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Which Is The Healthier Choice For Texans: Margarine or Butter?

Aug 18, 2007
Both are yellowish and taste great on fresh baked bread. But for individuals who live in Dallas, Houston and elsewhere in Texas, both butter and margarine have their health pluses and minuses.

Margarine
Actually, the term margarine covers a wide range of butter substitutes. In certain parts of the world, margarine has become a best-selling table spread. In some regions, individuals informally refer to margarine as butter, but laws forbid food packaging companies to do that.

Margarine is produced from vegetable oils, so it has no dietary cholesterol. Another benefit -- it has more monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats than butter, which are helpful in lowering bad cholesterol. But not all margarines are created equal. They come in all sizes, colors and textures.

Many margarines are made through hydrogenation. During this process, nickel and cadmium are added to harden the liquid vegetable oil. The problem this process creates is a byproduct known as trans fats. These oh-so-bad-for-you trans fats damage arteries just like saturated fats do. Not all margarines have trans fats though, so you need to pay attention to labels when you're grocery shopping.

The general rule of thumb -- the softer the margarine, the fewer the trans fats. Some margarine manufacturers even offer their product with 0 grams of trans fats. Their objective is to take hydrogenation out of margarine manufacturing and avoid trans fats all together.

Eleven recent studies that directly evaluated the health effects of margarine versus butter have all confirmed that soft margarine is healthier. These studies, involving more than 70,000 individuals, clearly show the cholesterol-lowering benefits of margarine products when compared to butter. A number of population studies, which also looked at the diets of thousands of individuals, demonstrated that margarine consumption resulted in healthier outcomes than butter consumption.

Current margarine products contain 40 percent less total fat, 37 percent less saturated fat and 59 percent less trans fat than ten years ago. These changes have happened in response to consumer and health professional demand that products be reduced in total fat, saturated fat, trans fat and calories. The softer, reduced-fat or liquid margarines contain lower amounts of saturated, while the spray and liquid margarines are trans fat-free, as are a few soft margarines on the market today. And the current predominant ingredient in margarine is natural vegetable oil from soybeans.

Margarine is one of the heart-healthy choices recommended by health professionals and leading health organizations, such as the American Heart Association (AHA), the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) and the National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP).

Butter
Because butter is made from animal products, there's the issue of saturated fats and cholesterol. But, it is a good source of the fat-soluble vitamins that include A, D, E, and K. Butter is also rich in trace minerals and antioxidants, which help to rid the body of free radicals that weaken the arteries.

Actually, butter also contains many nutrients that protect us from heart disease, such as Vitamin A, which is needed for the health of the thyroid and adrenal glands and plays a role in maintaining the proper functioning of the heart and cardiovascular system. Butter is the best and most easily absorbed source of vitamin A.

Butter has lecithin, a substance that assists in the proper assimilation and metabolism of cholesterol and other fat constituents. The vitamin E found in butter also plays a strong anti-oxidant role. Butter is a very rich source of selenium, a vital anti-oxidant -- containing more per gram than herring or wheat germ.

Actually many of the saturated fats in butter have strong anti-cancer properties. Butter is rich in short and medium fatty acid chains that have strong anti-tumor effects. Butter also contains conjugated linoleic acid that gives excellent protection against cancer. It's a good source of iodine and its consumption prevents goiter in mountainous areas where seafood is not available.

Butter/Margarine Options
You should use some of these basic facts to select a healthy spread for your morning toast or English muffin. If you're looking for a cooking substitute for butter or margarine, try using olive oil or canola oil.
About the Author
Pat Carpenter writes for Precedent Insurance Company. Precedent puts a new spin on health insurance. Learn more at Precedent.com
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