Who’s Right? Behind the science of eating.

by Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN on August 29, 2002 · 0 comments

Butter is not good for you. Margarine is good for you. Margarine is not good for you. Maybe butter is not so bad after all.


Depending on when it was said, every statement is correct. Confused? Most people are, because advice about what to eat keeps changing. Why? It’s science.

Pure science gathers information and uses the facts to answer questions. Applied science turns the “facts” into practical advice. Nutrition – the science of eating – is an applied science.

Scientists discovered that too much saturated (animal) fat and too much cholesterol increase your risk for heart disease and some types of cancer. The practical eating advice is, eat less butter, cheese and meat.

The evening news said “Butter can kill!”

Vegetable oils (corn, canola, sunflower) are free of saturated fat and cholesterol. So it’s smart to use margarine instead of butter, and oil instead of lard or fat.

The evening news said, “Margarine prevents heart attacks!”

Scientists discovered that when vegetables oils are “hardened” to make margarine, a new type of fat is formed – trans fat. Like saturated fat, trans fat can raise cholesterol, so eating large amounts is not a healthy choice.

The evening news said, “Margarine causes heart attacks!”

Whipped and squeeze margarines have little trans fat and many brands have none. Margarine is not deadly. Neither is a small amount of butter.

The key is “small.” A small portion of any food is OK. That’s the best advice to follow when scientific facts change – make your eating changes small. The next time you hear a food is a miracle or a menace, don’t abruptly change your diet. Just eat a little more or a little less of the latest headline grabber and wait for the next round of evidence.

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