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  • Pass the Butter, Please
    While you get fats a variety of ways, three common sources include oils, margarines, and butters. With multiple varieties of each, here’s some help choosing the healthiest ones. Read >>
Health and Fitness News


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Pass the Butter, Please

How to choose the healthiest oil, margarine, and butter.

Used for energy, cell growth, maintaining body temperature, nutrient absorption, and hormone production, fat is one of three micronutrients your body needs. (The other two are protein and carbohydrates.) After years of misleading information regarding fat, we now know that our bodies need healthy fats for health and wellness. Do you know which types are good for you?
There are four main types of dietary fat: saturated, trans, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated. These four have one thing in common. They all contain nine calories per gram. However, the first two—saturated and trans fats—are considered unhealthy and remain solid at room temperature. Think: butter and gravy. These fats are known to raise your bad LDL cholesterol levels and lower your good HDL cholesterol. As a result, your risk for stroke and heart disease increases when you consume these fats.

Unsaturated fats, on the other hand, are healthy for you. Both poly- and monounsaturated fats become liquid at room temperature. Enjoy these and you’ll be better able to maintain healthy cholesterol levels.

While you get fats a variety of ways, three common sources include oils, margarines, and butters. With multiple varieties of each, here’s some help choosing the healthiest ones.

Know Your Oils

Used for cooking, baking, dipping, and salad dressings, oils can be a healthy part of your diet—when used in moderation. If you’re like many people, you may reach first for vegetable oil. After all, anything with “vegetable” in the name is the healthiest choice, right? Not in this instance. Despite its name, vegetable oil is usually a blend of various oil types. Therefore, you can’t be sure exactly what type of oil you’re consuming or what flavor you’ll get. Also, it’s often higher in saturated fat than canola oil.

The healthiest oils are plant-based and liquid at room temperature. Palm oil and coconut oil, which are high in saturated fat, should be avoided. Instead, go for oils that are lowest in saturated fat. These include oils derived from olives, avocados, nuts, and seeds. Many health experts recommend keeping canola oil and olive oil as staples in your pantry. These two oils are high in oleic acid, a monounsaturated fat that may reduce your risk of heart disease.

Picking the Right Margarine

Neither margarine nor butter are considered healthy, but if you’re looking for a spread that’s better for heart health, margarine may be your best option. A single tablespoon of margarine contains 60 to 100 calories and up to two grams of saturated fat. Made from vegetable oils, margarine contains healthier unsaturated fats.

But beware! Some margarines contain trans fat, which increases bad cholesterol and lowers your good cholesterol. A good test is the hardness of your margarine. Often, the harder the margarine is at room temperature (and more difficult to spread), the more trans fat it contains. The nutrition label may say no grams trans fat, but if the ingredients list hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils, the margarine does contain trans fat. Margarines in stick form are usually higher in trans fat than those that come in tubs.

Go with a margaine that’s made from plant-based oils, contains no trans fats and is light and low in saturated fat.

The Butter Option

You may prefer the taste of real butter, but it comes at a cost. Your health. Made from animal fat, butter is full of flavor, saturated fat, and cholesterol. One tablespoon of butter contains 100 calories and seven grams of saturated fat. If your go-to spread is butter, go with a light variety, one that’s blended with olive oil, or a yogurt-based butter. Each of these will contain fewer calories and less saturated fat and cholesterol than regular butter.

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