When you cook, solid margarine or butter are not the best choices. Butter is loaded with saturated fat, which can raise your cholesterol. It can also increase your chance of heart disease. Most margarines, on the other hand, have some saturated fat plus trans-fatty acids, which can also be bad for you. Both of these fats have their risks.
If you must use one or the other, some margarines may be better than butter.
Some guidelines for even healthier cooking are:
Use olive or canola oil instead of butter or margarine.
Choose soft margarine (tub or liquid) over harder stick forms.
Choose margarines with liquid vegetable oil as the first ingredient.
Even better, choose "light" margarines that list water as the first ingredient. These are even lower in saturated fat.
If you have high cholesterol, talk with your doctor about using margarines made from plant sterols or stanols. These are made from soybean and pine tree oils, and they can help lower your LDL cholesterol (the bad cholesterol). But these margarines are not yet recommended for children, pregnant women, and people who do not have high cholesterol.
What Not to Use When Cooking
You should NOT use:
Margarine, shortening, and cooking oils that have more than 2 grams of saturated fat per tablespoon (read the nutrition information labels).
Hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated fats (read the ingredients labels). These are high in saturated fats and trans-fatty acids.
Shortening or other fats made from animal sources, such as lard.
American Heart Association Nutrition Committee; Lichtenstein AH, Appel LJ, Brands M, Carnethon M, Daniels S, et al. Diet and lifestyle recommendations revision 2006: a scientific statement from the American Heart Association Nutrition Committee. Circulation. 2006 Jul 4;114(1):82-96.
Krauss RM. Nutrition and cardiovascular disease. In: Libby P, Bonow RO, Mann DL, Zipes DP, eds. Libby: Braunwald's Heart Disease: A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine. 8th ed. Saunders;2007:chap 44.
Mosca L, Banka CL, Benjamin EJ, Berra K, Bushnell C, Dolor RJ, et al. Evidence-based guidelines for cardiovascular disease prevention in women: 2007 update. Circulation. 2007 Mar 20;115(11):1481-501.
David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.