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Fats that are solid at room temperature are either saturated or partially hydrogenated. You should avoid both.

Butter is high in saturated fats, which you should avoid unless you are a competitive athlete or an active child burning huge amounts of calories. Many people believe that because margarines are made with vegetable oils they are more healthy than butter, but usually they are not. The vegetable oils are hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated to make them solid or creamy at room temperature.

Most brands of margarine on the market contain partially hydrogenated oils, the major source of the bad trans fats in North American diets. If the margarine is creamy or liquid, it probably contains less partially-hydrogenated oil than the stick or more solid margarines, but partially hydrogenated oils will still be on the list of ingredients.

Even the cholesterol-lowering margarines (such as Benecol and Take Control) can contain partially hydrogenated oils. Some labels claim that the product is Trans Fat Free, yet partially hydrogenated oils still appear in the list of ingredients. Remember, the manufacturer can claim zero grams for any amount less than .5 grams per serving. If the serving size is 1 teaspoon or 1 tablespoon, you can accumulate a lot of partially hydrogenated fats by the time you finish the whole container.

Some margarines now contain coconut, palm or palm kernal oils instead of partially hydrogenated oils. These are a better choice since we have no evidence of harm caused by saturated fats from plants, but they are still dense sources of calories.

If you are trying to lose weight, lower cholesterol or control diabetes, the best products for a hint of butter taste are the spray oils or butter buds, with 5-10 calories per serving.

If you can afford the calories and want to use added fats, try the European habit of drizzling a little olive oil on bread or other foods.

For more information on Partially Hydrogenated Oils, see report #N185; on Benecol and Take Control, #8137.

Checked 12/3/11

May 12th, 2013
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About the Author: Gabe Mirkin, MD

Sports medicine doctor, fitness guru and long-time radio host Gabe Mirkin, M.D., brings you news and tips for your healthful lifestyle. A practicing physician for more than 50 years and a radio talk show host for 25 years, Dr. Mirkin is a graduate of Harvard University and Baylor University College of Medicine. He is board-certified in four specialties: Sports Medicine, Allergy and Immunology, Pediatrics and Pediatric Immunology. The Dr. Mirkin Show, his call-in show on fitness and health, was syndicated in more than 120 cities. Read More
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