By David Blyweiss, M.D., Advanced Natural Wellness
May 19, 2014
- Are all of margarine’s heart-healthy claims true?
- How the battle against butter backfired
- Butter is better… but this is the best of all
I have a lot of patients who regularly use margarine. Some of them just cook with it. Others like to slather it over their favorite foods.
All of these folks seem to be using margarine for the right reason. They want to avoid saturated fats in an effort to protect their heart health. At the same time, margarine manufacturers have done a great job of marketing their product as a healthier alternative to butter.
- Almost all of today’s margarines promise they’re heart healthy.
- Many of them claim they’re chock-full of healthy omega-6 fatty acids that will lower your cholesterol and protect your heart.
- And ever since the big crackdown on trans fats, you see a lot of margarines with big logos shouting “no trans fats.”
But, are all of these claims true?
Well, today, battle lines are being drawn. There’s a war being waged between margarine and butter… and you might be shocked when you hear which one is winning the fight.
It’s hard for a lot of people to even consider eating butter. The saturated fat dogma associated with it is something that’s hard to let go. On the other hand, we’re also finding margarine isn’t the great heart protector we’ve all been promised.
For example, here’s a big surprise. A lot of margarines that are labeled “no” or “zero” trans fats aren’t really telling the truth.
I’ll bet you didn’t know this, but the FDA allows foods that contain less than 0.5 grams of trans fats per serving to list them as 0 (zero) on the label. So, a lot of margarines still contain 0.49 grams or less of trans fats per tablespoon. But they’ve taken advantage of this tricky little caveat to claim there are none.
What does this mean for you?
If you use 5 or 6 tablespoons of margarine a day, you could be eating almost two and a half or three grams of them. I know some people who use that much just to flavor a potato!
Make no mistake about it. Eliminating trans fats is even more important than reducing the amount of saturated fat in your diet.
These fats are deadly. They create high levels of inflammation, increase bad LDL levels and cause healthy HDL to drop. They’re also associated with a harmful increase in small, dense LDL particles that can slip through the lining of your blood vessels and cause plaque to build up.
And what about all those supposedly heart healthy omega-6 fatty acids?
Once again, our fear of the saturated fat in butter led us astray. Part of the concept behind the push for margarine was to replace saturated fats with healthier omega-6 vegetable fats.
This sounds like a great idea on the surface. Our bodies need omega-6s. But they come with a tricky little problem.
You see, over the years we’ve learned eating too many omega-6 fatty acids promotes inflammation. This, of course, is an underlying cause of heart disease. So it’s no surprise that we’re now discovering people who eat the most omega-6 fatty acids have a higher risk of cardiovascular disease and death.
Unfortunately, these days we’re eating a lot more omega-6 fatty acids than our bodies need. And it’s really showing up in our health.
You’ll know your margarine is high in omega-6 if it contains vegetable, safflower, sunflower, corn, cottonseed, sesame or soybean oils.
So, is butter better?
It’s pretty clear all of that margarine that was supposed to be good for you is really working against you. And it’s not doing your heart any favors at all.
So, certainly! You’re much better off sticking with real butter. And by real butter, I mean the good stuff – organic butter from grass-fed cows. This is the healthiest form of butter you can buy.
It doesn’t contain concentrated rBGH, (recombinant bovine growth hormone) added cow feed antibiotics or pesticides from the corn mash they eat.
You can also try ghee, which is the clarified form of butter where the water and milk solids have been removed. But again, you’ll want to choose a high-quality organic version, made from grass-fed cows.
Now, even though butter is better than margarine, olive oil is best of all. It lowers blood pressure, reduces plaque build-up in the arteries and lowers your risk of heart attack. It even helps balance blood sugar levels.
That’s why I’m also a big advocate of getting plenty of healthy virgin olive oil in your diet. It’s a tasty way to enhance the flavor of food. And there are many ways you can use it instead of butter or margarine.
For example, if you use butter or margarine to cook with, try replacing them with olive oil. You can also mix olive oil with herbs and garlic and us it as a tasty spread or dipping sauce.
My advice? Ditch margarine altogether, use butter in moderation and add liberal amounts of olive oil whenever you have the chance.
Mozaffarian D, et al. “Health effects of trans-fatty acids: experimental and observational evidence.” Eur J Clin Nutr. 2009 May;63 Suppl 2:S5-21.
Ramsden CE, et al. “Use of dietary linoleic acid for secondary prevention of coronary heart disease and death: evaluation of recovered data from the Sydney Diet Heart Study and updated meta-analysis.” BMJ. 2013 Feb 4;346:e8707.
El SN1, Karakaya S. “Olive tree (Olea europaea) leaves: potential beneficial effects on human health.” Nutr Rev. 2009 Nov;67(11):632-8