Everywhere you look we are getting mixed messages on which is better for us, butter or margarine. The culprits for this debate are saturated fat and trans-fat. Trans-fats are found in margarines and saturated fats (animal fats) are found in butter.
Let's look at trans-fats a little closer. Trans-fat is created by a process that involves adding hydrogen to vegetable oil. It can make foods taste good, last longer on grocery store shelves, and is also hazardous to our health. Trans-fats raise our bad cholesterol just like saturated fats, but they also increase inflammation and lower the good cholesterol that protects us against heart disease.
The American Heart Association recommends a soft, trans-fat free spread with the least amount of saturated fats. Our worst choice would be solid (stick form) margarine with trans-fats. We also need to stay clear of ''partially hydrogenated oils'' as even if the label states trans-fat free it does contain some trans- fats. Bottom line: choose something with the least amount of saturated fats and no trans-fats or partially hydrogenated oils. We must read labels closely.
I actually prefer butter (in moderation). Regular butter contains only one ingredient - have you read the extensive list of ingredients on other spreads and margarines? Remember: ''closer to the tree, better for me.'' This means the less done to the fresh product the better. I once read not to eat anything with more than three ingredients listed on the label. Butter contains cow's milk or cream - churned or shaken, period. By definition butter is 80 percent milk fat, and it takes 11 quarts of milk to make one pound of butter. So, no, we shouldn't eat it in abundance. If you buy whipped butter the calories and fat are less per serving. Something even healthier may be light butter, especially if you prefer stick form. This does have added water or gelatin and preservatives to give it solid consistency. A butter blend has added olive oil or canola oil added which means you'd have the same amount of fat and calories but less saturated fat and it is softer and easier to spread. And again, the whipped form would decrease fat and calories per serving.
So what about butter-flavored sprays? With spray products you would be dealing with propellants and chemicals and a long list of preservatives and emulsifiers. You also need to realize that although the product says no fat or calories there actually is eight calories per spray so that if you oversprayed, your food you do get calories. You might be better off using butter bud sprinkles, which does have eight ingredients you need to consider and per the one teaspoon serving: 5 calories, 120mg of sodium and 2 gm total carbohydrates (sugar). Again you need to stick to the serving size to get the low calorie benefit.
Be aware of hidden trans-fats by reading labels as it often lurks in foods we wouldn't ordinarily suspect. You'll most likely find it in many cake and pancake mixes, ice creams, microwave popcorn, crackers, cookies, canned chili's, packaged pudding, shortening, TV dinners, non-dairy creamers, and of course most anything fried, although some restaurants have made positive changes many have not.
** Please remember to contribute toward your OFA nutrition services if you can. These programs are not sustainable at current levels without the support of participant contributions. Be aware that Food Stamps can be used toward your contribution. I do not want to have to make any further cuts to nutrition services. Thank you for your support.
Chautauqua County Office for the Aging Senior Nutrition Program provides nutritious noon meals at several Congregate Dining Sites throughout the county along with a Restaurant Dining Out Program. Our Dietitian, Cheryl Walhstrom, RD is available for nutrition counseling in your home at no cost to you. We also sponsor several exercise programs. Call the office for more details and information.