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Butter or margarine … which is better?

Read on to get some clarity on what the heart-healthy choice is


With the ongoing debate about which is healthier and with so many fat spreads available at our supermarkets, it can become rather confusing when deciding which one to buy.

Mixed messages in the media and emerging research further add to the confusion.


Read on to get some clarity about what is the heart-healthy choice to use in your kitchen.



Should we be eating fats?

Definitely! Everyone needs some fat in their diet – as a source of energy, to keep your skin and hair healthy, to make certain hormones, and to help your body absorb certain vitamins (A, D, E and K).

But not all fats are created equal, and knowing which fats can improve your heart health or put you at risk for cardiovascular disease (CVD) is an important consideration when making your choice.



What fats should we be eating?

Based on convincing evidence, a heart-healthy diet should include healthy unsaturated fats from a variety of sources, eaten in moderation, while saturated and trans fat intakes should be kept as low as possible[i].



What is the bottom line when it comes to choosing butter or margarine/spreads?

Because butter and most hard / brick margarines are high in unhealthy saturated fats and may contain small amounts of trans fats and cholesterol, it is best to substitute these products with soft tub margarines/spreads.

These products contain more healthy unsaturated fats, less saturated fats, they do not contain cholesterol and many contain very little (if any) trans fats, making them good choices for protecting your heart.



Tips for making healthier fat choices when shopping for margarines/spreads:


  • Look out for the Heart Mark logo on soft tub margarines, and use a variety of spreads depending on your needs
  • Light or extra light spreads contain less total fat compared to other spreads – these are good choices if you are trying to lose weight
  • Read the food labels to choose soft tub margarines and oils with the lowest saturated fat content but have higher amounts of healthy omega-3s and monounsaturated fats
  • For baking, choose a vegetable oil or a soft tub margarine/spread which is suitable for baking (read suggestions on the product label)
  • For shallow frying, stir-frying or braising, instead of butter or lard use a small amount of vegetable oil or a soft tub margarine/spread which is suitable for frying (read suggestions on the product label)




[i] Mozaffarian D, Micha R, Wallace S (2010) Effects on Coronary Heart Disease of Increasing Polyunsaturated Fat in Place of Saturated Fat: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. PLoS Med 7(3): e1000252.http://www.plosmedicine.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pmed.1000252

Source: Heart and Stroke Foundation SA

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