¡Margarina! ¡Mantequilla!
January 7, 2007 5:22 PM   Subscribe

I like the taste of butter. I grew up with margarine as the "healthier" substitute, then switched to various spreads, then back. What provides the healthiest butter or butter analog?

I was just cooking some broccoli and I went to the fridge and chose between the butter and margarine to add my buttery taste.I happened to glance at the labels, and I saw that butter had 11 grams of fat per serving, but 0 trans fat. Butter also had 7 grams of saturated fat, fwiw. The margarine had 9 grams of fat, but 2.5 grams of trans fat and 3 grams of polyunsaturated fat. The balance in each case was monounsaturated.

So which is best? I know I prefer the butter, by taste and texture, and it seems like so many people and government regulators are freaking out about trans fats (but not sat fats). On the other hand, I always thought that the polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats were supposed to be better for you. So which is it?

FWIW, I grew up in the 1970s, when my Dad had high cholesterol and Parkay was the best thing going. Now that I'm his age, the information seems so much more complex. Help!
posted by Robert Angelo to Health & Fitness (32 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
IANAD, but my mom is a food scientist for a large dessert company in the NW, and I frequently hear her kvetching about trans fats this and trans fats that. She says that you should usually use butter (or olive oil, but they have different purposes) in moderation. So, cook your broccoli and add a little bit of butter, and if you're feeling guilty, cut it with a little olive oil or even margarine. But really, just don't use as much and you'll be fine.
posted by rossination at 5:33 PM on January 7, 2007

I was raised on margarine (yuck!) also. Butter tastes better and is easier to cook with. Plain old sweet cream butter. Unless you're eating the stuff in stick form a la Homer Simpson, or otherwise have specific reasons to avoid dairy products then go with what your tongue likes.
posted by Burhanistan at 5:33 PM on January 7, 2007

I use olive oil on vegetables like broccoli, asparagus, green beans, etc.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 5:47 PM on January 7, 2007

I use smart balance buttery spread. It has no trans fats and tastes freaking delicious. It's apparently made of a patented blend of various oils.
posted by !Jim at 5:49 PM on January 7, 2007

From my experience, you're better off satisfying your craving for the real thing. Have some butter. You'll be happy eating less of it, and a tablespoon or two on your broccoli won't kill you. (That said -- it is a good thing to limit your intake of butter and other animal fats, yummy as they are. Try broccoli sauteed with garlic and olive oil, or with a good vinaigrette. If there are Japanese markets nearby, look for mentsuyu, seasoning for soba noodles, which is a great condiment for almost any vegetable.)

Yeah, I remember the whole butter=evil/margarine=good thing. Seems that longer-term studies now show that trans fats such as margarine and vegetable shortening aren't all that well-tolerated by our bodies. (See also, high-fructose corn syrup.) If you're interested, here's the FDA page on trans fats.
posted by vetiver at 5:58 PM on January 7, 2007

I like a mix of olive oil and butter, especially on things like broccoli.
posted by pullayup at 6:06 PM on January 7, 2007

Butter tastes good, so if you're going to use fat, don't deprive yourself, just be judicious. Note there are margarines now that have no trans fats (i.e., Becel and its imitators). So for cooking I use butter 'cause it tastes good. For something to put on toast, margarine is just fine.
posted by drmarcj at 6:09 PM on January 7, 2007

I love butter too, but I usually use I Can't Believe It's Not Butter Lite, or Smart Balance spread. They both have great taste, no trans fat, less calories than butter, and melt nicely over hot vegetables and spread easily on toast.
posted by LoriFLA at 6:10 PM on January 7, 2007

It tastes great and particularly the soft margarine is pretty good in the fat department. IMO It tastes good and it has a nice consistency -- butter-like.
posted by nnk at 6:47 PM on January 7, 2007

I guess I really like the way it tastes. Oy.
posted by nnk at 6:48 PM on January 7, 2007

Smart Balance has been proven to improve your cholesterol balance (raise HDL/lower LDL), so if you want a solid fat, you probably can't do any better than that.
posted by rxrfrx at 7:03 PM on January 7, 2007

Earth Balance... it's non-hydrogenated expeller-pressed natural oil blend (soybean, palm fruit, canola and olive -trans fat free) and it tastes REALLY good. I get it at Trader Joes or Whole Foods.
posted by lois1950 at 7:04 PM on January 7, 2007

IANAD, but I have high cholesterol. My doctor - when I asked this same question - said the jury's basically out right now, and recommended I alternate. When I run out of one, buy the other. Theory is, it'll give my body time to get over whatever damage each is doing. He also recommended the margarine that has olive oil in it, which also (imo) tastes better.

If your Dad has high cholesterol, you might too. Why not get tested and find out? It could get higher later in life, of course, but there's no reason not to find out what your baseline is.

Generally speaking, the more liquid a fat is at room temperature, the better for you it is. So, lard and the fat from red meat are terrible, and butter isn't great, and olive oil and the fat from fish is pretty good. It's an easy rule of thumb, and beyond that, I wouldn't sweat it too much - if you generally eat healthily and get a good amount of exercise, whether you eat butter or marg probably won't make any difference.
posted by joannemerriam at 7:09 PM on January 7, 2007

If you use butter sprays or butter flavor sprays you can get the flavor of butter without using too much. If you use some salt, the butter will taste more buttery. I routinely do this for popcorn.

Otherwise, go ahead and use butter, just don't go overboard.

You can also use ghee if you don't mind getting all saturated fat, but you get no trans fats nor lactose - but you also get more bang for the buck in flavor with ghee.
posted by plinth at 7:13 PM on January 7, 2007

I like Smart Balance too. I also use light butter sometimes... on special occasions.

Oh, and Shedd Spread or Country Crock (I forget which) used to have a spray that you could mist things with that was pretty good too, I used that on popcorn or vegetables sometimes. If I recall it had no fat but just enough butter flavor.
posted by miss lynnster at 7:26 PM on January 7, 2007

Pay attention to which margarine. Better with olive oil or monosaturated oils. Better no hydrogenated or transfats. Many margarines have chemicals which are probably better not ingested.

Olive oil by itself is good, or make better butter: butter mixed with olive oil with a food processor/blender/handblender/mixer (add a little flax oil if you're up to it), and keep in fridge. Spreads easier than butter, and tastes great.

FYI: I am a prof who has done substantial published and nonpublished research in food systems, health and environmental systems.
posted by kch at 7:34 PM on January 7, 2007 [5 favorites]

My in-laws, who are very health and heart conscious, have used Olivio spread for a long time. It's made from olive oil and tastes pretty good. No trans-fat and no cholesterol, I don't have a label to see what the sat fat and total fat is.
posted by saffry at 7:49 PM on January 7, 2007

America's Test Kitchen is a cooking show on PBS that has a feature where they blind taste-test flavors and performance of different foods, in a tasting lab with over 30 tasters. On a recent episode, when they taste-tested real unsalted butter against butter alternatives, the panel preferred the real butter in all tests except for the "butter as condiment on freshly cooked vegetables" where a spread was perceived to have more authentic butter flavor.

It might be worth it to do your own taste tests, I guess would be my point.

Assuming you're in the US, you might also investigate the European-style butters -- to me they taste "butterier" than American versions, so I end up needing less when I use it as a condiment. (I don't cook with the European butter much as it's usually pricey)
posted by pineapple at 8:42 PM on January 7, 2007

BTW, a lot of parents use margarine because it is WAY cheaper than butter. Something you don't necessarily notice when you're the kid in the situation.
posted by smackfu at 8:50 PM on January 7, 2007

For heart health, cold pressed extra virgin Olive oil is the flavor to savor for salads, sautees, veggies, rice, meat, toast, popcorn, etc...
Dessert recipes that call for butter/margarine/cream cheese can be adapted to eliminate the fat or replace with a sweet oil like safflower or sunflower or walnut or grape depending upon budget.
posted by soviet sleepover at 12:06 AM on January 8, 2007

The medical/scientific jury really is still out.

I avoid trans fats the way I would avoid cyanide, and eat butter, brie and olive oil (both EV and regular) in moderation. Bear in mind that butter contains cholesterol, too.
posted by ikkyu2 at 12:29 AM on January 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

I was raised on margarine, but my grandmother had this butter delivered to her house that was pure heaven. My mom always insisted one couldn't taste the difference, which made me all the more adamant that I could.

I have since learned it is salted butter I love. Unsalted sweet butter is boring. European butter is sour and tastes bad to me.

That being said: For brocoli, which I adore, I found I prefered to sprinkle a bit of soy sauce to butter. Where my mother would have applied butter/margarine to chicken, I use olive oil. For popcorn, I use Lawyey's Seasoned Salt.

But for toast, I still adore butter. Also for cauliflower. In baking, only real butter will do for me. I love fat! I've never been caught with high cholesterol! While I'm heavier than I should be, I'm not gainning.
posted by Goofyy at 1:21 AM on January 8, 2007

Brummel and Brown is supposed to be pretty good for you. It doesn't taste too bad on toast or things like that. You can't cook with it though, as it doesn't have any fat in it. I was surprised that I like it, as I typically don't like anything low fat. It usually found near the butter and margarine, and I think it's made from yogurt somehow.
posted by jefeweiss at 6:46 AM on January 8, 2007

Thanks for your answers. I checked another label this morning on some "Move Over Butter" that I was putting on toast. The label has a smirking cow: "Moo."

It turned out to have less fat overall than either butter or margarine, no trans fat, just a dab of sat.fat, and a nice amount of poly- and mono-unsat.fat. Not good for cooking, really, but there you go... Based on your answers and experience, I guess all I can say is "it depends" and take it from there.
posted by Robert Angelo at 9:18 AM on January 8, 2007

I hhhhaateeee the taste of margarine but my parents would never buy butter. I really like the taste of Smart Balance, as mentioned above. I'd stick with butter for baking, but SB is great for cooking, toast, etc.
posted by radioamy at 10:20 PM on January 8, 2007

Products such as Smart Balance are made out of plant sterols. Consuming products that contain these sterols has been shown to reduce the cholesterol of those people who have high cholesterol. One drawback to these products is that a person often has to eat at least two servings a day to see the drop in cholesterol. Here is a link to a USDA article about plant sterols.
posted by catseatcheese at 4:10 AM on January 9, 2007

Smart Balance does not contain plant sterols; the whole point is that it's simply a blend of oils in a certain "balance" that has been shown to positively affect cholesterol levels. They do have one product "Omega PLUS" that does contain plant sterols.

Smart Balance FAQ
posted by rxrfrx at 9:32 AM on January 9, 2007

Oh...sorry about that...didn't notice you had to buy a certain type of Smart Balance to get the phytosterols.
posted by catseatcheese at 2:22 PM on January 9, 2007

Butter is also good to shave with.
posted by oxford blue at 2:30 PM on January 9, 2007

Another vote for Smart Balance: great tasting and healthy at the same time.
posted by adriana at 5:16 PM on January 9, 2007

Toast : Flora Lite pro (or some such)
Cooking : Extra Virgin Olive Oil (what ever brand take my fancy)
Cooking : Butter, but not very often. (I change brands all the time)
posted by matholio at 10:07 PM on January 9, 2007

Only marginally related, and not answering you question, but I happened to see a "what does 200 calories look like?" gallery the other day. Looks like the butter you add will have as many or more calories than the entire family-sized serving of broccoli you add it to. Now that's some density! I'd blame cows if if I thought they could intelligently interpret my displeasure.
posted by kookoobirdz at 7:39 AM on January 10, 2007

« Older Is any Master's Degree better than no Master's...   |   He thinks, therefore he is Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.