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Healthier Alternatives to Butter

Posted - Dec. 22, 2004 at 9:56 a.m.



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Dr. Kim Mulvihill reportingWhat doesn't go better with butter? Well, some cardiologists might say your heart. So food manufacturers have come up with what they say is a healthier alternative.

Dr. Kim Mulvihill puts these spreads to a taste test.

When it comes to fat, there's the good, like olive oil, the bad, butter, and the ugly-- margarine.

Who doesn't like to spread rich butter on a crusty piece of bread? But let's face the fats, whether it's monounsaturated vegetable shortening or omega three fatty acids, fats are everywhere in our food. But they are terribly misunderstood.

Dr. Paul Hopkins specializes in preventive cardiology and knows the skinny on fats.

Paul Hopkins, M.D./ Preventive Cardiologist: "Trans fats are bad. They reise cholesterol just like saturated fat. But they also lower the good cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, which is something that saturated fats don't."

In fact, it's estimated gram for gram trans fats are twice as harmful as saturated fat, what's found in animal products like butter.

Even so, Dr. Hopkins says butter is probably worse, raising cholesterol more and causing greater harm in the long run.

Paul Hopkins: "It just is not true that a good quality margarine is worse than butter just because it has a little bit of trans fatty acids."

You see: the makers of margarines are getting better at avoiding trans fats. Dr. Hopkins cites a large French study where people with heart disease were given a new product to replace butter, with astounding results.

Dr. Hopkins: "It was a canola oil based margarine and they could use canola oil or olive oil. They were supposed to get rid of butter and cream out of their diet. After several years they had nearly a 70% drop in heart attacks."

New margarines that double as medicine are also on store shelves, with plant sterols or stanols that actually block the absorption of cholesterol.

Dr. Hopkins: "They've been shown to lower cholesterol as much as 15%, but to get that kind of reduction you have to be eating about three tablespoons a day."

But how do these new products stack up to the discerning palates of diners in San Francisco's north beach? We asked some patrons of Caffe Greco to do an informal taste test.

First on the list - smart balance omega plus.

"Close to butter, I can't really say it's butter. But close to butter."

"Tastes like margarine spread."

Then the canola harvest.

"It tastes more like butter, but I am wondering if it's the color and the salt that actually make me feel that way. I would say it is almost too much salt for me. This one tastes more like a light butter spread."

Finally Benecol.

"Actually, that's not bad." "I don't like this one as much for sure." "This one has less salt in it, closer to a whipped butter."

While their taste buds differed, our volunteers all agreed they might one day buy one.

"Sometimes I figure if I'm getting butter I'll use it in moderation and get the butter. But if I have cholesterol problems or any other problem, I would choose the healthier option."

Not all these products work well in cooking or frying. Nutritionists still recommend whenever possible that instead of butter, margarine or other spreads, that you substitute olive or canola oil.

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