Health Check

Butter or margarine?

We chew the fat to find out which one is better for you.

Written by Medibank
A high angle, close up photograph of a hand spreading some fresh butter on a slice of healthy whole grain bread.

There’s been a lot of chatter and confusion as to which one is better for your health. We’ll take a closer look at both to see which one should stay on your kitchen table.

So what’s the beef with butter?

Butter’s been getting a bad rap in recent times, and it boils down to this; butter is high in saturated fats. In fact, 50% of butter is saturated fat. That’s a lot of bad fat. Why is it bad? More on that later.

Now let’s put margarine under the knife

Margarine is made with vegetable oils. Vegetable oils are unsaturated fats, which are good for you. So, what’s the issue? The confusion stems from trans fat. The process that gives vegetable oils more body also produces small amounts of trans fats. And according to the Heart Foundation, trans fats are worse than saturated fats.

But there is more to this debate, particularly in Australia. Read on to find out.

The good, the bad and the fatty

To better understand the difference between good and bad fats, we need to understand the effects that certain fats have on the human body.

  • Saturated fats from foods such as butter, bacon and full-fat milk, increase the level of LDL
    cholesterol in the bloodstream. LDL stands for Low Density Lipoprotein and it’s to blame for
    clogging up our arteries and increasing the risk of heart disease.
  • Unsaturated fats (both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated) from margarine, vegetable
    oils and nuts increase good cholesterol. Good cholesterol is called High Density Lipoprotein or HDL, and it carries LDL away from your arteries and back to the liver for processing.
  • Trans fats, on the other hand, deliver a double-bad whammy. Not only do they increase bad (LDL)
    cholesterol, they also lower the good one (HDL) in our bloodstream.

However, margarine is not the only food that contains trans fats – they’re also found in natural foods. And according to Food Standards Australia New Zealand, this includes animal products such as cheese, meats and butter. Yep, butter can also contain small amounts of trans fats. In fact, according to the Heart Foundation:

Australian margarine spreads have some of the lowest levels of trans fat in the world and significantly less trans fat than butter. Australian spreads now have on average 0.2g trans fat per 100g, compared to 4g per 100g in butter.

It’s margarine by a margin!

Health wise, it looks like margarine is the better choice. But there are healthier alternatives to butter
and margarine, and most often, they’re sitting right there in the same aisle. Healthier options include avocadoes, nut spreads like almond butter, olive oil or flaxseed oil spreads. These options are best because they’re full of all the good fats, and none of the bad ones.

But if you really must indulge in the yellow stuff, look out for the lowest trans fat content on the label and as with any naughty food, enjoy in moderation!

Read more about the link between heart health and blood types

Written by Medibank

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