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How butter and margarine stack up in healthfulness

At first, the experts got everyone all churned up about butter. Now a study questions margarine's role in heart-disease risk. In a quandary over which product to choose? This overview from Better Homes and Gardens may help in the decision process.

According to experts, most healthy adults should get no more than 30 percent of daily calories from fat. (At 2,000 calories a day, that means fewer than 67 grams or about 600 calories of fat.)

If a person stays within that guideline, he or she doesn't need to feel guilty about enjoying butter on a baked potato or margarine on the toast.

However, he could try trimming his serving to a teaspoon, the size of a butter pat he would get in many restaurants. If you are advised to follow a low-fat diet, focus on products with less saturated fat and cholesterol.

For all adults, a key to good health lies in moderate intake of all fats and high-fat foods. To keep it simple, concentrate more on limiting the total fat in a diet, and worry less about whether fats are saturated or unsaturated.

Chances are that most people will strike a healthful balance between the different fats.

Butter naturally contains saturated fat and small amounts of cholesterol because of its animal origin.

Margarine is based on different polyunsaturated vegetable oils _ corn, safflower, soybean _ that are hardened by hydrogenation.

Hydrogenation may convert some unsaturated fatty acids to a form that behaves like saturated fatty acids in the body.

Generally, the more solid the margarine, the higher the level of saturated fat.

Blends of butter and margarine contain less saturated fat and cholesterol than butter but more than plain margarine.

Spreads contain less fat than butter or margarine and less saturated fat when they are made only with vegetable oils.

Water may be added to some spreads, which will reduce their fat content even further.

A few spreads have a little butter, sweet cream or buttermilk added for flavor, which can increase the level of saturated fat.

Powdered butter substitutes have few calories and virtually no fat because they're based on starch. They work best on hot, moist foods.