Every refrigerator contains a yellow spread for bread or used for cooking. That substance is either margarine or butter. These may look alike but are different. Butter is cream that’s agitated until the membranes keeping the milk fat in place break, the fat separates from the rest of the cream, and join together. Margarine uses a variety of vegetable oils and sometimes animal fats, but primarily safflower, palm, palm kernel, soybean, sunflower, and corn oil.
Margarine is oil solidified by hydrogenation.
Hydrogenated margarine is high in trans fats, which are extremely bad for your health. Many manufacturers are replacing hydrogenation and using interesterification to change the way they make the oil solid to lower trans fats. Interesterification changes margarine by replacing some unsaturated fat with saturated fat. Margarine is higher in polyunsaturated fat. The amount of polyunsaturated fat depends on the type of oil used to make margarine.
Butter is approximately 50% saturated fat, with the rest being unsaturated fat and water.
Scientists believe consuming high amounts of saturated fat is linked to an increased risk of heart disease, but that’s changing. People who follow that opinion depend on studies that show a higher intake of saturated fat results in higher LDL—bad cholesterol—levels. Other scientists now believe that saturated fat may actually improve cholesterol levels. It may increase HDL—good cholesterol levels and make the LDL cholesterol less dense and small to larger. More study is necessary to identify whether it increases heart disease.
It’s all about the type of butter or margarine and how it’s used.
Butter from cows that are pastured is higher in vitamins K-2 and A, beta-carotene, omega-3 fatty acids, and CLA—conjugated linoleic acid. Butter from pastured cows is higher in unsaturated fat. Margarine that’s hydrogenated is high in trans fats. Benefits from margarine depend on the type of oil used. The type of vegetable oil used for margarine also makes a difference, since different oils have different properties.
- Most American diets include too much omega-6 and too little omega-3 which causes inflammation. A healthy balance is 4 to 1. Margarine made from sunflower, corn, cottonseed, and soybean is high in omega-6, while butter is low.
- Butter and some oils have a low smoke point, where it burns, producing advanced glycation end products—AGEs. They play a role in advancing aging and diseases. Safflower, sunflower, and peanut oil have a high smoke point for frying.
- Butter has a big advantage if you’re focusing on choosing food that’s less processed. Margarine is a highly processed food that often contains additives, like coloring.
- Choose the healthiest option, regardless of whether you choose butter or margarine. It’s healthier to use these products in moderation, regardless of whether it’s butter or margarine.
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