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How do I choose heart-healthy margarine?

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
Unlike butter, margarine is made of vegetable oil and contains zero cholesterol. But not all margarines are equal, and some are worse for you than butter.  As a rule of thumb, avoid more solid margarines; they often contain trans fats, which increase the risk of heart disease.

As an alternative to butter and margarine, choose olive oil, one of Dr. Mehmet Oz’s (Vice-Chair and Professor of Surgery at Columbia University) anti-aging superfoods.
Carolyn  Thomas
Healthcare
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."
Use these tips for choosing heart-healthy margarine:
  • Choose a soft-tub margarine with liquid vegetable oil as the first fat ingredient.
  • Better yet, choose a margarine that lists zero trans fats in the label's Nutrition Facts and has no partially hydrogenated fat in the ingredients.
  • Read labels to choose one of the specialty margarines containing plant substances called stanols and/or sterols. Studies show that food supplemented with at least 2 grams of these substances can help reduce low-density lipoprotein (LDL) ("bad") cholesterol by 5% to 15% in 2 to 4 weeks.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.