What are healthy options for margarine, oil, and salad dressing?

Margarine and oil. Choose olive, canola, soybean, safflower, sesame, sunflower, or corn oils. Choose brands with liquid oil listed first on the label and that contain no trans fats. Try using nonstick vegetable cooking spray for cooking and cut back on oil.

Salad dressings. Try reduced-calorie and fat-free types. Include the carbohydrates in your meal plan.
Amaris Noguera
Nutrition & Dietetics
For margarine, try instead tub margarines that contain plant sterols which have added health benefits. Avoid butter as it's high in saturated fat, and avoid stick margarine as they usually contain hydrogenated oil (which makes it a solid fat), also known as trans fat. The tub margarines should be liquid oil based, and contain olive, canola, peanut or sunflower oil, all of which are high in monounsaturated fats.
For oil, stick with canola oil for cooking, and olive oil for use in raw food preparation, such as in salad dressings, dipping oils, etc. Olive oil is a very delicate oil and should not be cooked or exposed to high temperatures due to its smoke point.

For salad dressing, the best option is olive oil and vinegar of your choice (balsamic, apple cider, white) for the least processed, lowest sodium option. Otherwise, you can find reduced-fat spray salad dressings at your grocery store which can be helpful for controlling portions and preventing a healthy salad from turning into a calorie-rich meal. Be wary of fat-free salad dressings as these often contain many "fillers" (or added ingredients to compensate for the lack of fat and creamy texture of full-fat dressings) as well as significantly more sodium. Plus, the vegetables in our salad require a little bit of fat to absorb the fat-soluble vitamins they contain, so fat-free isn't always best.
Carolyn  Thomas
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."

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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.