I was recently asked again about margarine, butter and cooking oils, and given this topic seems to cause a lot of confusion for many people I thought I would cover it again.
The confusion around this topic is completely understandable given that so many people have different opinions - and to further this confusion, many of these opinions are probably pretty well rationalized depending on the perspective taken.
For instance, I previously have posted about Butter Vs Margarine and upset quite a few people by saying that Margarine was a better option than butter, but of course this conclusion was from the perspective of promoting heart health and did not take into consideration other perspectives or rationales. (Although my overall recommendation for heart health was to choose neither, but this point was missed by many who condemned my post).
From the perspective of having a “natural” or “whole food” diet, butter might of course seem a better choice. In this instance, heart health is probably not a direct concern or consideration and this is fair enough given that presumably, you are eating plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains and not eating Big Macs or other processed foods which tend to contribute to poor heart health outcomes. In this instance, you probably have ‘room’ in your diet for the saturated fat that comes from butter. This perspective and rational of course shouldn’t be interpreted as a ‘free-for-all’ with butter because of course, your diet still needs to be balanced in terms of nutrients and overall energy intake.
Similarly, from the perspective of a vegan, butter would obviously not be a suitable choice and although I have previously ranted that coconut oil is not “healthy” (and simply adding coconut oil to something doesn’t make it “healthy” - but of course, nor does it make it "un-healthy"), for a vegan with little other saturated fats in the diet (being that these largely come from animal products), coconut oil could most definitely be enjoyed within a “healthy,” balanced diet. The thing to remember however, that even for a vegan with very little other sources of saturated fat, the daily recommended intake of saturated fat for many people could quiet easily be achieved with only 1- 2 tablespoons of this oil.
Now argue with me as you like, but even IF the saturated fat in coconut oil was “healthy” (because its medium chain blah blah blah), consuming tablespoons of this oil daily (as people do for dozens of crazy reasons) is still going to put your diet out of balance. That is, and I don’t think anyone is arguing, we do need to consume a mixture of fats, proteins and carbohydrates each day for energy. These macronutrients preferably come in the form of food, which is fantastic as food, particularly whole, unprocessed foods, also offer a host of micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, phytochemicals etc) which are needed for bodily function and good health.
Now the exact balance of macronutrients may be more debatable, but let’s just say for argument sake that the ideal intake of fat is 30% of daily energy requirements, with 10% of this fat made up of polyunsaturated fats, 10% made up of monounsaturated fat and 10% made up of saturated fat (as is pretty much the standard recommendation and obviously well balanced). Consuming saturated fat above the 10% recommended intake could have a few potential outcomes:
1) other sources of fat, which have different metabolic roles, are displaced and given that these fat are ideally coming from whole foods, also means that other micronutrients could also be displaced;
2) More that 30% of daily energy intake will come from fat, which similarly suggests that other macronutrients that also contribute other micronutrients will be displaced; Or
3) Daily energy requirements are simply exceeded, which results in weight gain (see here how I didn’t say eating too much fat or carbohydrate makes you fat, but simply eating more than you need)
So as you can see, it really all is a matter of balance.
So back to the original issue of butter, margarine or other cooking oil, the answer really is whatever best suits your dietary perspective provided that it is in moderation and in balance. Sounds a bit of a crock I know, but food, nutrition and eating really is far more than simply looking at the nutrient composition of food. We all have our own set of beliefs, values and ideologies which guide and dictate the dietary choices we make and these should be respected and embraced.
Overall, “added fat,” that isn’t found naturally within foods (possible with the exception of omega 3) should be kept to a minimum because, as I have said, the fabulous thing about whole, unprocessed foods, is that they come with a bunch of other micronutrients needed for bodily function and health.
But keep in mind this is just another opinion and we all know what they say about those…
At The Kids Menu, Nikki is our resident Blogger. She is a mum of 3, a Nutritionist, Adult Educator and a Personal Trainer.
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