Butter or Margarine – are we just talking semantics?

Smiley face of butter

I’m ten years old, standing in my grandparents kitchen watching my mother’s facial expression change as she observes my grandmother spread butter on her burnt toast. My mom looks utterly disgusted! I knew, from that moment on, that butter must be bad for me…but is it? My grandmother looked amazing – she was healthy, had a ton of energy, and looked about 45 years old, so again I asked the question is butter really so bad? Maybe I should eat more butter when I’m 75?

After doing some research, it appears that they are both high in fat. They each contain 4 grams of fat per teaspoon (5ml), which translates into 36 calories. Butter does contain cholesterol and saturated fat while margarine is cholesterol free but still contains saturated fat. As an aside do you know why margarine came into existence?

Well, years ago scientists discovered the harmful effects of saturated fat and they decided that the public needed a substitute for butter…here enters margarine. But what they didn’t know is that trans fat (a product of margarine) is WORSE then saturated fat. Whoops! If you hate science please skip ahead [the good heart healthy fats (polyunsaturated fats) through science are “hydrogenated” to become more stable – this hydrogenation can create trans fat]. A lot of margarine is now non-hydrogenated – look for these brands!

According to Canada’s Food Guide we should eliminate trans fat from our diet. We also want to minimize, but NOT ELIMINATE saturated fat. Remember how I was saying that 20 - 35% of your total daily calories should come from fat. Well, 7% (or less) should come from saturated fat, which is found in animal products.

Take home message – spread both thinly! But eat what you prefer and if its margarine make sure you buy one that is non-hydrogenated.

As a secret confession between you and me one of my favourite snacks is lots of margarine on crackers.

Image courtesy of partymonstrrrr