Is margarine or butter healthier, I’m often asked? For me, it’s butter all the way and I’ll explain why.
This post is yes, about margarine (and spreadable butter, softened butter etc;) and how detrimental to your health they are. We move back into the territory of vegetable oils and why you really need to avoid consuming them. Just a bit more information following on from the recommendations I made on my post about fats and oils. If you’ve missed it you can catch up here.
Again with so many different varieties and brands, I have just picked some commonly found ingredients to analyse. Starting with the primary, and most concerning ingredient in all of these margarine and processed spreads…
Let’s just clarify that vegetable oils are technical, in fact, seed oils. The oil is extracted from the cheapest, poorest quality, often genetically modified seeds using high temperatures which make them rancid (stinky and off). When it seems the last drop of oil is extracted, chemicals are used to extract just a little more.
In order for a seed oil to be made solid (like butter) it then needs to be hydrogenated using a toxic heavy metal called nickel as a catalyst (or to put it simply, it’s chemically manipulated). This process produces a very dangerous form of fat called trans fats which are know to cause heart disease, cancer, infertility and have been implicated in many other degenerative disease (as they promote inflammation). Canola is the seed of choice in many margarines as its fatty acid structure means that is doesn’t require as much hydrogenation as other seed oils and therefore yields lower levels of trans-fatty acids. Regardless, the product ends up containing trans fats, for which there is no such thing as a safe amount (trans fats scare me more than any other ingredient in processed foods).
The end result of this process (I’ve read), is a smelly, dark grey/ brown chemical mess that needs to be deodorised and treated to be palatable.
Current dietary guidelines state that dietary fat (especially of the saturated kind) causes coronary heart disease, obesity (and therefore) type 2 diabetes. I can’t say it any better than David Gillespi in his book Big Fat Lies – “Apparently, some of the fat we eat causes our cholesterol to rise and since high cholesterol is a risk factor for heart disease, we should stop eating fat if we want to avoid that. However, the (scientific) evidence doesn’t support any of these claims about fat. It’s becoming increasingly clear that the things we use to replace dietary animal fat (usually sugar and seed oils) are likely to be the real cause of not just heart disease, but also of type 2 diabetes, cancer and obesity.”
NOTE – Seed oils are used in so much more than just making margarine. They are also used as cooking oils, in spreadable butter, salad dressings, mayonnaise, in cakes, pastries, crackers, sauces and many brands of bread. Also all fast food or commercial deep fryers use vegetable oils. Almost every fat we put in our mouths from processed foods is a seed oil. Prior to the industrialisation of our food chain, we survived on primarily animal-derived fats and coconut fats, (and also without the current rates of obesity and disease).
Is messing with the type of fat we have evolved to consume our undoing?
But back to margarine. The few other ingredients are…
Water and salt – no explanation required.
Emulsifiers (soy lecithin, 471) – 471 is a synthetically derived fat that helps to disperse water molecules through the fat.
Preservative 202 – Linked to liver damage, behavioural problems, asthma and recommended to avoid if you have kidney or heart problems.
Food acid (lactic) – no known side effects unless allergic.
Milk solids – skim milk powder used to colour the product.
Maltodextrin – is made from treated or hydrolysed grain starch. It gives a fat like body to the margarine and extends its shelf-life.
Natural colour – (beta-carotene, curcumin or turmeric) – Is used to turn a greyish brown like concoction yellow. Because they are described as natural doesn’t mean they are safe as many natural colours are associated with gene damage and risk to conception and cancer.
Vitamins A & D – mandatory fortification
Flavour – Information on this in not available.
Margarine is made by an industrialised, chemical process. Butter is made by churning cream or milk. I can find no good reason to consume margarine (or any other softened butter or vegetable oil containing spread) – ever!
Usually, I follow up these posts with a healthy alternative recipe. Butter is so simple to make, especially if you have a high-speed blender or processor (like the Thermomix). Search online for very simple instructions on how to do so. Or, buy a butter preferably made from grass fed or organic dairy. Or just buy butter!
These few healthy alternatives, spreads or toppings are also worth a mention:
Nut butter like ABC (Almond, Brazil, Cashew spread)
Extra Virgin Olive oil (sprinkled with dukkah …mmmm)
Want to offload the seed oils in your cupboards? I hate waste, so how about using it to make a batch of play dough?