In addition to being darn tasty, butter comes naturally packaged with many nutrients that can help protect you from chronic disease.
And, the whipped butter varieties taste just as yummy but are lower in calories, fat and cholesterol than regular butter.
But this week, we turn the spotlight on butter substitutes.
Sadly, looking for the best picks here was no easy feat. Most of the brands we investigated turned out to be merely "healthy food imposters."
Sure, they all tout ZERO TRANS FATS, LESS SATURATED FATS and ZERO CHOLESTEROL - and promises of "tastes just like the real thing" - but upon closer inspection...well, read on for the eBrandAid truth about three popular choices.
3 Popular, But Unhealthy Choices
#1 - I Can't Believe It's Not Butter Spread
Calories 80, Fat 6g (2g saturated fat, 0g trans), Cholest. 0g, and Sodium 90mg
INGREDIENTS: Vegetable Oil Blend (Liquid Soybean Oil, Liquid Canola Oil, Hydrogenated Soybean Oil, Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil), Water, Sweet Cream Buttermilk (Adds a Dietarily Insignificant amount of cholesterol), Salt, Soy Lecithin, Vegetable Mono and Diglycerides, Potassium Sorbate (Used to Protect Quality), Citric Acid, Artificial Flavor, Vitamin A Palmitate, Beta Carotene (for Color).
#2 - Blue Bonnet Soft Spread
Calories 80, Fat 6g (2g saturated fat, 0g trans), Cholest. 0mg, and Sodium 125mg
INGREDIENTS: Liquid Soybean Oil, Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil, Water, Whey, Salt, Vegetable Mono- and Diglycerides and Soy Lecithin (Emulsifiers), Potassium Sorbate and Sodium Benzoate (to Preserve Freshness), Artificial Flavor, Phosphoric Acid (Acidulant), Vitamin A Palmitate, Colored with Beta Carotene (Source of Vitamin A).
#3 - Brummel & Brown Spread with Yogurt
Calories 45, Fat 5g (saturated fat 1g, 0 trans fat), Cholest. 0mg, Sodium 90mg
INGREDIENTS: Vegetable Oil Blend (Liquid Soybean Oil and Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil), Water, Nonfat Yogurt (Cultured Nonfat Milk), Salt, Gelatin, Vegetable Mono and Diglycerides, Soy Lecithin, (Potassium Sorbate, Calcium Disodium EDTA) used to Protect Quality, Lactic Acid, Artificial Flavor, Vitamin A (Palmitate), Beta Carotene (for Color).
Decoding the fine print
After reading the fine print on the ingredients list of these top-selling "healthy spreads" here's what we can't believe:
• They all claim "zero trans fats" on the front label, yet their ingredients lists contain Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil - that's a code term for trans fats. What a scam!
• "Everything tastes better with Blue Bonnet on it" is a catchy jingle, but can anything really taste better covered with partially hydrogenated soybean oil, potassium sorbate, sodium benzoate and artificial flavors? We think not!
• Adding yogurt to a spread choked with artery clogging fat doesn't make it a healthy choice.
• After tasting this stuff, we can't believe that anyone can't seriously believe it's not butter. These spreads taste NOTHING like butter to us!
Note to self: Many sneaky food manufacturers still use the trans fat labeling loophole that allows them to claim zero trans fats as long as the per serving amount is less than 0.5 grams.
Okay, in theory, healthy spreads are supposed to be better for you because they're made from heart-healthy vegetable oils, so they contain way less saturated fat and cholesterol than real butter.
It sure sounds like a better bargain for your health...but not if these butter substitutes contain hidden sources of trans fats and too many hard-to-pronounce additives.
But, if the thought of using the real deal still doesn't butter your muffin, you'll be happy to know that our slick sleuths worked extra hard to bring you the goods - as in good spreads that are good for you too!
The Top 3 Butter Substitute Choices
#1 - Earth Balance Margarine Natural Buttery Spread Lactose Free
Calories 100, Fat 11g, Saturated 3.5g, Cholesterol 0mg, Sodium 120mg
INGREDIENTS: Expeller Pressed Natural Oil Blend (Soybean, Palm fruit, and Canola Seed and Olive), Filtered Water, Pure Salt, Natural Flavor (Derived from Corn, No MSG, No Alcohol, No Gluten), Soy Protein, Soy Lecithin, Lactic Acid (Non-Dairy, Derived from Sugar Beets)
Decoding the fine print: This 100% vegan spread contains 100% expeller-pressed oils and comes with no trans fats (honestly, no trans fats) and no added preservatives.
#2 - Olivio Spreadable Butter with Canola & Olive Oil
Calories 80, Fat 10g, Saturated 3.5g, Cholest. 10mg, Sodium 85mg
INGREDIENTS: Sweet Cream, Canola Oil, Light Olive Oil, Salt, Flaxseed Oil and Natural Flavoring.
Decoding the fine print: This spread combines the best of both worlds - sweet cream plus healthy oils. It's also low in saturated fats and cholesterol - and contains no trans fat!
#3 - Smart Balance Omega Plus™ Buttery Spread
Calories 80, Fat 9g, Saturated fat 2.5g, Cholesterol 0mg, Sodium 90mg
INGREDIENTS: Natural Oil Blend (Soybean Oil, Palm Oil, Canola Oil, Olive Oil), Water, plant sterols, contains Less Than 2% Of Salt, Whey, Soybean Lecithin, Potassium Sorbate, Lactic Acid (To Protect Freshness), Natural & Artificial Flavor, Vitamin 3, Calcium Disodium EDTA, Vitamin A Palmitate & Beta-Carotene Color.
Decoding the fine print: This spread gets our SilverMedal Distinction - it's a good choice, but it's just not the best. Here's the skinny: It contains healthy oils, no trans fats, plus the added benefit of natural plant sterols which help support healthy cholesterol levels. But, it falls short of our BestBrands standard because it contains a few preservatives and artificial flavors.
Bottom Line: A healthy spread isn't healthy if it contains trans fats and enough junk ingredients to make your health...toast!
For more information visit http://www.ebrandaid.com
Kerry McLeod is the founder and Chief Brand Doctor of eBrandAid.com, a bi-weekly e-newsletter that educates shoppers on how to find the healthiest and best-tasting foods at the local grocery store. McLeod has recently been featured on CBS 46 News, Martha Stewart Living Radio, Forbes.com, Diet.com, and the Vancouver Sun. She has also authored the popular diet and nutrition book The Last Diet Book Standing.