With all the recent noise and confusion surrounding fats and oils and their effects on the body, I thought now would be the perfect opportunity to spread the word on spreads and decipher the mors code of current research surrounding the use of butter vs margarine!
Firstly a bit of background on fats so we’re all up to speed..
So basically everything we eat can be broken down into 3 major building blocks, being Fat, Carbohydrates and Protein (and fibre of course) but for now we will just stick to the major macro-nutrients in our diets!
And if we narrow it down to just fats we have a variety of different types, some that are good for us and others that are not so good! The “bad” fats as they are commonly referred to are the saturated and trans fats in our diets. And why are they bad? Well basically these fats are responsible for increasing the bad type of cholesterol in our blood (known as LDL-Cholesterol). This type of cholesterol essentially causes a build up of fatty plaque in our arteries, causing restricted blood through through our blood vessels. This build up is very dangerous as it then obviously leads to cardiovascular problems such as high cholesterol, hypertension (high blood pressure) and eventually heart attacks and strokes due to not enough blood being able to be pumped around the body!
Our good fats on the other hand, are known as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, as they help to lower our bad cholesterol levels and raise our “good” cholesterol levels (known as HDL-Cholesterol). Our good cholesterol has a role in mopping up the bad cholesterol in our blood and taking it back to the liver for processing, see we want to keep our levels of good cholesterol as high as possible.
So where do we find all these types of fats in our diets?
So firstly our saturated fats are those that are solid at room temperature and consist mainly of fats from animal products, namely those found in red and white meat and dairy products (butter, milk, cream etc). Trans fat on the other hand is basically a type of unsaturated fat that behaves like a saturated fat because of its chemical structure. Though there are minimal amounts of natural trans fats in dairy products, beef, lamb and veal, majority are of an artificial or synthetic nature. These manufactured trans fats are caused by the way some fats and oils are processed. Basically they are the end result of the hydrogenation process of poly and monounsaturated fats (such as vegetable oils) and are found primarily in your highly processed products such as cakes, biscuits, fried foods etc.
And the good fats?
Well as I said there are two main types, the monounsaturated and the polyunsaturated fats. The former are those found from plant based products such as nuts and seeds, vegetable and seed oils (such as sunflower, canola, soybean, olive, sesame and peanut oils) and avocados.
Polyunsaturated fats can be broken down further into what are commonly known as omega 3 and omega 6 fats. As I’m sure most of you would have come across at some stage, omega 3 fats are those found in things like oily fish such as tuna, salmon, sardines and blue mackerel, as well as walnuts and linseeds.
Our omega 6 fats are those primarily found in plant based products such as tahini (sesame seed spread), margarine, linseed (flaxseed), sunflower and safflower oil, pine nuts and brazil nuts but are also found in some types of fish.
Alright so lets get down to business.. are we better off using butter or margarine?
As a Dietitian I am very much an advocate for providing nutrition advice that is evidence based, meaning my recommendations are always based on the cold hard facts, not the latest fad or trend or some small scale study that has just been released.
So basically in weighing up all the pros and cons of butter vs marg my general consensus is, that Margarine is a good substitute for butter, especially if you have a family history of high cholesterol or cardiovascular disease or are already actually experiencing similar problems with your health. And here is a quick summary of a few reasons why I think this…
1. Margarine spreads contain 65% less saturated fat than butter
Each 10 gram serving of a typical margarine spread (enough for two slices of bread) contains 1.7g of saturated fat compared to 5.0g of saturated fat in butter.
2. Most margarine spreads contain only a trace amount of trans fats whereas butter contains 3-4% trans fats
Unfortunately, margarine has long been thought to be bad for our health, as once upon a time margarine spreads did infact contain much higher levels of trans fats due to the way in which they were processed. Today however, most margarine spreads contain less than 1% of trans fatty acids, which is a very low level. It is actually now a strict regulation that all margarine spreads must contain no more than 1% trans fat to be able to be sold in country!
3. Margarine spreads contain more ‘good’ unsaturated oils than butter
Standard margarine spreads are made up of around 65% ‘good’ oils and therefore retain all the benefits of these oils. As I explained earlier, it is important that we include plenty of these types of good fats in our diets for better heart health!
4. Canola margarine spreads contain omega-3 whereas butter does not contain any omega-3
Margarine spreads made with canola oil, are a natural source of omega-3. Omega-3 fats are valuable nutrients in a healthy diet as scientific evidence shows that these fats are beneficial to health throughout all stages of life and are essential not only for improving and maintaining good cardiovascular health but also for healthy development and function of the brain and eye.
In saying all this, at the end of the day it is your choice which you choose, but at least now you are equipped with the real facts and can make your own informed decisions about what you choose to spread on you bread tomorrow!
Alternatively, why not ditch the spreads altogether and smash some fresh avo on your toast or sandwiches instead! Not only are avos healthy and natural, but they are packed full monounsaturated fats (to help further reduce your bad cholesterol levels) and also contain essential vitamins and minerals that will help keep you fighting fit and healthy!
Feel free to Spread the word!