Dear Living Well Daily Reader,
You’ve got questions…
We’ve got answers!
We get lots of food questions in the mailbag, but there’s been one that comes up again and again — which is better, butter or margarine?
So today, we are dedicating this reader mail segment to resolving the Great Butter Debate. Plus, we will give you a few tips on how to select a heart-healthy spread.
Let’s dive in…
The Great Butter Debate: Cows vs. Chemicals
For many years, I’ve been eating margarine because the labels say “heart healthy.” However, recently, I’ve heard that it’s made from pretty dangerous ingredients. Is butter actually healthier than margarine? If so, do you know what kind I should be buying?
Thanks for the great question, Etta. Many readers have questions about butter and margarine.
Let’s start by defining them.
Butter is a dairy product made by churning milk or cream. Eventually, the fatty solids will separate from the liquid. These fatty solids are butter, and the liquids are buttermilk. This means butter has only one natural ingredient. If it’s salted butter, then it will have two natural ingredients.
Margarine was designed to be a cheap butter replacement and is often made from GMO soybean oil and other cheap oils like canola or palm oil.
But the bad news doesn’t end there… since these oils are typically liquid at room temperature, margarine is often hydrogenated. This process turns these already not-so-healthy oils into even more dangerous trans fats.
Trans fats can raise your LDL (bad) cholesterol and significantly lower your HDL (good) cholesterol. Plus, even though some margarines are trans fat free, they’re still full of chemicals like emulsifiers, artificial flavors and colorants. Most margarines contain around 10 ingredients.
So just by comparing ingredients, it looks like butter is the better choice. But you’ve probably heard it’s terrible for your heart because of its high levels of cholesterol and saturated fats.
Well, there are a few studies that prove that’s simply not true…
Recent research shows that eating saturated fats or cholesterol won’t affect your cholesterol levels. In fact, these two natural fats can increase your good cholesterol and even change your bad cholesterol to a harmless type of fat that isn’t linked to heart disease.
But not all butter is created equal.
Conventionally raised dairy cows are given hormones and antibiotics, are fed grains and are frequently milked. All of these factors can lead to less nutritious dairy products.
That’s why it’s important to look for butter from grass-fed cows. Not only is it much more nutritious than butter from grain-fed cows, but it’s also rich in vitamin K2 and omega-3 fatty acids. Both of these nutrients are vital for heart health and may even prevent heart issues. While grass-fed organic butter is optimal, it’s not always easy to find.
Organic Valley Pasture Butter is one brand that is both grass-fed and organic. If you can’t find that, Kerrygold is at least grass-fed, though it’s not organic.
Organic butter that’s not grass-fed is your next best choice. For a dairy product to be labelled organic, the USDA requires that the cows be put on pasture for the grazing season a minimum of 120 days per year. Farmers also have to have a pasture management plan in place to protect the fields, soil and water quality. Any supplemental feed must be organic and non-GMO, and the cows cannot be given antibiotics or growth hormones.
Most grocers offer at least one type of organic butter.
Last, there’s conventional grain-fed butter. While this is in last place for butter options since it might can contain milk from grain-fed cows that were given antibiotics and hormones, it still beats margarine by a landslide.
So when given the choice, always choose cows over chemicals.
Do you have any health questions you want answered? Drop me a line email@example.com
Managing editor, Living Well Daily