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Is Butter Bad? Is Margarine Better?

By Megrette Fletcher, M.Ed., R.D., C.D.E
By Megrette Fletcher M.Ed, RD, CDE and Michelle May, M.D.bread and butter
Authors of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat with Diabetes

“Should I eat margarine instead of butter-even if I don’t like it?”
“Is butter bad?”
“I’m confused by all of the choices when I shop for butter or margarine. Which one is better?”

These are typical questions from people with type 2 diabetes because they’ve heard mixed messages about which is better: butter or margarine? We’ll be the first to admit that there are a lot of confusing nutrition messages out there! In this three-part blog post, we’ll explore how mindful eating can help you clear up the confusion and decide what to eat.

How Mindful Eating Helps

Most eating decisions cannot be boiled down to “good” or “bad”- even when you have diabetes. That’s an overly simplistic view that doesn’t take into account your personal preferences, health risks, family history, or the quantity and frequency, and myriad other factors. The intent of learning about nutrition isn’t to restrict or perfect your diet. It’s simply to provide information in a way that’s easy to understand and remember so that you can mindfully choose what to eat.

Mindful eating helps you become aware of your options, allowing you to make a choice that balances eating for enjoyment and eating for nourishment. In Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat with Diabetes, we explore the Mindful Eating Cycle: why, when, what, how, how much you eat, and where you invest your energy. It takes the complex (or too often, unconscious) process of eating and gives you a new way to think about it.

What Do I Eat?

The question, “Should I eat butter or margarine?” requires further clarification. With mindful eating, answering the question “What do I eat?” can be summarized by three main questions: What do I want? What do I need? What do I have? We’ll use the butter vs. margarine controversy as an example of how the process of mindful eating can help you answer this (and any other question) about what to eat.

Let’s begin with the first question, “What do I want?”

What Do I Want?

While this question may seem surprising, awareness of your personal preferences and how they affect your decisions is critical for managing prediabetes or diabetes long term. One way to evaluate your preference is to think about your “level of liking.” Where would you put butter and margarine (or any other foods) on a scale from 1 to 10?

1= Hate
3= Don’t care for
5 = Neutral
7 = Enjoy
10 = Love

If you rated butter as a 7 or above, then your liking for butter will be really important in the decision-making process. It wouldn’t be easy to just stop using butter since that would be a painful choice, one that you might have difficulty committing to long-term. Instead, mindful eating can help you evaluate when, what, how, and how much butter you’ll use.

On the other hand, if you rated butter as a 5 or below and margarine as a 5 or above, your decision balance would shift in favor of margarine. By thinking about what you really want, you may be surprised to realize that some of the foods you eat regularly are more of a habit than a true preference.

In addition to your overall level of liking, your preferences are often situational-in other words, specific to your mood and the food. For example, you may really love butter on hot bread but don’t care whether you cook with it or not.

In the next blog post, we’ll consider the next important question, “What do I need?” and take a look at the nutrition and health implications of butter vs. margarine.

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About the author

Megrette Fletcher is a registered dietitian, certified diabetes educator, author, and co-founder of The Center for Mindful Eating. Megrette is the 2013-2014 president of The Center for Mindful Eating, a non-profit, organization to assist health professionals to explore the concepts of mindful eating. She has written articles for and has been quoted about mindful eating in Diabetes Self Management, Today’s Dietitian, Today’s Social Worker, Bariatric Times, Glamour, Family Circle, The Wall Street Journal, US News and World Report, Women’s Day, and Oxygen Magazine. Megrette currently works as a diabetes educator in Dover, New Hampshire.

One Comment

  1. This makes so much sense.
    I do not have diabetes and I’ve been ‘weighing’ food choices for years.
    Lita Perna, LCPC

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