Butter Is Still Better

September 6, 2010 by  
Filed under featured, Food & Nutrition, Health

If there is anything better than butter in a baked potato or on a scone that I haven’t yet come across it, but I know that the margarine industry has spent a lot of time and money in persuading as that it is bad for our health. As I keep on saying (or nagging, if you prefer) there is nothing wrong with butter it’s all about the quantity you are using and if you want a healthy heart then switching to the new range of margarines that have been enriched with omega-3 fatty acids will not make a difference — in fact could make it worse.

A study carried out by Wageningen University in the Netherlands over a three-year period showed that using such margarines did not prevent second heart attacks in older men and women at risk for worsening heart disease. The initial results appeared to show that switching to such margarines did initially reduce cardiac events, but by 30 months the evidence of that benefit had disappeared, said Daan Kromhout, MPH, PhD, the lead researcher. He reported their results at the recent European Society of Cardiology meeting and their findings were simultaneously published online by the New England Journal of Medicine.

These findings have surprised some cardiologists as most of the data on omega-3 fatty acids come from epidemiologic studies and those were positive. Alfred Bove, MD, of Temple University in Philadelphia has likened the situation to hormone therapy, which had been widely recommended to reduce cardiovascular risk in postmenopausal women based on data from epidemiologic studies. Subsequent evidence however showed that HRT can be a major risk factor for heart attacks in women are relying solely on research — in whatever field — is never a good idea.

The margarines used in the trial were supplied by Unilever, and included the well-known “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter,” which I have to confess I have no trouble believing as I can see no resemblance in taste at all. This research should not be used to downplay the role of Omega 3 in the prevention and treatment of not only heart disease but also Type 2 Diabetes and depression, because it is clearly an important element in our diet. However this definitely indicates that margarine is not the vehicle to introduce it to your diet. Better sources include oily fish such as salmon and Flax seeds and walnuts.

Butter or Margarine – Do You Really Know Which is Healthier?

July 26, 2010 by  
Filed under Health

With over 30 years of health writing behind me, I have never wavered in my allegiance to butter. Certainly on taste grounds, but also in terms of health because a little butter for me is far preferable to a lot of other substances. We need a certain amount of fat in our diet to help our body absorb fat soluble vitamins and butter helps with this as well as increasing the absorption of many other nutrients from our food.

Is margarine better than butter is a question that I am frequently asked, and I know there are a lot of other butter lovers out there, so let me help you decide if you are really having the healthiest option.

The main reason that most people abandon butter is because of its high levels of saturated fat and certainly margarine is lower in saturated fat, but not by a massive amount. Further, it carries its own hazards mainly because its high levels of trans fats pack a double whammy for heart disease by raising levels of LDL (bad cholesterol) and lowering levels of HDL (good cholesterol). A recent Harvard Medical Study found that over eating margarine can increase heart disease in women by 53% compared to the same amount of butter.

Despite extensive advertising, again according to Harvard Medical School, there never was any good evidence that using margarine instead of butter cut the chances of having a heart attack or developing heart disease. So the switch to margarine became a move to a product that offered just as much danger but without the benefit of tasting good. The good news is, if you have already switched and happy with the taste, that some of the newer margarines are low in saturated fat, high in unsaturated fat, and free of trans fats so they are fine as long as you don’t use too much as they are still rich in calories.

If you want to have a healthy heart, then avoid margarine and use butter sparingly. Personally, I have adopted the French habit of not using butter at all on bread if I am adding something to it like cheese or honey, and reserving it for essentials like baked potatoes and crumpets where the taste makes a real difference.

There are however a couple of healthy options that you might want to add to your diet to supplement butter and these are olive oil and other vegetable oil–based spreads, which contain beneficial mono- and polyunsaturated fats. Again, our continental neighbours — this time in Italy — have a good habit of dipping their bread in olive oil rather than buttering it and that has definite healthy heart benefits.

As I am tirelessly fond of saying, ‘a little of what you fancy does you good’ so if butter falls into that category you can eat it with a clear conscience — just don’t overdo it.

Why Butter Is Best

April 6, 2010 by  
Filed under Food & Nutrition


I have bored people frequently by going on about why they should eat butter, the natural product, and not margarine which is a fascinating compound of colours and chemicals. Now the Kiwis are backing me up with a new piece of research from the University of Auckland.

Margarine can affect your intelligence, and it starts early as children who ate margarine every day had significantly lower IQ scores by the age of three-and-a-half than those who did not. Even more interestingly, those children who were underweight at birth had scores that were even lower by the time they were seven. The problem here is that the vegetable oils used in most margarine are hydrogenated to make them solid which is what turns them into the dangerously unhealthy trans-fatty acids.

If they can affect children in this way you can be sure that adults are affected just as badly, particularly when it comes to heart disease. This is because of the way that trans fats can raise LDL – the bad cholesterol – and lower HDL -the good cholesterol (HDL) and have been linked to inflammation, which is one of the major causes of heart disease.

If heart disease is a concern, then another piece of research to encourage you off margarine – particularly for men – comes from the respected Framingham Heart Study carried out in the US. Over a 20 year period they tracked and recorded the number of heart attacks and found that as margarine consumption increased, heart attacks went up. As butter consumption increased, heart attacks declined.

In the latter part of the study, over the final ten years they found that the group eating the most margarine had 77% more heart attacks than the group eating none.

Why is butter better? It contains short- and medium-chain fatty acids, which are easily converted to energy so that the fat in butter is less likely to be stored as fat in your body. It contains heart healthy vitamins A and E (in fact it has more vitamin A than carrots) and the essential mineral selenium, all of which protect your heart from free radical damage. Oh, and it tastes much better too.

Mediteranean diet reduces kids asthma risk by 78%

November 6, 2008 by  
Filed under Childrens Health, Diets, Food & Nutrition

With 1 in 11 children currently receiving treatment for asthma it is now a very common condition – but that doesn’t make it any the less worrying. We have dealt with asthma before, but some news in this week might help make life easier for some of those children, and their parents. For those who are unsure about asthma in young children, the symptoms to look out for are:

* A cough at night
* A cold that doesn’t go away
* A whistling sound when breathing out

That last symptom is particularly relevant in the UK as we apparently have the highest prevalence of severe wheeze in children aged 13-14 years than anywhere else in the world.

Now the medical journal Allergy is suggesting a way parents can be more in control of the condition through some simple dietary changes. I have talked about the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet for heart health in adults, but now it seems it could also relieve asthma symptoms in children. In Crete, where the Mediterranean diet is the norm, an estimated 80% of the children there eat fresh fruit at least twice a day and almost that same number also have fresh vegetables twice daily as well. (Sadly the research doesn’t tell us how they get them to eat so much without a fistfight) So why is it important? Well very few children in Crete have asthma or hay fever and the researchers from the University of Porto in Portugal concluded that their best asthma-fighting foods were oranges, apples, tomatoes and grapes.

Adults on the same type of diet, who had asthma, were found to have fewer attacks and flare-ups. However, if they also included nuts in their diet at least three times a week then that produced less wheezing. A likely explanation for this is that nuts contain a lot of magnesium which helps boost your lung power.

AVOID THIS: There was however one substance that the researchers found that would double the risk of children getting asthma and allergic rhinitis – margarine. This finding confirms what an Australian study found over 7 years ago when they first warned that the polyunsaturated fats found in many margarines can double a child’s chances of having asthma.

If you want more information, please visit www.asthma.org.uk