Butter vs margarine
Most of us are consuming too much of the unhealthier, saturated fat (which comes mainly from animal products) in our diets. Replacing saturated fat with unsaturated fat improves cholesterol levels, which can reduce the risk of heart disease.
Healthy eating includes replacing unhealthier saturated fat found in foods such butter and lard, with healthier polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, found in oils like olive, canola, sunflower and margarine spreads.
Replacing butter with margarine spreads is an easy way to lower our intake of saturated fat and instead include healthier fats to lower our risk of heart disease. Small amounts every day add up to large amounts over time. By switching butter for margarine on your morning toast and sandwiches at lunch, you are removing almost 3 kg of saturated fat from your diet in a year.
Why does Heart Foundation recommend margarine over butter?
Switching butter to margarine is one way to reduce saturated fat content and add healthier unsaturated fats, for heart health protection.
Butter is around 50% saturated fat and 4% trans fat – the unhealthy fats that raise our cholesterol levels. On the other hand, margarine spreads with the Tick have around 28% saturated fat, less than 1% trans fat (most only 0.1-0.2%) and are a good source of healthier fats.
Using a margarine spread instead of butter is a simple way to reduce saturated fat and include unsaturated fats. Other simple swaps to reduce saturated fat can be found here Unhealthy fats page, Saturated fats page or on the Mums United simple swaps page.
Q. Isn’t margarine full of trans fat?
Not in Australia, no. The Heart Foundation, through the Tick Program, led the way in removing trans fat from margarines in Australia in the 90s and Australian margarines now have some of the lowest levels of trans fats in the world and significantly less trans fat than butter.
In Australia hydrogenation is no longer used in margarines (however other countries like the US still do, so you still may here about this claim from international sources).
Hydrogenation is a chemical process where oils, which are liquid at room temperature are converted into solid or semi-solid fats – a side effect of which is the production of trans fats. In Australia, polyunsaturated oils on the supermarket shelf contain negligible trans fats as they have not undergone hydrogenation.
The process of esterification is now used in margarines in Australia - the healthier oils are combined with other ingredients such as milk, water and salt to develop a smooth consistency for spreading. Lecithin (found in egg yolk) is added for helping to mix water with oil. This makes it possible to develop margarines that are lower in saturated fats and virtually free of trans fats.
Q. Can I still cook with butter?
Many recipes will still work well if you substitute with margarine or oil, and it’s a much healthier way to cook. Click here to find out about the best oils to use for different types of cooking.
Q. This is a taste issue – I just don’t like margarine and I really love butter.
You could also try avocado or nut butters instead of butter for spreads, or using olive oil in replacement for butter.
Q. I’m taking statins/ medication to lower my blood cholesterol levels, so is it ok for me to eat butter?
Medicines should never substitute a healthy lifestyle. Changing your lifestyle to include a healthy balanced diet and regular physical activity will improve the results of your statin medication.
Choosing a canola based margarine - preferably one enriched with phytosterols - in addition to your prescribed medication can help manage your blood cholesterol levels which are an important risk factor for heart disease.
Q&As on dietary fats and dietary cholesterol for the general population (2009)
Q&As on plant sterol enriched foods for the general population (2007)
Fats and Cholesterol webpage
Healthier Fats webpage