We went to the supermarket the other day and was buried in an avalanche of choices. It took us quite a while maneuvering through everything just to buy a box of margarine.
We found several Malaysian favourites and thought we’d do a comparison on them to see which reigns supreme in terms of health value. Here’s what we discovered:
At a glance they all look the same, and of course there are many snazzy marketing slogans plastered all over the box, like “enriched with 8 vitamins!!!” or “Cholesterol-Free!”. It can be very confusing for the regular customer like you and I, so which should you pick?
We got certified dietitian Ng Kar Foo, council member of the Malaysian Dietitians’ Association to help out with some guidelines on choosing the right margarine for you.
Things to Look Out For
Trans fat content
You don’t want any of these in your food. Several studies have proven that trans fats are bad guys, as they highly increase bad cholesterol level. Learn more about trans fat in our earlier article here. Naturally try to go for margarines with zero trans fat content.
According to the American Heart Association, it’s best to choose and prepare foods with little or no salt. You’re recommended to eat no more than 2,400 milligrams of sodium per day, while reducing your sodium intake to 1,500mg could help lower blood pressure . As you pick your margarine, take into consideration that other foods in your daily diet could also include sodium, and it’ll do you good to reduce where you can.
Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids (PUFA)
PUFAs are good for your heart when taken in moderation. Omega-6 and omega-3 are types of PUFAs known as “essential” fatty acids as your body cannot produce them and you have to obtain these from your diet . However, while PUFAs can be good for you in moderation, you should still adhere to your total daily fat allowance (20-35% of your daily calorie intake) .
Monounsaturated Fatty Acids (MUFA)
MUFAs can help reduce bad cholesterol levels in your blood, which in turn lowers your risk of heart disease and stroke . The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommend 15-20% of your daily intake be from MUFAs. Opt for margarines with higher MUFA content.
Most experts recommend you keep your saturated fat intake to a minimum. However, recent research has shown that perhaps saturated fat’s negative reputation might be uncalled for. Read more about that in our article here. But until more concrete evidence is available, you might still benefit from opting for margarines with low saturated fat content.
Do not be deceived by this marketing ploy, as all margarines are essentially cholesterol-free if they are made from plant-derived fat, which has minimal cholesterol by nature. More interestingly, scientists have recently found that cholesterol intake does not really seem to matter for generally healthy people. However, those with cardiovascular diseases and diabetes may still benefit from limiting cholesterol intake.
Many food manufacturers fortify their products with micro-nutrients to help fulfill the nutritional gap and to also give their products an edge. While a margarine fortified with more vitamins might seem superior than those which aren’t, it’ll only help you if you tend to have sub-optimal intake of the nutrients. Remember, more is not always better, and it’s better to get your nutrients from a varied diet filled with veggies, fruits, lean protein and whole grains.
“Organic and natural”
Some people prefer buying organic, while others prefer the regular stuff. However, be aware that even with the higher price tag, organic margarine isn’t necessarily nutritionally superior to the non-organic versions. This is because there’s no big difference in nutritional content when you compare the two, although they might have been grown differently. Learn more about the debate between organic and non-organic here.
Which Margarine Should I Pick?
It really depends on what your body really needs. Everyone’s body is a little different, and just because you want a nutrient doesn’t mean you really need it. You could already be getting it from other parts of your diet.
For example, a highly active person might not have to worry too much about the calories because he requires them to function daily, while a couch potato would have to be more selective. Similarly, a person whose diet is balanced would not have to care too much about the added vitamins.
There’s also a combination of the nutritional data to consider. A margarine brand might be low in calories, but incredibly high in sodium, which isn’t great for those with hypertension.
Here’s some guidance on picking food based on nutritional data:
Remember, pay heed to your needs instead of your wants!
If margarine is not your thing, butter could be a healthy option too, according to a research in 2014. So who wins in a fight between butter vs margarine?
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