we find is that most animal fats are high in saturated fats. These are the fats that can raise your cholesterol and increase your risk of heart disease. There are a couple of animal fats that are good for you, and that’s fish and eggs. I’ve done up a little table to summarise this.
Bad animal fats Good animal fats
So as you can see, dairy comes under the bad animal fats column. Now before you start eliminating dairy from your diet, I must say that dairy is a very wonderful food. In fact it should be eaten every day. What you can do to reduce those bad fats from dairy is choose the low or no fat options, that is in milk, yoghurt and cheese. These are the best choices and you get just as much protein, calcium and minerals from the low and no fat options.
Now butter is also a member of the dairy family, and as such it is also high in saturated fats. Unfortunately there is no such thing as skimmed butter, which is why margarine is a much healthier choice.
Margarine, the better choice
Margarine is made from a range of plant oils. Some are made from olive oil, others canola, some are made from sunflower and there are plenty of others to choose from. Now when we look at the chemical structure of plant oils, what we find is that these ones are high in the mono and polyunsaturated fats, the good fats that help to protect the heart and lower cholesterol.
There’s also been plenty of talk about trans fats in margarine. What I can reassure you is that in Australia we are safe. Our margarines are very low in trans fats so there's no need to be concerned.
So that means I can use margarine to my heart’s (no pun intended) content?
Not quite. Margarine is the best choice but don’t forget about the quantities that you are using. We often forget how easily calories can add up when using spreads like butter and margarine. Just to give you an example, 2 teaspoons of margarine that you'd probably spread on your toast contains 250kJ, the equivalent of a small slice of bread. So the message is to go easy with your spreads. And if you don't need it, don't use it!
My motto, (and just a warning it’s a little bit corny...) is ‘see your bread through the spread’. So this means spreading your margarine thinly so you can see your............ ok I think you get it.
And if, like me, you’re not that fussed by either butter or marg, another great option is avocado. It’s high in monounsaturated fats (good fats) as well as vitamins C,E & K, and has such a creamy, delicious taste. Gram for gram, it is also much lower in total fat compared to margarine or butter (23% versus 80%).
So summing up the key points…
1. Just because it comes from an animal doesn’t make it healthy
2. Some animal fats are healthy (fish and eggs)
3. Choose margarine over butter, and make sure you can see your bread through the spread
Check out the Heart Foundation website for more info.