Click here to print this page

Planning Retirement Online

The fat is back in the fire…
The butter v margarine debate continues…..

Recently there have been reports that butter is not a problem and all this fuss about replacing it with margarine was nonsense.

The story was reported across the UK’s mainline media but now new evidence has been published which indicates this information was wrong.

The very respected Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health has just published details of research they have undertaken on the impact of butter and margarine and have unequivocally come out in favour of replacing butter with unsaturated fats such as margarine.

As always, Laterlife has tried to find out more, such as whether the latest research was sponsored by a margarine company etc; but the researchers at Harvard appear to have conducted the study as an independent scientific project.

Their research included nearly 85,000 women and nearly 43,000 men who appeared healthy and clear of diabetes, cardiovascular disease or cancer. They also studied around 7,700 people who had coronary heart disease.

These participants were questioned about their diet, their medical history and a range of other lifestyle areas every two to four years for an incredible 24 to 30 years. The information included specific foods that had been consumed, which fats or oils had been used in the recipes or for frying, baking or cooking, and what fats or fat containing products where used with meals.

After finally collating and studying all this data, the researchers found that replacing saturated fats with polyunsaturated or monounsaturated fats was associated with a clear lower risk of coronary heart disease. Polyunsaturated fats gave the greatest benefit, indicating a 25% per cent lower risk while replacing saturated fats with monounsaturated fats gave a 15 per cent reduction.

One interesting aspect that was also touched on in the research was that when food manufacturers reduce fat, evidently they often replace it with carbohydrates from sugar, refine grains or other starches. The researchers said that if you cut back saturated fat and replace it with refined carbohydrates, then there is no benefit; it was this aspect that may have led to the misleading report earlier that indicated there was no added risk from eating butter and saturated fats.

To gain the benefit, you have to replace saturated fat with unsaturated fat and not from refined carbohydrates.

It does all get very complicated indeed, especially as fat is a very important part of a healthy diet.

So that latest thought now is that monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are the preferred fats. Foods high in these good fats include olive, canola, sunflower and soy vegetable oil, nuts, seeds and fish. Food with saturated fats include red meat, butter, cheese and ice-cream.

However, non of this is sacrosanct. A London based cardiologist disputes the findings from Harvard and says he advises his patients to choose butter over margarine because he still believes margarine is potentially harmful. This is because there is concern that not all polyunsaturated fats are good for the heart. Two years ago a British Medical Journal found there had been increased rates of death among men with heart disease who had replaced saturated fat with omega 6 polyunsaturated fatty acid which is found in corn, sunflower, safflower and soybean oils. The cardiologist’s advice was to include extra virgin olive oil and a handful of nuts in a daily diet to reduce the risk of heart disease but when necessary, choose butter over margarine.

It was all so much easier in our youth, when we took our doctor’s word as gospel and acted accordingly. Nowadays, there is so much information out there and when there is conflicting advice, all we can do is to read what we can and make our own decisions.

But longterm all the research will eventually clarify the situation and Laterlife will keep you informed on any new developments on the question of whether margarine really is so much better than butter.


Back to LaterLife Interest Index

Bookmark This Share on Facebook Receive more like this


Latest Articles:

Health food of the month: Goose

Picture of cooked goose

Turkey might still be the top favourite for that special Christmas meal, but there is also a growing trend to cook a goose instead.


AXA Health: Top 10 alternatives to brisk walking

Brisk walking is a great form of moderate aerobic exercise, but if it’s not for you, here are AXA's top 10 activities that will also give your heart a work out.


Can shopping be addictive?

Picture of woman carrying wrapped presents

For some of us, Christmas is an especially dangerous time. When we come home laden with parcels, someone might well joke we are shopaholics...but actually this is a medical condition that should not be treated lightly.


Visiting the doctor may not be the best idea this winter

Nurse giving old woman injection

Sometimes, when we feel we have a problem and take ourselves off to see our doctor or even the local A&E department, would we in fact have been better in treating the problem ourselves?


Back to LaterLife Health Section

Visit our Pre-retirement Courses section here on laterlife or our dedicated Retirement Courses site


Advertise on

LaterLife Travel Insurance in Association with Avanti