5 Healthiest Margarine/Spreads

Remember when all you needed to decide was whether to buy butter or margarine and then it was stick or tub. Now the decisions in this category are mind boggling. There are margarines and butters filled with functional ingredients such as omega-3s, plant sterols, calcium, and vitamin D. And now that all margarines say “0 gram Trans fats”, the question is are they hiding the Trans fats below the 0.5 gram limit with partially hydrogenated oils or have they substituted saturted fats for Trans fats. Or they may brag about their healthy oils–canola, olive, or flaxseed–though it may be too little to matter. In addition, the distinction between butter and margarine is muddled with butters that contain added canola, olive, or flaxseed oils and margarines that include buttermilk and yogurt as ingredients.

Here are the SUPERMARKET SAVVY Picks for the healthiest margarines and/or spreads. Our basic criteria is that they contain no more than 1.5 gram of saturated fat and do not list partially hydrogenated oils as an ingredient.

Promise Activ Light and Smart Balance Heart Right Light contain plant sterols or phytosterols that have been shown in clinical studies to help reduce cholesterol by about 10%. The FDA has approved the following claim for phytosterols: “Foods containing at least 0.4 gram per serving of lant sterols, eaten twice a day with meals for a daily total intake of at least 0.8 gram as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease.” Promise Activ has 1 gram plant sterols in a tablespoon. If you choose to use a margarine with plant sterols to lower cholesterol, remember that it works by inhibiting the absorptionof cholesterol and needs to be eaten several times a day every day. The ‘Light’ version has 3 gram less fat and 35 less calories.

Don’t take t for granted that spreads that claim they are made with healthy oils such as  canola, olive or flaxseed are healthy. Check the ingredient list to see where the oil is listed. It should be the first ingredient. Also check the saturated fat content and keep it under 1.5 grams. Canola Harvest Margarine has only 1 gram of saturated fat and ‘canola’ is the first word on the ingredient statement.

Calcium and Vitamin D are 2 nutrients that you may need to supplement if you can’t eat enough natural sources. The calcium in spreads is usually 10% Daily Value but the vitamin D can range from 20% to 50% Daily Value. This is based on the current recommendation of 400 IU, which is 80 IU to 200 IU. Keep in mind that current research is showing a need of 1200 to 2000 IU per day. One positive of getting vitamin D in margarine is that fat is needed for vitamin D to be absorbed. Shedd’s Spread Coutry Crock Calcium + Vitamin D contains 10% DV calcium and 20% DV vitamin D.
Sprays are a great way to get the taste of margarine or butter with just a few calories. But, even sprays are made with 100% fat so overdoing on the spray can be costly. The serving size for a spray is 1/4 second–not much! Also, some sprays contain partially hydrogenated oils like PAM Professional. The other PAM sprays do not contain partially hydrogenated oils and are made with canola oil. You can make your own sprays by filling a spray bottle with olive or canola oil.
For more information on healthy margarine/butter/spreads including a 1-page comparison chart and a tip sheet, check out the February 2011 issue of SUPERMARKET SAVVY Newsletter. You can purchase individual issues, subscribe, or become a member of our Information & Resource Service for health professionals.

3 Responses to “5 Healthiest Margarine/Spreads”

  1. g. callfas  on September 12th, 2012

    we are allergic to canola. What healthy heart margarine alternatives do you suggest?

  2. marybbell  on January 23rd, 2013

    I can no longer find grocery store margarine in tubs. Land of lake has one but it does not tastse the same as A&P, Stop and Shoppe or shoperite. I have NOt been able to find theses since Thanksgiving. Are they labeled differently? I did try a spread but again this does not taste the same.

  3. Jason  on September 1st, 2013

    Аωesome article.

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