Butter and margarine review

We check out over 90 spreads and dairy blends, and pick the healthier options.
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  • Updated:1 Jan 2005

03.Fat facts

What makes a healthy spread?

Expert opinion has shifted towards the view that the type of fat we eat matters even more than the quantity. Eating foods rich in saturated and trans fats increases your risk of heart disease, while replacing saturated with mono- and polyunsaturated fats lowers the risk.

We all need some fat in our diet.

Fats provide essential fatty acids that our bodies can’t manufacture. They also supply the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K, and fat-soluble antioxidants like beta-carotene. Fat also makes our food tastier and more palatable, adding to the enjoyment of eating.

Fat does, though, contribute more than twice the kilojoules as the same weight of protein or carbohydrate, so you’ve still got to watch how much you eat.

More about trans fats

Trans fats are created by a process called hydrogenation, used to convert liquid oils into the solid fat needed to get the right consistency in a spread.

Trans fats are in fact mostly monounsaturated, but their molecules have a different shape from the naturally occurring monounsaturated fats that are abundant in canola, olive and peanut oil. Your body sees a molecule of trans fat as a saturated fat and treats it the same way.

Australian spreads now have a lot less trans fat than in the past, largely because advances in food technology have made it possible for manufacturers to produce spreads without depending so much on hydrogenation.

Danish pastry

Denmark is the first country in the world to have banned the use of hydrogenated fat. Since the beginning of last year it’s been illegal to sell products in which trans fat is more than 2% of the total fat.

So nearly half the Aussie spreads in our Table would be banned in Denmark.

Stop it or you’ll go blind!

You may have seen some alarming reports in the media that the vegetable oils in spreads are causing blindness (macular degeneration) and that the only safe fats to eat are butter or olive oil.

There’s little evidence to support these claims. They’re based on only a few small studies from the US. Moreover, scientific opinion is by no means unanimous, as one of the studies found no relationship between any type of fat intake and macular degeneration, and the most recent of them reported that macular degeneration was related to total fat intake, including animal fats. So the suggestion that butter’s a preferable fat choice is inconsistent with the evidence as well as poor health advice for other reasons.


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