Ask a nutritionist - butter or marg?

Our team of dietitians run both group and 1-1 nutritional advice services across the city. We frequently get asked questions about weight loss by our clients which may have been picked up in the media or passed on from friends. So we thought we would write a series of Q&A blogs to provide you with accurate and informed answers to some of your nutritional queries.

What's better – butter or margarine?

It was once thought that margarine was a healthier choice compared to butter owing to reduced levels of saturated fat and higher levels of unsaturated fats. This is now being contested.

Butter is high in saturated fat -  which has previously been linked to raising harmful cholesterol levels and an increased risk of heart disease. However, last year, a large scientific study examined the effect of saturated fat intake and risk of heart disease and concluded that there wasn't enough evidence to support the recommendations to eat less saturated fat.

Although this is an interesting finding and is certainly worthy of consideration, there is still not enough evidence to suggest that eating a lot of saturated fat doesn't increase the risk of heart disease. For this reason, guidelines to limit saturated fat in the diet remain unchanged.  

Margarine typically contains more unsaturated fats, which have been shown to be protective against heart disease. However, margarine can also contain hydrogenated or trans fats, which have been linked to raising the risk of heart disease and cancer and are therefore more harmful than saturated fats. It is recommended that trans fats are avoided where possible. Trans or hydrogenated fats should be listed on food labels and it is therefore possible to tell whether your margarine contains these types of fats or not.

Both butter and margarine fall into the same food group (foods and drinks high in fat and sugar) and should make up the smallest part of our diet. Whether you chose to have butter or margarine, that choice is yours, but eat small portions as too much fat is not beneficial to health. 

Is it best to eat 6 small meals or 3 main meals per day?

Research has shown that eating regular meals is important, but whether this is 3 main meals or 6 small meals won't make a difference to your weight. A calorie is a calorie whatever time of day you eat it, so it is the overall amount that you eat that matters.

However, leaving long gaps between meals or skipping meals altogether can lead to overeating. Feeling excessively hungry before a meal can also increase the likelihood of consuming larger portions, as well as increasing cravings for fat and sugar. The key thing is finding what works best for you, considering your own lifestyle, habits and preferences. If six smaller meals works with your schedule then that's fine. The bottom line for weight management is to establish a regular routine, be prepared with healthy snacks and plan ahead to helps maintain a regular meal routine.

If you've got a burning question about diet, get in touch and we'll ask one of out team to share their advice.