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: Prawns


Prawns add flavour and health at any time of year, these easy to cook little crustaceans make a perfect addition to many recipes.


AXA Health:
Tips to delay dementia and boost your brain power

Older woman struggling to recall a memory

According to Alzheimer’s Research UK, there are over 850,000 people with dementia in the UK, with that figure set to rise to 2 million by 2051.


White wine might also have health benefits

Glasses of wine

There have been some interesting reports in recent media about the health benefits of white wine and how white as well as red can provide good levels of antioxidants and other benefits.


Gene therapy – The future of our health

Gene therapy

Gene therapy is hugely exciting. Whether it will fulfil its promise and in future years produce terrific treatments for many health problems we don’t know but at the moment, although still in its early stages, the results are very encouraging.


Back to LaterLife Health Section

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


Advertise on