Margarine being spread over bread.

Polyunsaturated margarines substituted for butter can significantly lower blood cholesterol.

CSIRO spreads the facts about margarine

Polyunsaturated margarines can be an effective substitute for butter for those people wishing to lower their blood cholesterol levels.

  • 7 November 2007 | Updated 14 October 2011

Spreading the good news about margarine

Margarines are still a healthy choice according to CSIRO research led by Dr Peter Clifton Director of CSIRO’s Nutrition Clinic in Adelaide, South Australia.

Reducing cholesterol – a national goal?

Half the Australian population has higher than desirable cholesterol levels, and those people are also at greater risk of developing heart disease.

CSIRO has been looking for dietary strategies to lower cholesterol and one that has been very successful is substituting margarine for butter.

Polyunsaturated margarines are an excellent substitute for butter for those people wishing to lower their blood cholesterol levels.

Polyunsaturated margarines low in trans-fatty acids can reduce cholesterol and the risk of heart disease.

What research has been done?

Since this research began in 1990 a number of volunteer trials have been conducted to test margarine formulations and their effectiveness at lowering cholesterol.

An 11-week trial compared the effects of four different types of margarine on blood cholesterol. The margarines were polyunsaturated or monounsaturated, with or without trans-fatty acids.

Trans-fatty acids are a minor class of fats found in small quantities in certain animal products. They used to be present in moderate quantities in margarines. However, there has been an international trend to reduce levels of trans fatty acids in margarines.

The results of this study show that compared to saturated fat spreads, all four margarines reduced the level of LDL (bad) cholesterol in the blood by 11-15 per cent.

This corresponds to a fall in the risk of heart disease of approximately 20-30 per cent. HDL (good) cholesterol was unchanged.

The margarine high in polyunsaturates and low in trans-fatty acids produced a greater fall in blood LDL-cholesterol than the other margarines - a further six per cent compared to other margarines, a statistically significant difference.

Have we got the message?

Based on CSIRO's research, the fall in heart disease risk is predicted to be 13 per cent greater with the polyunsaturated margarine without trans fatty acids than a similar spread with trans-fatty acids.

Although the major brands in Australia are trans free, some 'home' brands still contain a significant amount so check their labels.

Polyunsaturated margarines are a desirable substitute for butter for those people wishing to lower their blood cholesterol levels.

These margarines were formulated to have less cholesterol-raising saturated fat and more cholesterol-lowering polyunsaturated fat.

Learn more about CSIRO's work in Food.