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Friday, August 13, 2010

Butter vs. Margarine

Have you ever wondered which is better — butter or margarine — when it comes to your health?

First, it’s important to know that both are high in fat and calories. Both butter and regular margarine weigh in at around 35 to 45 calories per teaspoon. (If you use reduced-fat margarine, a whole tablespoon gives you the same number of calories.) Butter also contains both cholesterol and saturated fat, and diets high in these substances have been linked to an increased risk of heart disease. Too much cholesterol can clog the arteries, while saturated fat has been shown to increase levels of LDL, or “bad,” cholesterol.

Margarine, which is made from vegetable oils, doesn’t contain cholesterol. But that doesn’t mean it’s good for your heart. To render the oils solid at room temperature, hydrogen is added during processing, creating trans fats. These fats are thought to be even more harmful to the heart than saturated fats because they not only raise LDL cholesterol but also lower HDL, or “good,” cholesterol. Some stick margarines contain relatively high amounts of trans fats, while softer margarines (tub and squeeze versions) usually contain less (if any). However, even some stick margarines are free of trans fats, so be sure to check labels.

I believe that butter is better than margarine but not by much. So what’s a person to do? Cut down on both butter and margarine! Try replacing them with healthier options. Use olive oil. Not all olive oil is the same. Currently the highest distinction is “extra virgin olive oil”. This designation is not tightly controlled. Peanut and other oils are included to “dilute” or reduce the cost to manufacture. To prepare good quality olive oil it must be done in very sanitary conditions and the oil, like good wine, should be stored and transported n optimum conditions. It should also be dated. Unlike wine, it doesn’t age. It becomes rancid (oxidized) with time. That is why you need a date. The stronger tasting oils are usually higher in polyphenols which impart value beyond the MUFA value. These polyphenols give properties that also resist the deterioration that comes with time, oxygen, sunlight, etc. better.

It’s OK to cook with EVO. The Greeks and other mediterraneans not only cook with it but pour it on after cooking to add the flavor that may have been lost with the cooking. In one early Greek study done during the low fat craze years ago it was noted that poor Greeks were consuming 42% of their dietary calories from olive oil. These were quality oils as they were fresh oils pressed from their own trees and consumed soon after preparation and definitely before the next crop was prepared the following year. A Greek professor of Nutrition, also a member of the Harvard team of researchers on the Mediterranean Diet, Antonia Trichopoulou, MD, PhD, of the University of Athens began writing and researching olive oil 30 years ago. Early on it was thought that the benefit of olive oil was due to the presence of MUFA (mono unsaturated fatty acid). The focus in recent years has been the presence of these polyphenols that I mentioned above. They not only impart flavor but have tremendous anti-oxidant properties as well as other anti-aging factors which has been a focus in recent years in the study of the mediterranean diet

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