Health & Nutrition

Health & Nutrition

Butter vs. Margarine - which is better for me?

Leading health authorities have told us over the years that we are consuming too much of the unhealthier, saturated fats in our diets. Saturated fats raise your LDLs ('bad' cholesterol) levels increasing your risk of cardiovascular disease.

According to the Heart Foundation, replacing butter with a spread (which has healthier poly-unsaturated and mono-unsaturated fats) is an easy way to lower your intake of saturated fat, and lower your risk of cardiovascular disease.

The Food Standards Code defines 'margarine' as a spread that contains at least 80% saturated fat. Over the years, manufacturers have worked to lower the fat content in margarine, so that today, with the exception of cooking margarine, most table margarines have less than 80% fat. Therefore, the more accurate term for most of the margarines sold in supermarkets is 'spread'.

Healthy eating includes replacing unhealthier, saturated fats found in foods such as full fat dairy and butter, with healthier unsaturated fats, which are found in margarine spreads and oils, and choosing reduced or no fat dairy.

So, what's the problem with butter?

Butter is around 50% saturated fat while a spread has a maximum of only 20% saturated fat, making it a much healthier choice. Used daily in place of butter, margarine spreads help us to maintain a healthy cardiovascular system.

But surely it's ok to give butter to my kids - they don't have cholesterol issues and it's more natural!

According to The Australian National Children's Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey 2007, children are currently consuming twice the recommended maximum levels of saturated fat. The dietary habits established in childhood are often set for life. You can set your children on a healthier eating habit from an early age by making margarine spreads a part of their regular healthy diet.

Isn't margarine full of deadly trans fats?

Not in Australia. The Heart Foundation began challenging Australian manufacturers to remove trans fats, saturated fats and sodium to the lowest possible levels many years ago.

As a result, the margarine spreads in Australia are now virtually free of any trans fats, and cannot be compared to those available in other countries, especially not the US.

This is a taste issue - I just don't like margarine and I really love butter.

Just because butter comes straight from nature, does not make it healthier. If health is important to you and you make the switch, your tastes will adjust in time - it's really a question of where your priorities lie.

Which oils are 'better for me'?

All vegetable oils contain a combination of saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids. The predominant fatty acid in an oil or fat determines how it is classified. With the exception of coconut and palm oil, most vegetable oils are low in saturated ('bad') fats.

It is important to enjoy a variety of different oils to ensure a healthy balance of the different types of fats in the diet.

Oils high in monounsaturated fat ('good fats') include olive, canola, and peanut oil. These oils are considered heart-healthy oils. Studies have shown that monounsaturated fat lowers LDL ('bad') cholesterol levels without lowering HDL ('good') cholesterol levels.

Oils high in polyunsaturated fat ('good fats') include sunflower, soybean and sesame oils. They contain some fatty acids that our bodies cannot produce and thus are an essential part of our diet.

How do I choose the right oil for my cooking occasion?

The particular oil used in a dish can be as crucial to its flavour as the spices the dish contains. An otherwise bland meal can be made exceptional with the appropriate oils. Flavour and stability are the key factors to consider in matching oils with dishes.

Vegetable Oils


High in mono-unsaturated fats with a good dose of Omega 3, canola oil is nutritionally an all-rounder. Neutral tasting with a high smoke point, its heart protective qualities make it a good choice for medium to high-heat cooking, such as sauteing, stir-frying and baking.


Cottonseed oil contains polyunsaturated fats and has a light and neutral taste. It has an exceptional fry life which makes it perfect for heavy duty frying - and the choice for many cooks across the hospitality industry.


High in polyunsaturated fats and vitamin E, sunflower oil is also very versatile. With a mild flavour, this oil is best for salad dressings and for dishes that require shallow frying.

High- Oleic Sunflower

This style of sunflower oil can tolerate high cooking temperatures, making it an excellent multi-purpose oil. It can be used for deep-frying, stir-frying, baking as well as for cold applications such as salad dressings and marinades.


An essential ingredient in Mediterranean cuisine, virgin and extra-virgin olive oil have a pronounced flavour and greenish colour, although this varies from brand to brand and the style of olive oil.

High in mono-unsaturated fat, this is a favourite ingredient in many salad dressings and Mediterranean dishes.

Use extra-virgin to season already cooked foods, or for dipping bread. Virgin olive oil is excellent in Italian pasta sauces. 'Extra-light' is filtered and somewhat refined; making a more neutral tasting olive oil that is suitable for sauteing and stir-frying.

Vegetable Blends

Mixtures of several oils which vary depending on availability and market price. Depending on the mix, blended oils can often deliver multiple attributes including longer fry-life and health benefits; ideal for a variety of cooking needs.

Animal Fats


Tallow has a very long fry life and high smoke. It is excellent for heavy duty deep frying as it ensures your food always comes out crisp and golden. And it's great value for money!

What are Good Fats vs Bad Fats?

Are all fats bad for you?

Not all fats are bad! Small amounts of unsaturated fats are necessary for many body processes. Fat is a source of energy, it protect your organs, keeps you warm and helps your body absorb fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. These are needed by nerves, muscles and the protective membranes around all body cells.

However, some fats are better than others and having too much of any one type is not a good idea.

Groups of fats

Each group of fats behaves differently inside the body. Dietary fat can be classified into four groups:

  • Mono-unsaturated (unsaturated)
  • Polyunsaturated (unsaturated)
  • Saturated
  • Trans fats

Mono-unsaturated & Poly-unsaturated fats (Unsaturated) - 'Good Fats'

Unsaturated fats however, are considered 'good' - both mono-unsaturated and poly-unsaturated fats tend to lower 'bad' blood cholesterol (low density lipo-proteins - LDLs) when they replace saturated fats in the diet.

  • Monounsaturated fats are found in nutritious foods such as olive oil, canola oil, most nuts, avocados, lean meats and poultry.

Polyunsaturated fatty acids have a slightly greater impact than mono-unsaturated fatty acids.

  • Polyunsaturated fats include the essential Omega 3 and Omega 6 fats - which are very important to the structure of the brain, nerves and eyes. Omega 3s are found in seafood (such as salmon), linseeds, walnuts and green vegetables while Omega 6s are found in sunflower seeds, soy beans, corn, sunflower and grapeseed oils.

Saturated - 'Bad Fats'

Saturated fats contribute to the risk of heart disease by raising 'bad' blood cholesterol levels (LDLs). These fats are commonly found in many fast foods, in commercial products such as biscuits and pastries, and in dairy products.

It is important to replace saturated fats in your diet with either mono-unsaturated or poly-unsaturated fats whenever possible. For example, try to replace butter with margarine, olive or canola spreads/oils whenever possible.

Trans Fats - 'Bad Fats'

Trans fats are created by a process called hydrogenation, used to convert liquid oils into the solid fat needed to get the right consistency in a spread. Some trans fats are also formed during high temperature cooking. Like saturated fatty acids, trans fats raise total and 'bad' (LDL) cholesterol, but they also lower levels of our 'good' heart protective cholesterol (high density lipo-proteins - HDL), increasing the risk of heart disease.

The majority of spreads sold in Australia are virtually free of any trans fats, largely because advances in food technology have made it possible for manufacturers to produce spreads without depending so much on hydrogenation.

What is Cholesterol, and how do I control it?

Cholesterol is a fat-like compound that is part of all animal cells. It is essential for many of the body's metabolic processes, including hormone and bile production, and to help the body use vitamin D. However, there's no need to eat foods high in cholesterol. The body is very good at making its own cholesterol - you don't need to help it along.

There are two types of cholesterol. HDL is the 'good' cholesterol and LDL is the 'bad' cholesterol. Eating foods rich in saturated fats will increase the amount of LDL cholesterol in the body, which is a risk factor in cardiovascular heart disease.

Two important ways of transporting cholesterol

It is carried around the body by two key transport systems in the blood:

  • Low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol - carries most of the cholesterol that is delivered to cells. It is called the 'bad' cholesterol when its level in the bloodstream is high because then it can clog up your arteries.
  • High density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol - is called the 'good' cholesterol because it helps remove excess cholesterol out of the cells, including cells in the arteries.

Foods that can increase cholesterol

A high intake of saturated fat (in butter, lard, fatty meat, pies and pastries) can increase the amount of cholesterol produced in the liver, raising blood cholesterol levels.

Foods that lower cholesterol

There are foods that can naturally help lower cholesterol, such as polyunsaturated oil (for example, sunflower oil) and oats and legumes.

Another effective way to reduce cholesterol via diet is to consume plant sterols. Plant sterols are natural compounds found in everyday foods like vegetable oils, nuts, and seeds, fruit and vegetables. However, they naturally occur in quantities too small to lower cholesterol levels. One of the most effective dietary changes for lowering LDL-cholesterol levels1 is to add plant sterols2.

Studies show that consuming 2 to 2.5g* of plant sterols can lower LDL-cholesterol by up to 15% when combined with moving to a healthy diet and lifestyle.

For instance, the Tablelands Reduce Cholesterol spread has added plant sterols which work on actively reducing your cholesterol.

Recommended amount :

  • 2 to 2.5g of plant sterols a day is the optimum amount for cholesterol lowering.
  • You can get this amount from 25g of the Tablelands R/Cholesterol Spread daily.

Plant sterols can significantly lower cholesterol.

European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) independently reviewed the evidence for sterols/stanols and agreed that consumption of sterols significantly reduces LDL cholesterol.4-5 Over 190 studies have proven that plant sterols and plant stanols significantly lower cholesterol.

  1. Scientific Opinion of the Panel on Dietetic Products Nutrition and Allergies on a request from Unilever PLC/NV on Plant Sterols and lower/reduced blood cholesterol reduced the risk of (coronary) heart disease. The EFSA Journal (2008) 781, 1-12
  2. Scientific Opinion of the Panel on Dietetic Products Nutrition and Allergies on a request from the European Commission and a similar request from France in relation to the authorisation procedure for health claims on plant sterols/stanols and lowering/reducing blood LDL-cholesterol pursuant to Article 14 of Regulation (EC) No 1924/2006. The EFSA Journal (2009) 1175, 1-9