Margarine has been around for more than 100 years. It came into widespread use following the Second World War - largely because of its cheap price. But margarine's heart-healthy claims may not be as well-founded as their manufacturers would like us to believe.
For example, most of the omega-3 fatty acids found in margarine come from plant sources, such as canola or soybean oil, which many health experts say is less beneficial to heart health than omega-3 derived from fish. Companies such as Unilever actively promote the health aspects of margarine (like its Becel line of products). Nearly all Becel products contain omega-3, but only one, Becel Omega3plus, contains fatty acids from fish oil, not plant oil.
Another emerging issue concerning the health claims of margarine is that the vegetable oils used to make it are a significant source of omega-6 fatty acids - commonly the same type used in processed foods and baked goods. Others echo that argument, saying artificial colors, chemicals and flavors in highly processed product like margarine mean it shouldn’t be part of any healthy diet.
The margarine industry also promotes a low saturated fat content - a thinly veiled jab at butter, which like most dairy products, has a relatively high amount of saturated fats. However, recent studies (published in journals like The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 3/10) found that risk of heart disease or stroke was similar between people who consumed the highest and lowest amounts of saturated fat.
For consumers who feel uncomfortable with eating the unpronounceable ingredients in your average tub of margarine might do well to consider the advice of Mayo Clinic cardiologist Dr. Martha Grogan, who recommends that we consider using whipped or light butter, or look for products that are a blend of butter and olive or canola oil.
"Per serving, these products have less fat and calories than regular butter does. The important thing is to use them sparingly."