We are constantly being warned about eating foods high in saturated fats, as it causes elevated “bad” cholesterol which has detrimental effects on our heart – or so we are told. Because of this, butter has gotten a bad rap over the past few decades. We are told by our physicians, and countless others, including the American Heart Association, that margarine is a healthy alternative. If you Google the word “margarine”, your results will say that research shows the use of margarine or buttery spreads vs. butter has contributed significantly to the reduced risk of heart disease. (1) Really?
Butter is a natural discovery with a history line going back to 3500 B.C in Asia. Before 1900, very few people died of heart disease…it was almost non-existent! Margarine was first created in 1870. By 1930, there were 3,000 deaths per year attributed to heart attacks. By the 1960’s, it had sharply increased to 500,000 per year. Today, almost one out of every 2.8 deaths result from heart disease – it is the leading cause of death. (2) A wise doctor named Dr. Dudley White, prominent cardiologist and physician to President Eisenhower was quoted as saying “See here, I began my practice as a cardiologist in 1920 and I never saw a heart attack patient until 1928. Back in heart attack free days before 1920, the fats were butter and lard, and I think we could all benefit from the kind of diet that we had at a time when no one had ever heard the word “corn oil.” (3)
We need to take a look at how butter and margarine are made and what the affects are on our health.
Butter is made from a simple process using sheep or goat’s milk (back in the “old” days) or cow’s milk (what we use today). The milk is allowed to sit until the cream rises to the top. Skim the cream off the top and pour into a churn, and “work” it into butter. Although this process is now highly automated, it is still whole food based.
Many cultures have and still currently maintain amazingly high levels of health while consuming moderate to high fat diets, including significant amounts of saturated fats! Look at the Masai tribe in Africa who eat as much as one pound of saturated fats daily, with their diets being made up solely of full-fat milk, cream, and red meat. Another example is the French who eat about four times as much butter than Americans, and have a higher intake of saturated fats. But according to a study from 1999 by the British Heart Foundation, the death rate from coronary heart disease among male ages 35-74 was nearly 30% less in France than in the United States. (4)
Margarine is a man-made product created due to the increasing population, and it was a cheaper alternative to replace butter. It is made from several different of the cheapest oils, such as, sunflower, corn, canola, cottonseed or soybean oil, which is then mixed with milk, water, and/or soy-based protein, and salt. It then goes through an extensive process that involves filtering, washing and even bleaching. The oils are then treated with hydrogen gas in a high pressure, high temperature reactor. Please take note that heat can be very dangerous to unstable oils like the ones being used. Heat and light can cause these oils to become rancid – see “The Dangers of Canola Oil” blog here.
Wait, there’s more! Emulsifiers are then added to achieve the desired texture. This is followed by one final “cleaning”, usually involving bleach, to remove any undesirable colors or odors. Last but not least, flavorings and colorings are added to this concoction to make it resemble the buttery look-alikes we see on the grocery shelf. You get choices: convenient tubs, sticks or liquid sprays.
The low fat diet fads began taking hold in our society in the early 1960’s. It grew rapidly in the 1970’s, 80’s and 90’s. Butter and meat consumption dropped by half in the 1960’s and 1970’s while the consumption of margarine grew by four times. And what happened? Heart disease in our society began to rise at an alarming rate.
We praise the benefits of margarine without fully understanding the flip-side. Man continues to devise ways to improve, to enhance or to make things more convenient, and more cost-effective by tampering with Mother Nature’s design. While sometimes, the intentions may be good, the end result is very dangerous to our health.
Realize the true facts about margarine:
- Margarine is lower in total fat and saturated fat. While this is true, lower fat – even lower saturated fat – does not equate to lower risk of heart disease or improved health. In fact, no randomized research study has ever been able to link a low-fat diet and lower cholesterol to a lower risk of heart disease. According to the British Medical Journal, there is a higher death rate among people with low cholesterol than high cholesterol.
- Margarine is spreadable, even when refrigerated. This is an added convenience. However, easiest does not mean it is always best!
- Margarine really doesn’t have anything nutritionally to offer. Although it contains high levels of Omega 6, it has minimal Omega 3’s (you need the correct ratio of both). NO CLA (Conjugated Linoleic Acid – which has proven properties that attribute to cancer prevention. CLA is also very important for muscle mass and fat burning). No Arachidonic Acid – a vital component of cell membranes and contributes to proper brain function.
- All margarine products contain TRANS FATS or unnaturally extracted fats. Your body does not recognize the difference between trans or regular fats, and incorporates either into the cell membrane. In this case, your cells even become hydrogenated. This does not allow the good things (nutrients, water, oxygen) to get in and does not flush out the bad (waste products, toxins, etc).
- Excessive processing results in unwanted and unnecessary additions to the product like emulsifiers, stabilizers, colorings and flavorings.
Realize the true benefits of Butter:
- Butter contains Arachidonic Acid – which is a vital component of cell membranes and contributes to proper brain function. (Makes you even smarter!)
- Butter is made up of 12-15% short and medium chain fatty acids. These are absorbed directly from the small intestine (without the need for bile salts). These type of fats have huge immune boosting properties. These fats are also anti-tumor and anti-viral.
- Butter in CLA (Conjugated Linoleic Acid) has proven properties that attribute to cancer prevention. They are also very important for muscle mass and fat burning. Imagine that! A good fat that burns bad fat! Look for organic butter, preferably butter from grass-fed cows.
- Butter contains Omega 6’s and Omega 3’s, almost equally preventing improper ratios.
You decide for yourself if you will continue to eat margarine based on the facts and the history. Do not believe the hype without first doing a little background check.
(3) http://thescreamonline.com/essays/essays5-1/vegoil.html (4) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles