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From the News Archives ...

Butter or margarine? Margarine or butter? The fats in the fire once again!

The debate over butter and margarine is back in the news. In a study of 56 families published in the December 6th, 2000 issue of JAMA, the nation's premier medical journal, a low-fat diet based on margarine resulted in an 11 percent greater reduction in LDL ("bad") cholesterol than a similar diet based on butter. Some people have interpreted this study to mean that margarine is better for the heart than butter.

Not so fast. There is weighty evidence on the other side of the debate as well. A 1993 study of 85,095 women published in the equally prestigious journal The Lancet came to the opposite conclusion. This study found that the more margarine a woman consumed, the higher her risk of coronary heart disease (CHD). Butter, meanwhile, was not significantly associated with CHD. (There was also no increased risk linked with the consumption of beef, pork, or lamb.)

A 1994 study issued a similar thumbs-down verdict on margarine: Compared with people who ate very little margarine, those with the greatest consumption were more than twice as likely to have a heart attack.

Willett, W. C., M. J. Stampfer, et al. (1993). "Intake of trans fatty acids and risk of coronary heart disease among women." Lancet 341(8845): 581-5.

Ascherio, A., C. H. Hennekens, et al. (1994). "Trans-fatty acids intake and risk of myocardial infarction." Circulation 89(1): 94-101.)


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