Butter or margarine: how to choose ?

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Butter or margarine: how to choose ?

Butter and margarine serve the same purpose. They are used for cooking, baking, and as spreads. Some kinds of margarine are to be used as a spread only and should not be used for baking or cooking.
Regular butter is made with cow’s milk or cream that is churned or shaken until it reaches a semisolid state, and it contains at least 80% milk fat by weight. As butter is made from animal fat, it contains more saturated fat and cholesterol, which is found only in animal products, coconut oil, and palm oil. Margarine contains little to no cholesterol.
Phytosterols are plant-based compounds that have a similar structure to cholesterol. They compete with cholesterol for absorption in the body, reducing cholesterol absorption; therefore, reducing blood cholesterol. Margarine was developed as a substitute for butter, and it is made from plant-based oils, such as canola oil, palm fruit oil, and soybean oil. These vegetable oils contain unsaturated good fats, which help reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol when substituted for saturated fat.
Trans fat raises LDL cholesterol significantly, while lowering HDL (good) cholesterol. Trans fats harden at room temperature. Vegetable oil is liquid at room temperature, which is why margarine is often hydrogenated, which gives it a harder consistency at room temperature and extends the shelf life. Hydrogenation can turn some of the vegetable oils into trans fatty acids that can raise LDL cholesterol. Some margarine contains trans fat, such as saturated fat, which increases blood cholesterol levels and the risk of heart disease. In general, the more solid the margarine, the more trans fat it contains; stick margarines usually have more trans fat than do tub margarines. It is recommended to avoid using the stick and opt for soft or liquid margarine instead.

Salt and other ingredients that keep the flavor and texture of the spread acceptable to the consumer are commonly added as well. Oils, such as olive oil, flaxseed oil, and fish oil may also be used. Light margarine contains a higher percentage of water than traditional margarine, making it lower in calories and fat.

Instead of looking at just the nutrition label, make sure to look at the ingredient label of any processed food for partially hydrogenated oils, a common source of trans fat. If the product contains partially hydrogenated oils, it will contain trans fat, even if the label claims 0 grams. When comparing spreads, check the grams of saturated fat and trans fat. However, food companies can claim a product contains zero trans fat as long as it contains less than 0.5 grams per serving.

The American Heart Association suggests choosing a blend with the least amount of saturated fat and zero trans fats without hydrogenated oils. If you have high cholesterol, check with your doctor about using spreads that are fortified with plant stanols and sterols that may help reduce cholesterol levels.The decision on whether to choose butter or margarine is dependent on the individual and their specific dietary needs.

Photo credit: Joanna Bourne via Visualhunt.com

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