Whether you prefer the taste of butter or prefer the lower calories in margarine, the simple fact is they are both OK to eat in moderation
IT’S the argument that divides kitchens across the nation: When it comes to our health, is butter or margarine better?
Some argue butter is healthier and that saturated fats aren’t that bad for you, while others fight margarine’s corner saying it’s superior because it’s lower in fat and calories.
And just when we think one study has the answer, another comes along to make us question everything we thought we knew about what we are spreading on our toast.
The American Heart Association recently released a paper suggesting switching butter and other saturated fat for margarine and healthier oils could slash your risk of heart disease as much as taking statins.
But others have argued that margarine is less healthy because it is highly processed.
So which should you be spreading on your morning toast?
We asked two nutritionists for their view.
The Sun’s nutritionist Amanda Ursell and Duane Mellor, a spokesman for the British Dietary Association and senior lecturer in human nutrition at Coventry University, both agreed that when it comes to butter and margarine there is no one right or wrong answer.
If you’re looking for taste, then butter is the answer.
But, with better taste comes more calories.
One tablespoon of butter contains roughly 100 calories, 12 grams of fat and seven grams of saturated fat.
In the UK, Public Health England recommends the average man eat no more than 30 grams of saturated fat a day and women should eat no more than 20 grams.
Saturated fats have been found to raise the risk of LDL cholesterol, or “bad” cholesterol.
High levels of bad cholesterol can increase the risk of atherosclerosis (clogging of the arteries), heart attack and stroke.
A high saturated fat content is associated with obesity, especially if you are eating more than the recommended amount.
Obesity increases your risk of life-threatening conditions such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, some types of cancer and stroke, according to the NHS.
Amanda says: “Butter is always going to be higher in saturated fat than most margarines.
“Most vegetable spreads also have lower calories than butter because they formulate them with 100 per cent vegetable oil.
Butter is always going to be higher in saturated fat than most vegetable margarine.
Amanda Ursell, Sun Nutritionist
“If you were to switch from butter to a spread you’d probably lower your calories, which would help you lose weight and have an impact on your cholesterol levels.”
But she says if you really do enjoy butter, there is no reason why you can’t eat it as long as you stick to the recommended intake.
She added: “You could just have half the amount of butter and have the same impact.
“If you are eating less butter but loads of cream, cheese or fast foods then that’s not going to do much though – you need to be cutting back on all of those.”
For every five per cent increase in calories, the risk of early death goes up by eight per cent, it found.
But it’s not all doom and gloom.
A 2015 study published in the The BMJ found no link between saturated fat intake and heart disease, instead warning that trans fats – most commonly found in margarine – could be deadly.
Trans fats have also been linked to clogged arteries and heart disease.
FAT CONTENT AND CALORIES IN BUTTER AND MARGARINE
- 100 calories
- 12 grams of fat
- 7 grams of saturated fat
- 80-100 calories
- 9-11 grams of fat
- 2 grams of saturated fat
One of the common myths surrounding margarine is that it is not natural and so therefore bad for you, says Duane.
He said: “There are a lot of ‘facts’ bandied round about margarine not being natural and being factory produced, but you have to beat cream to make butter.
“There is a manufacturing process on both sides, so that [argument] is a bit of a myth.
“The other myth that you often see on social media is that margarine is one molecule away from being plastic.”
He explained that while there are chemicals are added to margarine, they are not cause for concern, adding that there are also naturally occurring chemicals in butter such as esters and acetone.
He added: “The reason butter smells nice is because of some of the esters and acetones in there.
“When we think of butter being natural it actually has a whole range of chemicals in there that are very similar to the ones you find in margarine.
“Manufacturers have to list these chemicals in margarine, but that’s not to say butter isn’t made up of a whole host of chemicals.”
There are a lot of things about margarine not being natural and being factory produced, but you have to beat cream to make butter so there is a manufacturing process on both sides – so that one is a bit of a myth.
Duane Mellor, BDA Spokesman
In terms of calories, it’s pretty clear which spread wins.
One tablespoon of margarine generally contains around 80-100 calories, 9-11 grams of fat and two grams of saturated fat – that’s a lot less than butter.
A number of studies have concluded that switching to margarine or healthier oils low in saturated fat can lower your risk of a heart attack.
Another study from Harvard School of Public Heath, that studied the diets of 130,00 people for more than 30 years, suggests that replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats – found in margarine – reduces the risk of heart disease.
But a surprising 2013 study published in The British Medical Journal found that people who ate polyunsaturated fats instead of animal fats had a higher death rate from any cause.
Researchers recruited 458 men aged between 30 and 59 who had suffered a heart attack or an episode of “coronary insufficiency” or angina after admission to hospital.
They were split into groups and asked to continue with their normal diet or replace saturated fats with polyunsaturated fats.
While those who were asked to switch to polyunsaturated fat rather than animal fat had a higher death rate from all causes, they also had lower levels of cholesterol at the end of the study.
So which should you choose?
The crux of the matter is, as long as you are eating within the recommended guidelines, either is OK.
Amanda said: “I would recommend [either] in the context of what that person eats overall.
“Personally I wouldn’t say one or the other, but if everything else was equal and you wanted to reduce your saturated fat intake then I would recommend a spread.
“But if you are going to have a spread then put loads of cream on your strawberries then it makes no difference – you may as well have a bit of butter that you enjoy.”
Duane agreed, emphasising the main problems associated with butter and margarine is eating too much of it.
He said: “It depends how you use it, that is the key thing.
“I think a lot of people think ‘these oils are healthier for me so I can have more of it’ but that is not the case.
“There have been reviews published that say there is no reason to increase butter intake but there is no real reason to lower it either.”