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    Margarine vs. Butter: Which is Better? continued...

    "The healthier choice is one of the soft margarines, without a doubt," says Alice H. Lichtenstein, DSc, professor of nutrition at Tufts University.

    "Butter is extremely high in saturated fatty acids, and saturated fatty acids are the most potent in terms of increasing ["bad"] LDLcholesterol levels," Lichtenstein tells WebMD. "A lot of margarines are now trans fat free, and you can tell by the consistency, the softer the better."

    Trans fats are created when manufacturers turn liquid fats such as oils into solid ones, like traditional margarine. Research has shown that trans fats raise LDL "bad" cholesterol levels, and this can contribute to the buildup of fatty plaque in arteries.

    Lichtenstein says it's important to look at the sum total of both saturated and trans fats when selecting a spread for your toast, rather than focusing on one or the other.

    But if you're a butter lover, Carter says you don't have to completely forsake butter due to nutritional concerns.

    "I trained as a chef in France many years ago and believe that a little cooking oil and butter is one of the best flavors, so I can get by with a tablespoon of butter when I'm cooking to get the flavor," says Carter. "But you are not going to find sticks of butter on my table."

    Salad Dressing: Pass the Oil, Please

    Rather then wincing at the thought of putting a nonfat mystery dressing on your salad, experts say it may be better to go back to the basics with good old vinegar-and-oil-based dressings.

    Most "light" commercial salad dressings contain a lot of extra ingredients such as sugar and salt. A healthier choice is to make your own vinaigrette with olive oil (a good source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats).

    Carter says by splurging on flavorful, mild vinegars such as balsamic or sherry vinegar, or adding fresh herbs, you can cut down drastically on the amount of oil needed to make a tasty salad dressing.

    Going Nuts Over Peanut Butter

    Regardless of how you like it, chunky or smooth, all natural or straight from the plastic jar, researchers say peanut butter is a cheap and healthy source of protein.

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