Butter vs Margarine

This is probably one of the most common questions I get asked as a naturopath, whether it is in my clinic, or a weekend BBQ, when the inevitable question “what do you do?” gets asked. This most often gets followed up by “what is better: butter or margarine?”

It seems on the surface that butter and margarine both have some good points and bad points, however I hope that I convince you in favour of butter by the end of this article.

Butter has been eaten by humans since before the Middle Ages. Margarine was invented in 1869 in France when the king asked for a substitute for butter to be found.  It was originally made from beef fat and was white.  During World War 2 rationing made it almost impossible to get beef fat and so a new product made from vegetable oil was produced.

This “new vegetable oil margarine” is actually grey in colour and so the manufacturers bleach it and dye it yellow! Can you imagine spreading some grey grease onto your toast in the morning? That alone would be enough to put most people off.

As vegetable oil is a liquid at room temperature, the margarine manufacturers have to hydrogenate the oil molecules. This means they break down the bonds with different chemicals and reattach them in different places so it forms a solid.  This produces a molecule that the human body hasn’t evolved to see and thus we cant break it down properly. Hydrogenated oil can lead to heart disease and high cholesterol.  The process of hydrogenation also produces trans fats or trans fatty acids, which are harmful to the body. They have been linked to macular degeneration, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, infertility, some cancers (breast and prostate), depression, and heart disease. The manufacturers do try and remove the trans fats from the end product of the margarine.  You can read more details about trans fats on wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trans_fat

Some margarines claim to lower cholesterol however in my opinion, you are much better off lowering cholesterol by eating more fish and other good oils such as nuts, seeds, and avocado; as well as regularly exercising. Eating ”therapeutic margarine” that probably contributes to the high cholesterol it is trying to lower is not a good prescription. If you have high cholesterol and don’t want to take statins (medication), then book in to see your local naturopath as there are lots of things we can do to help.

Butter is higher in saturated fat compared to margarine, which isn’t necessarily all bad. There is recent research stating that saturated fats are good for the body. Everything in moderation is my mantra. Butter also has good fat-soluble vitamins such as A, E, D and K. It is a natural product that humans have eaten for hundreds of years.

So you can see why I choose butter over margarine.


(incidentally the image in this post was one that did the rounds of facebook a few years ago. The ants can tell us what to eat. The butter is their choice too!)

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