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Butter vs Margarine

It is probably the most frequent question that any nutritionist is asked. "So which is better for me: butter or margarine?" Although they both are sources of fat, to determine which is better for your health you have to look more closely at what kind of fats are found in butter and margarines.

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Butter is made from the fat portion of cow´s milk, by agitating the milk fat in a churn until coagulation (solidification) occurs. Saturated fats are found in cow´s milk, but there is also a small amount of trans fats that occur naturally. Cow´s milk normally contains up to 3.7 % milk fat, but milk with 2% and 1% fat are common in dairy cases. Skim milk contains about 0.2 % milk fat.

Vegetable oils are the base for margarines. Soybean, olive, corn and canola are common oils used in the manufacture of margarines. But oils are liquid at room temperature. In order to produce solid margarine, unsaturated fats in the oil are converted to saturated fats by a process called hydrogenation. The level of unsaturated fats goes down in margarines and the level of saturated fats goes up. Even more important is the fact that during the process of hydrogenation to produce margarines, trans fatty acids are produced. Trans fat like saturated fat raises the level of low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol in the blood, and so we should be limiting the amounts of trans fat in our diet. Yes, butter does contain less trans fat than margarines, but when the total of trans and saturated fat is compared, traditional vegetable margarines come out ahead of butter. Even better are margarines that are not hydrogenated. These products should be trans fat free.

Table 1: Types of Fat
Different Types of Fat in Butter and Margarines (grams/serving)
producttotal fatsaturated fattrans fattrans+saturated
butter10.87.20.37.5
stick margarine
(82% fat)
11.42.32.44.7
tub margarine
(80% fat)
11.21.91.13.0

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