Q_ What's better for me: olive oil or butter?

A: While olive oil is better for you than butter from a health standpoint, nutritionally they are both equally fattening and have 135 calories per tablespoon and 15 grams of fat.

When choosing between olive oil and butter, olive oil is the healthier choice because it is a monounsaturated fat and high in antioxidants. Studies have shown that olive oil offers protection against heart disease by lowering LDL ("bad") cholesterol levels while raising HDL (the "good" cholesterol) levels. Studies also link monounsaturated fats to reducing the risk of heart disease, certain cancers and even depression and Alzheimer's disease.

A recent study by the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition Studiesshowed people who consumed 25 milliliters - about 2 tablespoons - of virgin olive oil daily for 1 week showed less oxidation of LDL cholesterol and higher levels of antioxidant compounds, particularly phenols, in the blood.

On the other hand, butter, a saturated fat, can raise LDL cholesterol levels, increasing your risk of heart disease. Saturated fats, also found in fatty beef, pork, lamb, cream, ice cream and other full-fat dairy products are what clog your arteries leading to plaque buildup and heart attacks.

While olive oil may be good for your heart and bacon fat may be bad, either can make you fat if you eat too much. Oil is a fat and fat has a lot of calories, period. Ounce for ounce, olive oil and butter have about the same amount of calories.

So when you reach for the bread basket tonight at dinner, don't forget that one tablespoon of olive oil equals 135 calories. When you dip your bread in oil, the bread acts as a sponge and soaks up far more oil than you might have intended on eating. To help combat this, do not eat from the bread basket - order a salad instead to keep your hands and mouth busy. Or, if you must have a piece of bread, order butter instead of oil so that you are aware of how much you are spreading and, consequently, eating.

Tanya Zuckerbrot, MS, RD is a nutritionist and the creator of The F-Factor DietaC/, an innovative nutritional program she has used for more than ten years to provide hundreds of her clients with all the tools they need to achieve easy weight loss and maintenance, improved health and well-being. For more information log onto