Spread margarine on your bread instead of butter, say the Dutch dietary guidelines

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The 2015 Dutch Dietary Guidelines recommend to include more plant-based foods into our diet. Not only do they help to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease, they also have ecological benefits.

According to the Health Council of the Netherlands, we should shift from an animal-based diet to a diet including more plant-based products. By doing so, we can improve our health compared to a traditional Dutch diet.

The Advisory Committee preparing the Dutch Dietary Guidelines identified several “recommended dietary patterns” with a focus on health benefits. Among them, the traditional Mediterranean dietary pattern, the New Nordic Diet and the American Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH diet). These diets proved to have a very positive impact on our health. Interestingly, they all involve less animal-based food and more plant-based food, than a conventional Dutch diet.

One of the scientific secretaries to the Committee, Doctor Janette De Goede from Wageningen University, explains the conclusions of the Committee: “it has been convincingly demonstrated that the recommended dietary patterns reduce the risks of coronary heart disease and stroke. They are also associated with lower risks of diabetes, colorectal cancer and mortality from any cause.”

Among the foods having a positive health impact, the Advisory Committee specifically mentions soft margarines and vegetable oils. Margarines and spreads are made of vegetable oils, which originate from plants such as rapeseed, linseed, soybeans, palmfruit. Their fat content is healthier than the one of animal fats such as butter, for example. Indeed, the unsaturated fatty acids present in margarine have a more positive impact on our cholesterol levels than the saturated fatty acids, mostly present in animal fat sources such as dairy and meat.

“Research has shown that a reduction in LDL “bad” cholesterol, which is a causal risk factor for coronary heart disease, is achieved by replacing butter with soft margarine and replacing saturated fatty acids with poly unsaturated fatty acids reduces the risk of coronary heart disease. In addition, cohort studies show that this replacement of fatty acids is associated with a lower risk of coronary heart disease”, confirms Doctor De Goede.

It is also the first time that ecological considerations are taken into account in the Dutch Dietary Guidelines. The new Guidelines were drafted in light of a 2011 Report on the ecological aspects of the Dutch dietary guidelines, requested by the Dutch government. “As well as having health benefits, a diet that includes less food from animals and more plant-based food has a lower ecological burden than a conventional Dutch diet “, says Doctor De Goede. She advises to “limit meat and high dairy product consumption. This is more favourable from an ecological perspective”.

Margarines and spreads, with their advantageous fat composition (low saturated fats, high unsaturated fats) appear as an ideal source of fat in the context of a healthy and balanced diet.

Janette De Goede is a Postdoctoral researcher at Wageningen University. She was also part of the Advisory Committee for the Dutch Dietary Guidelines 2015.

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