When you take a quick glance at any magazine out there, there are certain studies that say many types of margarine claim to reduce cholesterol
levels. Are these effective, and should one consider adding them to a diet plan, specifically as a bodybuilder?
Most bodybuilders quickly learn that butter and margarine aren't high on the list of preferred foods. Both are high in unwanted fats - butter is high in saturated fats, margarine in trans fats. Bodybuilders do need plenty of healthy fats, such as mono- and polyunsaturated fats, but you're better served getting those from sources such as olives, avocados, fatty fish and vegetable oils (canola and olive, particularly).
Now, as to the claims of these cholesterol-lowering margarines. Recently, the United Kingdom's Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) has criticized both Benecol and Flora proactiv, saying the two margarines have overstated their claims for lowering cholesterol. The two may have some impact in lowering bad (LDL) cholesterol but, in tests, they were most effective when used in quantities greater than a normal serving and less effective for people outside the 50- to 59-year-old age group (Reuters Health, July 5, 2001).
If you do have high cholesterol and you're concerned about its impact on your health and bodybuilding, contact a doctor to help you determine a course of action. Our quick take on cholesterol-lowering margarines is that they might be somewhat effective, but you shouldn't add them to your diet just for that purpose without your doctor's consent. Substituting them for butter or other margarine might be a more reasonable compromise.
As mentioned, neither butter nor margarine should constitute a large portion of a bodybuilding diet. A recent study, though, suggests that if you're going to eat one of the two, butter is the better alternative, despite the health claims of margarine marketers. The study compared saturated fats, which are found in meat, butter and dairy products, to trans fats, which are found in many fried and baked foods and margarines. The results indicated that the group on the trans fat diet had reduced blood-vessel function and lowered good (HDL) cholesterol compared to those eating saturated fats. "This suggests that trans fatty acids increase the risk of heart disease more than the intake of saturated fats," the researchers said (Reuters Health, July 12, 2001).
The best solution for bodybuilders may be to use butter sparingly as a flavoring, and not to cook with it (using healthy oils instead). Substituting cholesterol-lowering margarines may help reduce cholesterol, but don't think of them as a cure-all. Above all, be sensible with your diet and rely more on foods with healthy mono- and polyunsaturated fats. Bodybuilders do need dietary fats - but only the healthy types.