Spread This

July 25, 2009

Yesterday I received an email from a family member with a forward called “Pass The Butter .. Please.”  It talked about the difference between butter and margarine, including the fact that margarine has more trans fats than butter, and butter has more saturated fat than margarine.  But the message also mentioned some interesting “facts,” such as:

“Margarine was originally manufactured to fatten turkeys.”

“Margarine is but ONE MOLECULE away from being PLASTIC.”

The family member who emailed me wanted to know if this is true, and as a dietitian what do I think about the two spreads.

The first thing I did was look this up on Snopes.com, a site created to determine whether internet rumors are true or false.  Sure enough this email chain has been going around since 2003, and is full of false information.  The nutritional information provided in the email is, for the most part, true.  However, the two bits of information quoted above are not (are you surprised?!).

Margarine was created as a low-cost substitute for butter.  And don’t fret about the plastic remark.  Margarine and plastic may share a similar chemical composition, but so do many different substances.  Margarine will not turn into plastic any faster than you will!

To me these claims are silly and they are important to refute so people aren’t misinformed.  But what’s more important is the question proposed to me: What is better, butter or margarine?  So here’s my answer.

Margarine and butter both have their downsides, but if you’re going to choose one, better to choose butter.  Although butter has saturated fat, which raises your bad, LDL, cholesterol, it doesn’t have trans fats, like margarine does, which lower your good, HDL, cholesterol, and raise your LDL cholesterol.  That being said, it is always best to use olive oil or vegetable oil in place of both butter and margarine.  I also recommend to clients that they try spreads like Smart Balance, Benecol, and Promise over butter when at home.  When you’re at a restaurant and bread is served with butter, a thin spread isn’t going to kill you…or ruin your weight loss efforts.  It’s over time that you want to watch your intake.  Remember, it all comes down to moderation.

If you are going to choose margarine, look for ones that are “light” and list water as the first ingredient, or ones that have liquid vegetable oil as their base.  These will be lower in saturated fat.

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