Margarine Decisions

Light. Fat-free. Reduced calorie. Lowers cholesterol. These are just a few of the many enticing terms that you’ll see on margarine products today. With so many varieties on the market, choosing the most healthful one can be somewhat of a challenge. You can easily overcome this challenge by following this checklist.

1. Look for package claims that state the margarine is trans-fatty acid free.
Many margarine products, including some tub and squeeze liquids, are trans-free. As a rule, the softer the margarine, the fewer trans fatty acids it contains. Here is a list of some margarines that are trans-free: “Brummel and Brown® Spread,” “Parkay® Squeeze,” “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter! Light,” “Smart Beat® Super Light Margarine,” “Smart Balance® Buttery Spread,” all Promise® margarines, “Take Control by Promise®”, and both Benecol® margarines (Benecol® and Benecol® Light).

Manufacturers of these products use a new technology to hydrogenate the oils in these margarines without creating trans fatty acids. Usually when fats are hydrogenated, trans fatty acids are formed, and these have been proven to increase the risk of developing coronary heart disease by elevating bad cholesterol (LDL) and decreasing good cholesterol (HDL).

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has proposed to amend its regulations on nutrition labeling to require that the amount of trans fatty acids in a food be included in the Nutrition Facts panel. Stay tuned in 2001 for an official announcement for this amendment. FMI visit online at

2. Make sure the margarine is low in saturated fat.
Try to find a margarine that contains less than 1 gram of saturated fat per serving. Use the soft rule: generally speaking, the softer the margarine, the lower the saturated fat. Light and reduced calorie margarines contain less fat and thus less saturated fat.

3. Do you want to lower cholesterol or lose weight?
Another important factor to consider when choosing margarine, is your personal health priorities. If you are focusing on lowering cholesterol, you may benefit from Benecol®, Benecol® Light or Take Control® vegetable oil spreads. These products contain plant stanol or sterol esters – plant products that help decrease your absorption of dietary cholesterol.

If you are focusing on weight loss, an ideal choice for tub margarine is “Promise® Fat Free Nonfat Margarine” – it contains just 5 calories per serving vs. 45 in regular margarine.

My all time favorite product for overall good health and weight reduction is “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter® Spray.” This can be sprayed over vegetables, rice, pasta – anything that you normally put butter or margarine on. The taste is great and it is calorie, fat, and sodium free (per serving). Do keep in mind that it does have oil, salt, and sweet cream buttermilk in the ingredient list, so if you use more than what’s recommended (5 sprays) you will get some calories and fat grams, so try not to go overboard. If you are buying a new container of butter spray each week, you are definitely using too much! The same goes for “Parkay® Buttery Spray,” a similar product.

Here are some kitchen success tips for margarine:
Use regular stick margarine for cooking or baking. You can use it in place of all of the butter in a recipe. These products will consist of 60% or more oil and have around 100 calories per tablespoon.

Use light or low-cal margarines as a spread. These are not formulated for cooking or baking since they are lower in fat and will not perform the same way as the full-fat margarines. These products are labeled 49% or less oil and they usually have around half the calories as regular margarine.

When substituting margarine for unsalted butter, it is important to omit the salt in a recipe because margarine contains salt.

FMI see
By Rebecca Fraley, MS, RD.

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