Who Wins The Fat War: Butter or Margarine?

Every now and then a new research paper comes along and exposes the fault lines between conventional and holistic thinking on what is good for you.

A couple of weeks ago, the American Heart Association (AHA) released a report titled “Dietary Fats and Cardiovascular Disease” which championed the view that saturated fats like butter and coconut oil were, in fact, bad for you. The card carrying members of the Dieticians Association of Australia reading this news over their morning bowl of oat bran and skim milk didn’t bat an eyelid but the paleo loving hipsters however, were spitting out their bullet proof coffees in disgust.

So who’s side are you on?

It comes down to whether you spread margarine or butter on your toast. Margarine, for me, always conjures up images of 1980’s Peter Russell-Clarke and his parody of a bionic cow, imploring us to eat the real thing.

You might imagine that as we get a better understanding of the importance of replacing processed foods with whole foods that margarine would be tossed on the scrap heap of failed food fads. Not so, as any trip to the supermarket will attest. Manufacturers of processed foods are massive corporations who will naturally protect their commercial interests and there are many who pointedly suggest the AHA is beholden to the “big food” lobbyists.

Each side of the debate accuses the other of cherry picking the data to suit their own arguments so if you’re hoping for a consensus you could be waiting a long time.

For me, I would rather consume quality unprocessed fats, including saturated fats like butter and coconut oil as part of a nutrient rich diet rather than think I can eat refined fats like margarine with impunity. I’m also a sucker for the flavour of butter so my tastebuds probably have more sway that I’d like to admit.

Concerns about saturated fat are founded on the belief the prevailing belief that they are a key contributor to high cholesterol and heart disease, however there is a counter argument that diets high in sugar and refined foods are to blame. Whatever you choose to believe, keep an eye on your cholesterol and if you have any concerns see a healthcare professional of your choice.

Wes Smith is Live Well's Director and has 20 years experience as a practitioner and wellness educator. He has a special interest in working with chronic immune issues, stressanxiety and depression

Wes is passionate about inspiring and educating people to create and sustain their vitality and wellbeing so they can live life to the full.

Wes also enjoys teaching meditation and is the creator of meditatewithwes.com an online resource for learning how to meditate. es has a B.App.Sc.(Acup), Diploma of Herbal Medicine, a Yoga Teaching Diploma and is an APHRA registered acupuncturist. Learn more about acupunctureherbal medicine and meditation.

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New Thinking on Fats

Have you noticed how some foods, which have in the past, been considered ‘bad’ are now seen as healthy? One of the most noticeable rethinks of recent times has been our attitude to fats.

Remember the traditional food pyramid with fats sitting up the ‘eat sparingly’ end with only sugar for company. There is now more appreciation of the essential role fats play in a balanced diet and a revised attitude to some foods that were once considered unhealthy. A full discussion of fats is a big topic, however for now you would do well to include these foods in your diet:

Butter: you may remember a time when we were being encouraged to ditch butter for margarine because of its low cholesterol properties. Now we have come full circle and margarine is on the outer. Margarine like many highly processed foods is high in trans-fats which are linked to weight gain, systematic inflammation and circulatory problems. (Look out for partially hydrogenated oil on any food label to indicate trans-fats).

Butter is nutritionally vastly superior, since it's naturally rich in healthy fatty acids, healthy cholesterol, trace minerals and vitamin A.  

Nuts: nuts assist in lowering bad cholesterol, protect against heart disease and improve blood vessel function. A number of studies suggest that eating 30g of nuts at least 5 times a week can reduce heart disease risk by 30-50%. This may be because nuts contain natural plant sterols, antioxidants that help keep our arteries in top notch and are a rich source of omega 3 essential fatty acids, vitamin E and protein. Make sure the nuts you source are fresh and stay fresh and avoid nuts roasted in oil.


Eggs: especially when organic and free range are now considered a nutritional power pack that can for most people be eaten every day. As well as an excellent source of protein eggs are high in Vitamins, A, D, B12, B2 niacin and folate. Plus carotenoids for eye health and choline for cell structure and function.

So you can see fats really do belong in a healthy diet, especially when they are from quality natural sources.

For more advice on a healthy diet, talk to Shanna Choudhary, our naturopath and resident expert on all things realting to nutition and optimum wellbeing.