The best heart healthy diet is one that is full of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low fat dairy, fish and lean meats. Where does that leave all the good tasting stuff like salt, sugar or even buttery spreads for your bread? There has been some debate as to whether or not margarine or real butter is the best choice. In reality, the diet police would say neither of them but if you have to have your buttery taste, most nutritional experts agree that margarine is healthier for you.
Butter is derived from animal fats so you can expect a high level of saturated fat in addition to plenty of cholesterol to lube the blood vessels. Margarine however is made from vegetable oils so at least the cholesterol factor is not an issue. There are fats present in margarine but this tasty spread is high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Both the mono and poly fats of this type are great for lowering the "bad" cholesterol (LDL-low density lipoprotein) levels in the blood.
Don't start the party yet though with that heart healthier margarine. There are some varieties that are actually worse for your body than butter. Manufacturers use a process called hydrogenation to produce butter in which the result is too much trans fats. Stick margarine usually has more trans fats than the margarine in a tub. Trans fats are exactly what you do not want, especially if you are trying to stick to a heart healthy diet. The trans fats found in margarine can raise your "bad" cholesterol levels while whittling down the "good" cholesterol (HDL – high density lipoprotein).
There are a few things you can look for in margarine to ensure that you are getting the healthiest one possible for your diet needs. First of all, look for a margarine variety that has the lowest trans fat content. It also must have less than two total grams of saturated fats plus the trans fats. Because the food manufacturers have to list the trans fats and saturated fats separately, you will need to look at these and add the fat totals together to ensure they are less than the two grams.
Next, you want to check your margarine for the addition of plant sterols. These are components derived strictly from non-meat sources and can be derived from a variety of foods like vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, beans and more. These plant sterols resemble the cell structure of animal cholesterol, only they are healthier because they have the ability to help lower your cholesterol levels. Your "bad" LDL cholesterol can be lowered by as much as 8-12 %. Check your margarine for at least two grams of these plant sterols.
If you are a die hard butter fan and margarine tastes "fake" to you, consider choosing a butter variety that is lower in calories. Whipped butter varieties as well as "light" versions retain the buttery taste but provide fewer calories and less of the "bad" stuff. You want to be sure that you use only enough to taste to avoid extra calories and fat content.