I get asked all the time: Which is better – butter or margarine? Margarine was originally thought to be a safer alternative to butter. Margarine has less saturated fat than butter. Then the hazards of margarine came to light. Its high levels of trans fats are worrisome, especially for those at risk for heart attack or stroke. Trans fats raise the levels of bad cholesterol (LDL) and lower the levels of good cholesterol (HDL). From the standpoint of heart disease, butter is on the list of foods to use sparingly because it is high in saturated fat, which aggressively increases levels of LDL. Margarines, though, aren’t so easy to classify. The older stick margarines that are still widely sold are high in trans fats, and are worse for you than butter. Some of the newer margarines that are low in saturated fat, high in unsaturated fat, and free of trans fats are fine as long as you don’t use too much (they are still rich in calories – so be careful!). You can quickly compare the health value of spreads (including butter and margarine) simply by looking at the nutrition labels on these products. Nutrition labels are now required by the FDA to include information about both saturated fats and trans fats. Your goal is to limit intake of saturated fats and to avoid trans fats altogether. “Healthier” alternatives to butter or margarine include olive oil and other vegetable oil – based spreads, which contain beneficial mono- and polyunsaturated fats. Remember though, all oils are calorie dense. (All oils are 100% fat!) For example, olive oil has 120 calories per tablespoon. If you’re trying to lower your cholesterol, stanol – based spreads (for example, Smart Balance and Benecol) may be beneficial, since regular use can help lower LDL cholesterol levels. The best advice though, is to use all spreads sparingly. They tend to be high in calories with minimal nutritional value. Fruit spreads with no added sugar are a good alternative.