On the whole, I think we tend to be quite grateful that when it comes to our nutrition we actually have a great deal of choice with how we tackle it. Access to products online and the wide variety of choice that supermarkets offer, we can definitely exercise a lot more control than our parents and grandparents could. Nowhere is this more evident than with what we choose to put on our bread: butter or margarine.
I can imagine that once the choice was simply between those two very things but now there are so many possibilities and even more conflicting ideas about which ones we need to avoid. I must be honest, for a long time I wasn’t 100% sure of the difference between the two. But now a lot more of us want to know exactly what each one offers and why we should want to eat it.
Butter is what you get when you churn the milk of mammals to separate butterfat from buttermilk. In that way, the only thing it shares with margarine is its appearance. Other than that they couldn’t be more different. Butter is particularly high in saturated fats and therefore comes with a whole host of other concerns. Saturated fats are known to be related to high levels of bad cholesterol, making them a dangerous contributor to potential heart disease. My guess is that you don’t actually use real butter all that often, unless you are a particularly avid baker. What’s more likely is you use a butter spread that has added vegetable oil to help it spread more easily.
Margarine on the other hand isn’t usually a dairy product at all. It is more commonly produced by combining different oils with water, salt and emulsifiers. Sometimes you do find milk being added though, so not all margarines are suitable for those with a lactose intolerance. Being made from vegetable oil means that margarine tends to have a lot less saturated fats than butter and a lot more unsaturated fats. But that doesn’t mean it is an obviously healthier alternative though because a lot of margarine also contain trans fats that provide nothing to our bodies other than calories and are linked to diabetes, heart disease and even strokes.
Now of course, it is important to remember that butters and margarines are produced and sold by a huge number of different companies and therefore they aren’t all the same. Some butters have added salt and others have a lot of their fat replaced with water and lactic acid to make them healthier. In the same way, a lot of margarines are made with different types of oil and can contain absolutely no trans fats at all.
So how do you make the decision? Well, the best place to start is by eliminating trans fats all together. They provide you with exactly zero nutritional benefit, so just don’t risk it. Some people will tell you to just avoid either and if you can do that then that is absolutely fine. But other people might love it just too much to give it up for good.
You will have to accept that whatever you opt for is likely to be high in fat, that’s a given.So the best thing to do is go for something that actually contributes beneficially to your nutrition. The best thing to do is look for a spread with more unsaturated fats and less saturated ones, and something that incorporates olive oil instead of vegetable oil might just provide that. The best advice I can give you is to do your research, see which ones aren’t going to hinder your progress and then pick the one that you enjoy eating the most!