Are saturated fats bad for you?
So we know now that saturated fat is one of the culprits increasing the risk of not just heart disease and stroke but also some cancers. Unfortunately, people have gotten the idea that all fat is evil.
Are unsaturated fats good for you?
In a word: Yes. It's taken over two decades of controversy, but the research has clearly proven just how good fat is for you. As with everything you choose to eat, it is the quality of the fats that's important. We've come to know that unsaturated fats, especially monounsaturated fats like Omega 3 fats, actually help prevent disease.
Which fats and oils are good for you?
Most research on Mediterranean style diets shows that the primary fat used for recipes is olive oil. The Mediterranean cultures do use other vegetable oils, and most cultures use some butter, but it is generally used sparingly.
I don't know which is worse in a crunch...using a very small amount of mayo on toast or a very small amount of margarine. No special name brand just cheap generic of both. I am at work and jelly was not an option nor was real butter. Putting nothing on at all was completely out of the question. When this situation arises which is worse for my body?
This is an excellent question and one that I very much enjoyed.
The short answer is that they are about the same. Two teaspoons of either "cheap generic" mayonnaise or margarine contains about 7.5 grams of fat. Of that about 1 gram is saturated fat. There's probably a little more sodium in the margarine. This comparison does assume that the margarine was the softer kind that comes in a tub. Both have about 65 calories in a two teaspoon serving.
To expand on this a little (the long answer), the one reason that you might want to choose one product over the other would be if there were fewer or no trans fats listed on the package. These are the types of fats that is the worst for your body. Fewer and fewer products have these and the government now mandates that the amount be reported in the Nutrition Facts section on the package label.
The butter that you mention is probably the worst choice because it has about the same number of calories and fat but is higher in saturated fat.
A good alternative to all three of these is the equivalent amount of peanut butter and this might be in the cabinet at your office. Two teaspoons has about the same amount of calories as the mayonnaise or margarine but less fat, and peanuts are legumes which we know are quite good for you.
Thanks for the fun question.
Timothy S. Harlan, M.D.