You have probably felt guilty, confused and conflicted about eating both butter and margarine at various times in your life as both have been bad mouthed in turns for decades.
Who doesn’t love the distinct, savoury taste of a lump of butter on a baked potato, mielie on the cob or on krummelpap? And who doesn’t feel guilty every time that margarine spreads so easily on the sandwiches you’re making for school lunch?
Many foodstuffs have been demonized in cycles over the years and conspiracy theories abound about the economic reasons behind the bad mouthing as opposed to scientific reasons. Examples are fat, red meat, carbs, salt, sugar and MSG.
Butter versus margarine
Butter came under a great deal of scrutiny when its high levels of saturated fat were associated with an increased risk of heart disease.
Many people then decided to switch to margarine, as researchers and nutritionists suggested. Then the hazards of margarine became known.
According to Harvard Medical School there never was any good evidence that using margarine instead of butter reduced the chances of having a heart attack or developing heart disease.
“Making the switch was a well-intentioned guess, given that margarine had less saturated fat than butter, but it overlooked the dangers of trans fats.”
Use both margarine and butter sparingly
In terms of heart disease, butter remains on the list of foods to use sparingly mostly because it is high in saturated fat. Margarines are more difficult to classify. The older bricks of hard margarines were worse for your health than butter. Some of the newer margarines that are low in saturated fat, high in unsaturated fat and free of trans fats are fine as long as you use them sparingly as they are rich in calories.
Look at the labels
You can compare the health value of spreads, butter and margarine, by looking at the nutrition labels on these products. You should limit your intake of saturated fats and avoid trans fats altogether.
Look for butter or margarine with less than 2% trans fats which can also be indicated as 2g of trans fats per 100g. Avoid bricks of hard margarine and soft margarine without labelling as it may contain trans fats.
Consider dipping your favourite crusty bread in olive oil instead of using butter. Add some balsamic vinegar or your favourite herbs to virgin olive oil.