Butter or Margarine?

Dear Dr. Mo: I love butter but is margarine better for my health? And which one?


Butter is tasty but could hurt health

Dear reader: I remember when I was a child, I used to steal a stick of butter from the fridge and eat it whole, biting on it as if it were an apple. I loved the way it melted through my little fingers and the greasy and salty taste it had as I munched on it. Whenever my theft was discovered, my grandmother wasn’t too happy about it – she thought I would spoil my stomach with that much butter – often times she was right.

For a little child to eat food high in fat content is actually beneficial so my ventures to the fridge weren’t too harmful to my health (apart from occasional diarrhea) but as we age, eating a lot of butter on a regular basis can hurt our health. Butter is made from animal fat (usually from cow’s milk), which is high in saturated fat and cholesterol.

I have already written here many times that eating a diet high in saturated fat can elevate your cholesterol levels, which then becomes a significant risk factor for heart disease and stroke.

So, some butter is fine but as with everything else, moderation is key. I have long since abandoned my habit of eating so much butter although I still enjoy it from time to time and find it hard to resist – just like you and I suspect a lot of people out there.

I’d like to offer some alternative to butter: soft margarines that are low in trans and saturated fat. Remember, there are two types of margarines – soft and hard but only soft ones offer health benefits and provide good alternative to butter, lard and other greasy, tasty stuff.

I recommend you to try soft margarine because it is made from vegetable oils, such as olive, canola, soybean and safflower, which are non-hydrogenated and contain polyunsaturated fats that may help lower your cholesterol levels. Hard margarines (in solid, stick form) in contrast contain hydrogenated fat (i.e. saturated and trans fat), which increases your bad cholesterol (LDL) and lowers your good cholesterol (HDL) levels. What you want to look for is a non-hydrogenated, spreadable margarine containing 2 grams or less of saturated and trans fat per serving (you can find this information on the label).

Hydrogenated fat is not only found in solid margarines but also in many cookies, cakes, bisquits and similar sweets and since hydrogenated fat is really detrimental to our health, you want to keep it in check – read the labels and navigate your way through the jungle of appealing but unhealthful products.
As for me, I don’t really  like the taste of margarine so mu choice is still butter but in vastly reduced quantities. What your choice is going to be, it is up to you.

Yours in health,

Dr. Mo

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