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Minn. butter-makers abuzz over boom; others not buying it

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The butter versus margarine debate rages on, even as Minnesota butter producers are celebrating an uptick in butter consumption.

Nationwide, butter sales by volume increased 5 percent last year, the Star Tribune reports. 

And Minnesota creameries, including Arden Hills-based Land O’Lakes, Hope Creamery in Hope and New Ulm-based Associated Milk Producers Inc., are among the dairy makers enjoying the boost in sales.

“Butter is kind of a throwback product, ” Victor Mrotz, owner of Hope Creamery in Hope, Minn. told the Star Tribune.

He says people are going back to butter again after abandoning it for the widely touted health benefits of margarine.

Margarine, which is made from vegetable oils, contains no cholesterol.

Margarine is also higher in so-called "good" fats — polyunsaturated and monounsaturated. These types of fats help reduce low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or "bad," cholesterol when substituted for saturated fat.

By contrast, butter is made from animal fat, and contains cholesterol and high levels of saturated fat.

So, many eaters switched to margarine in great numbers beginning in around World War II, when butter was rationed.  And many Americans grew to see it as a healthy processed alternative to butter.

But in recent years, particularly with the rise of the foodie movement towards eating local, whole, “real” and natural foods, diners came back to butter in droves.

The trend has been buoyed by a growing chorus of doctors, chefs, food writers and others, including Robert Lustig, who stress that a diet rich in fats are key to a healthy brain.

A popular recent study helped debunk butter’s unhealthy stigma, too, finding no evidence that fat consumption causes obesity.

But the backlash to that study has been fierce. Many scientists have criticized the so-called “meta” study praising butter, going as far as calling for a retraction. 

Maybe butter isn't so good for you after all?

"They have done a huge amount of damage," says Walter Willett, chair of the nutrition department at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston.

When it comes to the question of butter versus margarine, Mayo Clinic doctors still recommend eating margarine.

However, they warn, don't forget – most margarines contain trans fat.

Trans fats pack a double whammy for heart disease by raising levels of LDL (bad cholesterol) and lowering levels of HDL (good cholesterol).

Here are Mayo’s tips for choosing margarine:

In general, the more solid the margarine, the more trans fat it contains. So stick margarines usually have more trans fat than tub margarines do. So skip the stick and opt for soft or liquid margarine instead. Look for a spread with the lowest calories that tastes good to you, doesn't have trans fats and has the least amount of saturated fat. When comparing spreads, be sure to read the Nutrition Facts panel and check the grams of saturated fat and trans fat. Also, look for products with a low percent Daily Value for cholesterol. Also, if you have high cholesterol, check with your doctor about using spreads that are fortified with plant stanols and sterols, such as Benecol and Promise Activ, which may help reduce cholesterol levels.

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