AMERICANS are switching back to butter from margarine, based on record butter sales in 2013 that topped $2 billion, a 65% increase since 2000.
The American Butter Institute reported per capita butter consumption at a 40-year high of 5.6 lb.
The shift away from margarine is a result of consumers wanting to eat fewer processed foods, according to Anuja Miner, executive director of the American Butter Institute.
In simple terms, the label on butter contains one or two ingredients at most (if salt is added), while margarine's labels are quite a bit more complex.
On the whole, butter and margarine both contain fat and, hence, should be consumed in moderation. However, the difference between the two comes down to the type of fat each contains.
Butter, which is often the choice of most bakers, is made of milk and/or cream. It contains at least 80% milk fat, and it takes about 11 quarts of milk to make 1 lb. of butter.
Butter is an all-natural fat that contains saturated fat, which some health experts claim can raise cholesterol levels.
Consumers had originally switched from butter to margarine because, at one time, margarine was viewed as a lower-calorie alternative to butter and doctors warned against eating a diet high in saturated fats.
Looking at the nutritional composition, butter contains approximately 0.2% cholesterol. One teaspoon of butter contains 4 g of total fat, with 2.5 g of saturated fat.
On the other hand, margarine is made from a single oil or a blend of oils, including animal and vegetable fats. Depending on how margarine is processed, it may contain trans fats.
Often, sticks of margarine contain the most trans fats or saturated fats in order to remain solid at room temperature. In general, tubs of soft spread margarine, which has a low oil content, are the lowest in saturated fat content, and some are free of trans fats.
However, even if the label claims that the product is trans-fat free, if it was processed from partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs), it still contains some trans fat, according to the American Heart Assn.
Alternative forms of butter can offer consumers lower-calorie and lower-fat options. Whipped butter is made from adding air to butter, which cuts the calories and saturated fat in half. Light butter, like whipped butter, shrinks calories and fat by half.
Olive or canola oil is often added to spreadable butter, which will reduce saturated fat and cholesterol contents but will not cut overall calories or fat.
Low-fat or light margarines, like similar butter versions, are made with added water or other fillers to lower the amount of calories and fat.
So, in the great butter versus margarine debate, it comes down to saturated fat or trans fat.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture dietary guidelines currently recommend that a person consume less than 10% of calories from saturated fats, less than 300 mg of dietary cholesterol and as few trans fats as possible each day.
Since the body makes enough of its own saturated fat for healthy living, it is not necessary to depend on dietary intake. The common theory is that high saturated fat intake can raise total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, or "bad" cholesterol.
In a recent cohort study conducted by Dr. Aseem Malhotra, an interventional cardiology specialist from Croydon University Hospital in London, England, he found that research results do not support the popular theory that saturated fat intake is associated with cardiovascular risk.
In addition, Malhotra, in his research, stated that the association is dependent on the type of food from which the saturated fat came.
Dairy products, which contain saturated fats, also contain other nutrients that can help lower the risk of cardiovascular disease. For example, calcium and phosphorus have blood pressure-lowering effects, and a lack of vitamin D has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease. Dairy products such as butter contain calcium, phosphorus and vitamin D.
Malhotra told BBC, "In fact, research in Harvard reviewed 21 studies involving about 350,000 people over 20 years, (and) they concluded that there is no convincing evidence that links saturated fats with heart disease."
Furthermore, Malhotra said butter is better than processed low-fat spreads.
LDL cholesterol is composed of large and small subparticles. The large particles, which are raised from saturated fats, are not harmful to the arteries and heart. In contrast, the small subparticles, which are influenced by carbohydrates and sugar, are more harmful, Malhotra explained.
For years, low-fat foods have been promoted for a healthy diet, yet many of those foods are high in sugar.
Trans fats are found naturally in some foods but mostly are artificial, formed during processing food. Often, food manufacturers add hydrogen to vegetable oil to form PHOs. PHOs are used to improve the texture, shelf-life and flavor stability of foods.
Research has shown that trans fats increase LDL cholesterol. A 2002 study by the National Academy of Science's Institute of Medicine found trans fats to have a greater effect on the risk of heart disease than saturated fat.
As a result, as of January 2006, the Food & Drug Administration required all trans fats to be listed on nutritional labels. Most consumers reduced their purchases or stopped buying foods containing trans fat, which resulted in food manufacturers voluntarily reducing or eliminating it.
However, processed foods today, including shortenings and stick margarines, still contain PHOs. That's because under current government regulations, companies can use the claim "no trans fat" on the label if the food contains less than 0.5 g per serving.
Therefore, FDA announced on Nov. 8, 2013, that PHOs will no longer be acknowledged as "generally recognized as safe" for use in food (Feedstuffs, Nov. 18, 2013).
The FDA announcement may be one reason the consumption of butter versus margarine is on the rise, but the promotion from celebrity chefs and foodies does not hurt.
Historically, butter has been the preferred choice among bakers and chefs because it adds a rich flavor. In addition, individuals who are eliminating processed foods from their diet tout butter's all-natural qualities.
The record has shown that celebrity endorsement does have a strong influence on consumer choices, especially as more and more Americans tune into food-centric television shows.