Friday, March 11, 2011

Not Your Mother's Margarine


Today's Buttery Spread: Selection and Usage Not Your Mother's Margarine

Today's buttery spread case is full of more varieties than a typical ice cream parlor -- stick margarine, low-fat, squeeze, tub, 60 percent oil, etc. What will work best in a recipe calling for stick margarine or a soft margarine spread, or a favorite recipe ripe for conversion?

There is a whole new generation of margarine products on the market today designed to help consumers reduce fat and cholesterol in their diets. Like the traditional stick margarine consumers have used for decades, these products are vegetable oil-based, contain no cholesterol and have considerably less saturated fat than butter. And buttery spreads (soft margarine spreads) can be an important part of a low cholesterol diet.

It’s never too early and never too late to start eating healthy. Over time even small choices like the substitution of soft margarine spreads (“buttery spreads”) for butter can make a significant difference in overall health. In fact, soft margarine spreads have been proven to significantly reduce bad (LDL) cholesterol when used in place of butter, as part of a diet that is low in cholesterol and saturated fat. Reductions in total and LDL cholesterol levels can result in dramatic improvements in heart-health over one's lifetime by reducing the risk of heart disease.

The risk of heart disease can be significantly reduced by adapting a heart-healthy lifestyle that includes maintaining a healthy weight and eating a balanced diet which is low in total cholesterol and saturated fat. Choosing soft margarine spreads in place of butter can have a major impact: A typical buttery spread has no cholesterol, 0 grams of trans fat and less than 2 grams of saturated fat per serving. In contrast, butter has 7 grams saturated fat and 30 milligrams of cholesterol per serving. In fact, a simple substitution such as using a soft margarine spread instead of butter over a week's time can cut an entire day's worth of saturated fat.

Buttery spreads – the soft (“tub”), squeeze and spray varieties – meet the recommendations of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The Food and Drug Administration and the federal government’s National Cholesterol Education Program as well as the American Heart Association all recommend choosing soft margarine spreads (buttery spreads) over butter.

Today’s healthful buttery spreads are not traditional margarines (not your mother’s margarine). In fact, most of what’s sold in the supermarket today is not traditional stick margarine -- it's a buttery spread (soft margarine spread). Buttery spreads are made from nutritious, natural vegetable oils; butter is made from animal fat.

Buttery spreads are used primarily for spreading on various breads (65%) and as a topping on a variety of foods (10%). However, 25 percent are used by consumers for cooking and baking. When cooking or baking with margarine products, consumers should understand that product oil levels vary and can often affect recipe results. To select the right stick margarine or buttery spread for various uses, it is important to understand the differences between them. The following descriptions should help.


With no other descriptors in the name (such as "light") must meet government guidelines ("standard of identity") for minimum fat content (80%). The same is true for butter. Unlike the products mentioned below, the percentage of oil is not found on margarine or butter packages because the standard of identity does not require it (similar to whole milk which does not show the percentage of fat on the container). One can tell if the product is traditional stick margarine by checking the Nutrition Facts: a one tablespoon serving will have 100 calories.

Stick margarine can be used in all recipes where "margarine" or butter is specified. The results will meet expectations, especially where baking is concerned. However, if margarine is labeled "light", "lower fat", "reduced fat", "reduced calorie/diet" or "fat-free", see the guidelines below before cooking and baking.

Vegetable Oil Spreads

Products that contain less than the 80 percent oil mandated by the government for margarine. The front of the package will often state the percentage of oil in the product (e.g., 70% vegetable oil spread).

Modified Margarines (now known as Buttery Spreads)

The result of recently implemented nutrition labeling regulations. These products can be called "margarine", but this identification must be preceded by one of the Food and Drug Administration's approved nutrient content claims. To qualify, the product must meet certain criteria:

Reduced-fat or reduced-calorie/diet margarine -- will contain no more than 60 percent oil (25% reduction in fat and calories)
Light/lower fat margarine -- will contain no more than 40 percent oil (50% or more reduction in fat)
Fat-free margarine -- virtually fat-free, will contain less than 1/2 gram of fat per serving
Regular/traditional margarine can be used in all recipes where margarine or butter is specified. The results will meet expectations, especially where baking is concerned. However, if margarine is labeled light, low-fat, reduced-fat or fat-free, or is called a vegetable oil spread, these guidelines should be followed for cooking and baking. You will want to check out the front of the package, which will often state the percentage of oil in the product (e.g., 70% vegetable oil spread, 26% corn oil). If a product is regular/traditional margarine, it will have 100 calories per tablespoon, and according to the government's standard of identity, the percentage of oil in regular margarine - 80% -- need not be listed on the package.

Using Traditional Margarine or Buttery Spreads in Recipes

The following guidelines should be helpful when selecting a margarine product for use in a favorite recipe. Keep in mind, however, that many recipes now available (especially on product packages) are designed for use with these lower oil buttery spreads (soft margarine spreads).

60 percent or more oil products can be used almost anywhere butter or "margarine" is specified. However, buttery spreads (e.g., reduced-fat, light) should not be used for baked goods that require precise amounts of fat and moisture, such as pastry crusts and spritz cookies (unless a recipe has been developed specifically for a particular buttery spread).
50-59 percent oil products also work well for most cooking, such as the preparation of side dishes and sautéing, in addition to topping and spreading.
49 percent or less oil products should be used only for spreading, topping and adding flavor to recipes that already contain a significant amount of moisture (e.g., macaroni and cheese). They are not designed for baking and frying.
Keep in mind this "rule of thumb" when selecting a margarine or buttery spread for cooking or baking:

The higher the oil content, the more fat there is in the product. While fat does add calories, it contributes texture and browning properties to foods.

The lower the oil content, the less fat there is in the product. This is critical to know when sautéing or baking, since products with the lower amount of fat do not perform in the same way as traditional stick margarine.

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