On its website and in new commercials featuring a handsome, soulful-eyed, young chef kneading his artisanal bread at a farmers’ market, the margarine “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter” is praised as now being made solely from “real, simple ingredients” and having “0% artificial preservatives.”
“Now that’s something you can feel good about!” exclaims the margarine’s website.
But let’s stop right here.
The fact is, just because something is “real” does not necessarily make it good for you.
The “real” ingredients that “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter” is touting are oils and salt.
Oil | Nutrition Facts
For a nation, America, in which two-thirds of our population is overweight or obese, the last thing we need is more of the most calorie-dense food on the planet – oil.
Salt | Nutrition Facts
For a nation in which 1 in 3 adults has hypertension, the #1 risk factor for stroke, the last thing we need is more of the largest dietary contributor to hypertension – salt.
Oil and salt are real foods, to be sure. Real fattening. And real harmful to our already stiffening arteries.
Is “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter” Healthy? | More Facts
For its Original Spread, the margarine’s marketers praise it for having “70% less saturated fat than butter.” That’s true, but each 1-tablespoon serving of “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter” still contains 2 grams of artery-damaging saturated fat.
Now, 2 grams of saturated fat may not sound like much, “but it is,” warns Kimberly Gomer, MS, RD, Director of Nutrition at Pritikin. “In terms of saturated fat, that 1 tablespoon of margarine is the equivalent of eating two-thirds of a McDonald’s hamburger. For our hearts, we’d never think that eating a hamburger is a good idea. We should feel the same way about foods, like margarines, that contain saturated fat – and nothing else in the way of ingredients that are truly good for us.”
Fish such as salmon, for example, has a little saturated fat, but it is also an excellent source of omega-3-fatty acids, which are very beneficial for cardiovascular health, and, as a result, largely negate any concerns about its small saturated fat content. Indeed, the Pritikin Eating Plan and many other healthy diet plans, like DASH, recommend that Americans eat more omega-3-rich fish.
Are You Stopping At One Schmear?
Let’s get back to “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter.” Keep in mind that when we’re talking about its 2 grams of saturated fat, we’re talking about what’s in just 1 tablespoon of the margarine. One tablespoon is for many of us a schmear on half a bagel.
Healthy Grocery Shopping Scavenger Hunt
Each week dietitians at Pritikin teach healthy grocery shopping skills in an interactive grocery scavenger hunt. Learn How To Grocery Shop Healthy
Over the course of a day, if you’re spreading a total of 3 tablespoons of “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter” on breads and other foods, and cooking with it, you’re consuming the saturated-fat equivalent of 2, yes 2, McDonald’s hamburgers.
The marketers for “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter” also promote the fact that the margarine contains “no hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils,” which means it contains no trans fats.
That’s good news, but unfortunately, and, as many food processors are doing these days, the partially hydrogenated oils have been replaced by something equally troublesome – palm kernel and palm oil, which are tropical oils full of saturated fat.
So, out goes trans fat, but in comes more saturated fat. Both trans fats and sat fats raise levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol. Both contribute to clogged, plaque-ridden arteries, or coronary artery disease.
Another plus, profess the promoters of “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter,” are the omega-3 fatty acids it contains. Omegas 3s, we know, are good for our hearts.
But what the margarine marketers don’t tell you is that the type of omega-3s in the margarine – ALA – is not the type linked with better heart health.
There is good evidence that the longer chain form of omega 3s, called EPA and DHA, protect against heart disease. (The omega-3s in fish are mostly EPA and DHA.)
But there is scant evidence that ALAs, the shorter chain form of omega 3s, reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Is “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter” Healthy? | Bottom Line
“In our food and nutrition workshops at Pritikin,” states registered dietitian Kimberly Gomer, “we always encourage people to look at each food they’re about to eat and ask: ’Is this food going to do something for me, and not against me?’”
“I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter” is a good example of a food that is doing nothing beneficial for us and may in fact harm us because of the saturated fats, sodium, and calories that are packed into one small – very small – package.
To be sure, other margarines, even those with less saturated fat and less sodium, are not wise choices. That’s because virtually all margarine spreads tend to be high in calorie density, which, if used daily, can easily contribute to the spread of our waistlines.
You don't need to use salt and oil to cook delicious food.
Learn to eat healthy in interactive nutrition workshops.
“Be creative, as we teach our guests at Pritikin,” encourages Kimberly. “For example, instead of margarine on your baked potato, try fresh salsa. Or nonfat, plain Greek yogurt spiced up with a sprinkling of red pepper flakes.”
For a sandwich spread, enjoy no-salt-added mustards. Or a schmear of nonfat ricotta cheese, or your own healthy, homemade hummus, like one of the many Pritikin hummus recipes taught in cooking classes at the Pritikin health resort.
“I think one of the most important things we educators do at Pritikin is teach people that there are many great possibilities beyond decades-old staples like margarine or butter,” observes Kimberly. “Our guests discover, often to their surprise and delight, an amazing new variety of foods and flavors that are not only delicious, they truly are foods we can feel good about.
“So a Pritikin vacation isn’t about denying yourself things; it’s about discovering brand new pleasures in life, and pleasures, most importantly, that work for us, not against us.”