I’ll start this post by saying that, since I started my cholesterol-lowering plan, I’ve massively reduced the amount of butter and other spreads in my diet. One reason is because a lot of them are high in saturated fat, which can increase cholesterol, and the other reason is because the meals and snacks I now eat a lot of don’t need butter or margarine.
But if you love margarine on your breakfast toast, or don’t like the thought of eating a sandwich without spread, then there are still a few options that can fit into a cholesterol-lowering diet:-
1. Olive/vegetable oil based spreads
Olive/vegetable oil based spreads like ‘Bertolli’ and ‘Flora’ contain significantly less saturated fat than butter, so they can be included in a cholesterol-lowering diet if eaten in moderation.
‘Bertolli Original’ has 1.3g saturated fat per 10g portion (which is about 2 teaspoons) and tastes pretty good on toast with a tiny bit of salt added. ‘Flora Original’ has just 1g saturated fat per 10g portion. I haven’t eaten Flora in a while, but I’ve heard it’s also good.
Like any food containing more than 1.5g saturated fat per 100g, these margarines should still be eaten in moderation, especially if you’re eating them with other foods containing saturated fat.
The NHS recommends that:-
- the average adult man should eat no more than 30g of saturated fat a day.
- the average adult woman should eat no more than 20g of saturated fat a day.
These are absolute maximums rather than targets, so try to keep your daily saturated fat intake as low as possible to keep your cholesterol levels low. For tips on how to reduce the amount of saturated fat in your diet, see this post.
2. Cholesterol-reducing spreads
Spreads like ‘Benecol’ and ‘Flora ProActiv’ contain plant stanols/sterols, which have been proven to actively lower cholesterol. I haven’t tried the Benecol spreads, but I really like the taste of ‘Flora ProActiv Buttery’.
To achieve the cholesterol-reducing benefits from these products, they say you need to consume 1.5g to 2.4g of plant stanols/sterols every day for at least 2-3 weeks. This is the equivalent of 3 servings of spread (about 6 teaspoons), which isn’t always that easy to fit into your daily diet if you’re not eating lots of bread.
An easier way to get enough plant stanols/sterols in your daily diet is to have cholesterol-reducing yoghurt drinks, which are also part of the ‘Benecol’ and ‘Flora ProActiv’ product ranges. They contain 2g of plant stanols, which is the full daily amount required. I drank one of these every day to help lower my cholesterol.
Important note:- ‘Benecol’ and ‘Flora ProActiv’ products are not suitable for pregnant or breastfeeding women and children under five years old, and they also may not be suitable for anyone taking cholesterol lowering medication. It’s best to consult your GP before using any of these products to make sure they’re suitable for your individual needs.
3. Low fat spreads
There are tons of spreads and margarines available nowadays that are labeled as ‘low fat’, but I’ve never found one that tastes good so I tend to avoid them. If you find one you like though, they’re fine to eat freely in a cholesterol-lowering diet (as long as they contain less than 1.5g saturated fat per 100g), but bear in mind that they generally have very little or no nutritional value.
Important note: make sure you avoid any margarines or spreads that contain trans fats (found in hydrogenated oils), as they’re actually worse for you than saturated fats. Look for ‘0g trans fat’ on food nutrition labels and make sure there are no hydrogenated oils in the ingredients list.
Note about palm oil
Unfortunately I’m yet to find a good cholesterol-friendly margarine in the UK that doesn’t contain palm oil. Palm oil is used to solidify margarines, replacing the need for hydrogenation (which results in increased trans fats that can raise cholesterol levels).
The only palm oil free alternatives I’ve found so far are butter and coconut-oil based spreads, which are much higher in saturated fat than the options above, so are not recommended for a low cholesterol diet. So I currently use Bertolli (which contains some palm oil mixed with olive, rapeseed and sunflower oil), but only have it once or twice a week.
Obviously this isn’t ideal because of the health and environmental impacts, so I’m hoping that a palm oil free option will be available one day.
Instead of using margarine on your toast or in sandwiches, you could try some of these cholesterol-friendly alternatives:-
- Almond butter *
- Basil-infused olive oil
- Low fat cottage cheese
- Peanut butter *
- Smashed avocado with salt
* Make sure you use 100% nut varieties with no added sugar or oil.
You could also try some new breakfast and lunch recipes that don’t include spreads, like these:-
- Cholesterol-lowering breakfast pancake
- Cholesterol-friendly french toast with maple syrup
- Cholesterol-lowering apple & cinnamon porridge
- Cholesterol-friendly tuna & avocado pasta salad
- Easy cholesterol-friendly lunches
As butter is very high in saturated fat, it can contribute towards high cholesterol. Therefore it’s best to replace it with other spreads that are lower in saturated fat, or ideally eliminate spreads from your diet altogether.
Olive/vegetable oil based spreads like ‘Bertolli’ and ‘Flora’ contain significantly less saturated fat than butter, so they can be included in a cholesterol-lowering diet if eaten in moderation. Aim to keep your total daily saturated fat intake within the recommended limits.
Alternatively, you could try cholesterol-lowering spreads, like ‘Benecol’ and ‘Flora ProActiv’, but you have to consistently eat 6 teaspoons a day to get the choleterol-lowering benefits, which may be difficult to maintain.
Finally low fat spreads are ok to eat in a cholesterol-lowering diet, but bear in mind that they generally have very little or no nutritional value (and in my opinion don’t taste that great). As with all margarines and spreads, avoid anything that contains trans fats, as they’re worse for you than saturated fats.