So, what's the low down with Butter and Margarine? Which should you be choosing?
Let’s first start with explaining what butter and margarine actually are: Butter dates back to 2000BC. It is made from processing/churning cream until the liquid and solids separate. Once this has happened, salt is added. Butter is 50% saturated fat (palmitic acid (about 31 per cent) and myristic acid (about 12 per cent). It also contains vitamin A and small amounts of vitamins D and E.
Due to its high levels of saturated fats, butter in high amounts has been shown to increase Cholesterol, specifically the LDL (bad cholesterol). This can result in an increased risk of heart disease and stroke.
Margarine became popular during and after the wars post 1870. It was invented by a Frenchman (surprisingly) as an alternative to butter. Margarine is a manmade product. It is made up of vegetable oils that have been hardened through the manufacturing process. Oils used in margarine include sunflower, canola and olive oils. These oils contain mono and poly unsaturated fats. These are the fats that increase the good (HDL Cholesterol) and lower the bad (LDL Cholesterol). In the early days, the manufacturing of margarine lead to high levels of trans fats (really bad fats) however production methods have now been changed and this is no longer a concern. What else is in margarine? Beta-carotene (added for colour), emulsifiers (to help the oil and water mix), salt and flavours (which can include milk solids),preservative such as potassium sorbate, food acids and natural colours. Vitamins A, D and E are also added to the same level present in butter. What about Plant Sterol-based margarines? These are margarines (as above) with added plant sterols for a cholesterol lowering effect. Plant sterols are plant substances that resemble Cholesterol. They lower blood cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. The Heart Foundation recommends two to three grams of plant sterols per day for a cholesterol lowering effect. The amount of margarine you need to consume each day varies depending on the product however ranges from 1-2tbsp per day (which is quite a lot). Plant sterols are also found naturally in small amounts in the below foods:
Nuts, seeds and legumes
Breads and cereals
Fruits and vegetables
So, you don't actually have to consume plant sterol-based margarine to reap the benefits. What about the environment? Well, margarine is actually better for the environment on multiple levels including greenhouse gas emissions, energy use, carbon footprint and land use (more on that another time). What should you choose? If you're wanting to keep things as natural and healthy as possible... 1st Choice – Use spreads like Avocado, Olive Oil, Hummus and Nut Butters (Peanut, Almond, Tahini) (full of healthy unsaturated fats).
If you're a butter or margarine lover use them sparingly....
1st Choice - small amounts of Olive oil-based Margarines such as Nuttelex Olive ( Although levels of olive oil are small so doesn't compare to actual olive oil)
2nd Choice - Cholesterol Lowering Margarines such as Nuttelex Pulse Buttery (need to consume at least 25g to reap the benefits- that's a lotta marg!)
3rd Choice – Unsalted butter occasionally as a treat because honestly, how can anyone say no to the classic bread and butter from time to time? In a well-balanced, sustainable plant-based diet that includes all the recommend amounts of all the five food groups (fruit, vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, tofu and small quantities of local dairy/meat/chicken/fish), margarine and/or butter in small amounts are safe. The best option however is to choose Avocado, Olive Oil, Hummus and Nut Butters (Peanut, Almond, Tahini) where possible.
Until next time😊 Mattea Palombo
Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD)
Accredited Nutritionist (AN)