Butter. It can be a very confusing food. It seems like every day there is a new study out saying butter is good, butter is bad, eat this kind, not that kind. There are hundreds of different butters and margarines out there...so how are you supposed to figure out which one you should eat and which you should stay away from? I'll tell you!
Let's start with butter versus margarine. One tablespoon of butter has 100 calories, 11.5 grams of fat (7 grams of which are saturated--the bad kind) and 31 mg of cholesterol. Cholesterol is found in animal products and although dietary cholesterol does not affect many people's blood cholesterol levels, it is recommended you eat less than 200 mg per day. Saturated fats are solid at room temperature and found in foods such as red meats and dairy. They also work to raise LDL cholesterol (the bad kind) and HDL cholesterol (the good kind). Don't get too excited--the effect on HDL cholesterol isn't that significant so don't go out eating a tub of butter! Saturated fat and cholesterol are linked to heart disease so limiting your intake is important.
When margarine first came out, it was touted as the healthy alternative to butter. One tablespoon also has 100 calories and 11.5 grams of fat, but only 2 grams are saturated and there is no cholesterol. Sounds great, right? Not so fast. Margarine has 3 grams of trans fat--the worst kind of fat. It is recommended you have little to no trans fat in your diet--it's that bad. Trans fat is made when hydrogren is added to vegetable oil which causes it to go from liquid to solid and increases shelf life. Trans fats also increase LDL cholesterol but contrary to saturated fats, they reduce HDL cholesterol which makes it super bad. As a general rule of thumb, if margarine is solid at room temperature there is more trans fat (stick margarine has more trans fat that whipped or tub margarine).
So now that you know the stats, what type of butter or margarine should you eat? I know you can't avoid it and let's be honest--it's delicious. Plus--there are several brands out there that are healthy options. Look for "no trans fat" on the label and read the ingredients to make sure there are no hydrogenated oils hiding in there. Be advised that companies are allowed to label products trans fat free provided there is less than .5 grams of trans fat per serving--so if there are hydrogenated oils in the ingredient list that means each additional serving will have some trans fat. It adds up, so be careful!
I have two favorite brands. The fist is Smart Balance. I really like all of their products. I have the tub margarine in my fridge and use the Butter Blend Sticks a lot for baking. They use vegetable oils to make the butter spreads thus creating a product with 80 calories, 2.5 grams of saturated fat and 0 grams of trans fat per serving. Another great brand is Olivio. I buy the Spreadable Butter which is made with real butter, canola oil and olive oil. It's delicious, plus it has just 80 calories and 3.5 grams of saturated fat per tablespoon.
Hopefully, that clears up some of the confusion. Think about what kinds of butter you like and maybe try something new in your recipes during the holiday season!
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