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Health Fusion: Butter or margarine for heart health?

When you slather your toast in the morning or make a batch of popcorn for moving night, do you reach for butter or margarine? A recent study examined which is better for your heart health. Viv Williams has the details in this episode of NewsMD's "Health Fusion."

ROCHESTER — Butter, butter blends and margarines. Consumers have a lot of options from which to choose. And information about which type is best for heart health can be confusing. Researchers from the University of Minnesota School of Public Health recently compared the nutrition composition of margarine products to butter to see which is now the healthier choice in terms of cardiovascular health.

“What we found is that in the U.S. marketplace today, margarines are now a better option than butter for your health,” says Celia Weber, the study's lead author. “In the past there was a lot of debate about which product was better for you, but now that trans fats have been removed from margarines, they’re the best choice in terms of heart health.”

In 2018 the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned partially hydrogenated oils from food products such as margarines because they're bad for cardiovascular health. Partially hydrogenated oils are an artificial form of trans fats, which are known to raise your LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, increasing your risk of heart disease.

Another type of fat that can raise bad cholesterol when you eat a lot of it is saturated fat , which is solid at room temperature.

The new study is the first to examine butter and margarine since the ban went into effect. The researchers looked at the fatty acids and relevant vitamins and minerals in 83 different margarine, margarine-like and butter-blend products and compared them to butter. They found that after the FDA ban, margarine and butter-blend products had less saturated fat and cholesterol compared to butter and softer tub and squeezable tube margarine products had less fat than stick margarines.


What does all of this mean? The researchers say that when it comes to cardiovascular health, it’s nutritionally wisest to choose tub and squeeze-tube margarines because they contain the least amount of saturated fats, which is why they're softer than stick products at room temperature. They add that food manufacturers should be commended for their efforts to make products healthier for consumers. This study is published in the journal Public Health Nutrition .

The American Heart Association website lists liquid or tub margarines as being the healthiest choice. They also note that while choosing tub margarine over butter is a good step, that alone is probably not going to reduce your cholesterol numbers to a healthy level. Check out their website for info on what makes up a heart-healthy diet.

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For comments or other podcast episode ideas, email Viv Williams at vwilliams@newsmd.com . Or on Twitter/Instagram/FB @vivwilliamstv.

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Viv Williams hosts the NewsMD podcast and column, "Health Fusion." She is an Emmy (and other) award-winning health and medical reporter whose stories have run on TV, digital and newspaper outlets nationwide. Viv is passionate about boosting people's health and happiness by helping them access credible, reliable and research-based health information from top experts. She regularly interviews experts and patients from leading medical institutions, such as Mayo Clinic.
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