For years we were told margarine was better for heart health. Now, food activists are saying butter is better. Confused? Nutritionist Catherine Saxelby offers simple, no-nonsense advice.
Which one is best depends on your health. If you have high cholesterol or a history of heart disease, go for a soft margarine or a margarine with added sterols (such as Logicol or Pro-activ) that help to block cholesterol absorption.
If you need to lose weight, margarine is better simply because it spreads more thinly, saving you kilojoules. And it’s only 70 per cent fat (with some even lower at 60 per cent and 50 per cent as light spreads) compared to butter at 80 per cent.
But if you’re in good health and the rest of your diet is healthy (only the occasional takeaways or fatty snacks), then a little butter is fine in moderation. A blended butter-and-oil spreadable product gives the best compromise between butter’s taste and oil’s low content of saturated fat.
These days, virtually all the margarines/table spreads in Australia are now free of trans fats (less than one per cent), a situation different to the USA and UK. This move has happened in response to research showing trans fats behave in the body in a similar way to saturated fats and raise cholesterol.
The only exceptions are a few of the cheaper or generic margarines, which you’d recognise as hard margarines with the spreadability of butter. To be completely sure, check the nutrition panel on the bottom of the tub - it should list trans fat as <0.1 g per 100g in the per 100g column. Avoid these ones and go for softer types and you’ll be fairly sure you’re not buying margarine with trans fats.