- Saturated fats in butter, when consumed in moderation, may not pose significant harm. Light or whipped butters are alternatives with lower fat and calorie content.
- Margarines and spreads may contain plant sterols, stanols, and sometimes saturated fat if they contain palm oil. Pay attention to the labels to assess total fat, saturated fat, and presence of partially hydrogenated oil.
- The Food and Drug Administration permits labeling of food items with less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving as containing 0g. Regular consumption can inadvertently add up, even though the individual amounts seem negligible.
- Healthier alternatives to butter and margarine include spreads based on olive oil and other vegetable oils containing mono- and polyunsaturated fats. Consider dipping bread into extra-virgin olive oil as an alternative.
With the federal prohibition on trans fats, commonly seen on labels as partially hydrogenated oils, there have been efforts by margarine producers to eliminate them from their products. Does this imply that margarine is now a preferred option over butter? This is not necessarily the case.
Saturated Fat – Not All Bad?
Part of the uncertainty stems from studies that have exonerated the saturated fat in butter. It’s not a green light to drench your vegetables in it or feast on butter-laden desserts daily, but in moderation — just a dab here and there — it’s unlikely to cause harm. Furthermore, options such as light or whipped butters incorporate water or air to cut the fat and calorie content by half, while still delivering on flavor.
Decoding Margarine and Spreads
Alternatively, you may opt for soft margarines and other spreads that contain nutrients known as plant sterols and stanols, which can reduce cholesterol levels for some individuals. However, any such products containing palm oil and/or palm kernel oil will also contain saturated fat. Plus, at 70 or 80 calories per tablespoon, those calories can accumulate quickly.
Therefore, it’s essential to compare the nutritional labels of all spreads you’re considering. Pay attention not only to saturated fat and total fat calories but also review the ingredients list for any presence of partially hydrogenated oil. Despite the main source of trans fat being mostly eradicated from foods, it might not be entirely absent. In fact, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration permits a food with less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving to claim 0 g on the label. While this amount may seem negligible in a single serving, using two tablespoons of a spread twice a day does not equate to zero trans fat consumption.
Healthier Alternatives to Consider
Healthier options to butter or margarine include spreads based on olive oil and other vegetable oils, which contain beneficial mono- and polyunsaturated fats. Going a step further, consider dipping your warm bread or roll into extra-virgin olive oil in its natural form rather than smearing it with a spread.
The University of California, Davis, offers more on butter to assist you in making an informed choice regarding the best spread option for you.