A friend once asked me: which is worse, a pound of butter or a pound of margarine? My reply was, and still is, it depends. Are we talking about prevention of heart disease? Baking? Taste? It’s worth considering the pros and cons of each.
Butter is made from animal fat, so it contains dietary cholesterol and saturated fat, both of which contribute to heart disease. The recommended intake of saturated fat ranges from 10 – 15 grams per day or less, and one tablespoon of butter contains more than 7 grams.
On the other hand, butter is natural, has been around for generations and tastes good. It’s also your best fat for baking, since its high fat content results in light, flaky and tender products. Use unsalted butter for the best results, and consider these baked goods special treats to be enjoyed in moderation.
If you want butter for uses other than baking, try whipped butter or butter that is blended with a vegetable oil. These contain half the cholesterol and fat as regular butter, but still taste good.
What about margarine? Maybe you have heard the urban legend that margarine is only one molecule from being plastic. It’s an often repeated but pointless myth, since many substances share similar chemical properties but vastly different qualities.
Margarine is considered a better choice than butter for a healthy heart. It is made from vegetable oil so it does not contain cholesterol and is higher in polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats than butter. These are the good fats that help reduce your body’s LDL – or bad-- cholesterol when substituted for saturated fat. The trick is choosing the right margarine!
To answer my friend’s question, I would have to point out that a pound of either butter or margarine is a really bad idea. High in calories, they should both be used in moderation. As for me, I will continue to choose light margarine spread for my morning toast, olive oil for sautéing vegetables and butter for occasional baking. For the holidays, I’m looking forward to enjoying homemade cookies with my family, butter and all, eaten one mindful bite at a time!
As seen in the Fort Collins Coloradoan
Melissa Wdowik, PhD, RDN, LDN, FAND
is a nutrition educator with over 20 years experience as a college professor, nutrition coach, presenter and writer, as well as a nutrition consultant and founding director of the Kendall Reagan Nutrition Center.