A patented (U.S. Patent 5,578,334 and 5,843,497) alternative to traditional margarine or butter that is absolutely devoid of hydrogenated oils and thus is much lower in artery-clogging cholesterol-raising trans fatty acids. Whether or not it is technically a "margarine" is debatable -- some dictionaries define "margarine" as a blend of hydrogenated vegetable oils, while others only specify that "margarines" contain vegetable oils, without specifically stating that they must be hydrogenated.

Whereas traditional margarines contain hydrogenated oils in order to remain firm at room temperature, Smart Balance is based on a blend of soy, palm, canola, and olive oil. The palm oil is naturally saturated (whereas hydrogenated oils are artificially saturated via chemical engineering) and is thus "hard" at room temperature. Those who fail to understand the difference between hydrogenated oils and naturally saturated oils might scoff at the inclusion of palm oil due to its highly saturated nature, but keep in mind that it is only the second ingredient in a blend of four different oils, three of which are predominantly unsaturated.

The blend was specifically chosen as a result of a Brandeis University study that found that a proper ("Smart") balance of fatty acids can result in an improved HDL/LDL cholesterol ratio. Smart Balance is naturally cholesterol free, but it's the balance of saturated/monounsaturated/polyunsaturated fatty acids that has a positive effect on overall cholesterol. Whereas hydrogenated oils are cholesterol free, they have been demonstrated to actually raise LDL ("bad") cholesterol once absorbed into the bloodstream.

I've been buying Smart Balance exclusively since I discovered it at the grocery store (or its vegan, "non-GMO," cold-pressed counterpart, "Earth Balance," which, paradoxically, is usually cheaper). The price is anywhere from $2 to $3 per pint, and the taste and texture are remarkably similar to butter. It's great for all forms of cooking, including baking, and sauteeing, and is perfectly acceptable (in my opinion) for frying eggs, where traditional margarines often fall short, leaving a funny aftertaste (and burning up to nothing almost immediately upon melting).

Nutrition Facts:
Serving Size:             1 TBSP (14g)
Servings Per Container:   32
Calories:                 80 (100% from fat, of course)

Total Fat:                2.5g (14% DV)
Saturated Fats:           2.5g (13%)
Polyunsaturated fats:     2.5g
Monounsaturated fats:     3.5g
Cholesterol:              0mg 
Sodium:                   90mg
Total Carbs:              0mg
Protein:                  0mg

Vitamin A: 10% (as beta-carotene) Vitamin E: 10%

Ingredients: Natural oil blend (soy, palm, canola, olive), water, contains less than 2% of the following: salt, whey, vegetable monoglycerides and sorbitan ester of fatty acids (emulsifiers), soybean lecithin, potassium sorbate, lactic acid (to protect freshness), natural and artificial flavor, vitamin E (dl-alpha tocopheryl acetate), calcium disodium EDTA, vitamin A palmitate, beta-carotene for color.

Granted, the list of ingredients is rather long, but is comparable to other margarines. You'd be surprised by how many additional "surprise ingredients" are created by heating up an oil to 500°F in the presence of nickel (or aluminum) and hydrogen during the hydrogenation process used to create traditional margarines.

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