April 2009 Issue
Bread Spread or Functional Food? Choose Margarine Wisely
Margarine was developed as a simple, inexpensive butter substitute in the late 1800s. Today, dozens of spreads fill the ever-expanding cold case of the supermarket, with many brands touting health-promoting nutrients like extra calcium and vitamin D, added fish oil or flaxseed oil, or special cholesterol-lowering plant stanols and sterols. Many must be called "spreads," because they contain too little oil to qualify as a "margarine." Confused? Itís no wonder. Before deciding which spread to buy, perhaps the question is "should you even use a spread?" No Health Benefit. Itís important to eliminate saturated fats when you can, by choosing spreads and oils that are the richest in heart-healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Use margarines and spreads only if you prefer them, which many people do, for their butter-like flavor and their spreadability. But realize there are no unique health benefits to doing so. Oils like canola and oliveóthe two that EN recommends for everyday useóare richer in monounsaturated fats and free of trans. A tablespoon of canola or olive oil contains three to four times the mono fats as a tablespoon of even the healthiest spread. So consider oil for everyday use; save spreads for those few times when a liquid oil just wonít do.
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