Margarine: Better Than Butter?
If you’ve been using margarine for your health, you’re in for a bit of a shock.
You may know about the trans-fat issue. But that’s hardly the only problem with margarine. Today, I’ll reveal a few things about margarine you’ve probably never heard… and never would have guessed.
But first, let’s take a look at the obvious problems.
Trans-fat aside, margarine isn’t as healthy as the advertisers would like you to think. Yes, butter is higher in saturated fats… but almost all margarine contains saturated fats. Even when it has no animal products.
You see, the vegetable oils used in margarine are liquid at room temperature. To make margarine solid at room temperature, these oils are hydrogenated. And the process of hydrogenation does something interesting to unsaturated fats.
It makes them into saturated fats.
Even tub margarines would be liquid if they didn’t contain hydrogenated oils. So even these “healthy” options contain a fair amount of saturated fat.
Even worse, the saturated fats in margarine are man-made. None of these fats occur in nature. And the process of making them creates trans-fats. That’s why most margarines contain such high levels of nasty trans-fats.
So, while butter contains some saturated fat, margarine usually has both saturated fat and trans-fat. And that’s not good for your heart.
Another strike for margarine is that many brands contain cottonseed oil.
Here’s the problem. Cotton accounts for just 2.5% of the world’s cropland. But farmers use 16% of all pesticides on cotton. In fact, they dumped more than $1.3 billion worth of pesticides on cotton in 2007.1
So, along with the saturated fats and trans fats, you’re probably getting a dose of insecticide with every serving of margarine.
Then there are the ingredients. Butter contains cream. If it’s salted butter, it contains cream and salt. That’s a pretty simple list of ingredients. But margarine is loaded with all sorts of chemicals.
Mono and diglycerides, potassium sorbate, EDTA, and artificial flavors are just a few of the chemicals you may find in your margarine. And that’s on top of those unhealthy man-made fats.
And speaking of those fats… a review of 20 studies found that ordinary stick margarines were no better for your heart than butter.2 In fact, a report from Britain found that people who ate butter tended to have lower rates of heart trouble than people who avoided it!3
Ready for another shocker? A Tufts University study found that hydrogenated fats – the kind found in margarine – promote higher levels of messenger molecules called pro-inflammatory cytokines.4 and these cytokines have been linked to clogged arteries and other health problems.
In animal studies, margarine promoted some forms of abnormal cell growth… while butter didn’t.5
But that’s not all the trouble margarine may cause. A German study found boys were more likely to develop environmental sensitivities – such as itchiness or runny, stuffy noses – if they ate margarine instead of butter.6
Another German study linked regular margarine use to higher rates of skin problems in all children. In facts, doctors found skin problems more than twice as often among children who used margarine.7 they also found these children reacted more frequently to inhaled molecules such as pollen.
In another study, some of the same researchers discovered that margarine-eating adults were more likely to have these reactions, too.8
So when it comes to the margarine vs. butter debate, I believe the bulk of the evidence favors butter. And, unless high cholesterol is your only consideration, it sure looks to me like butter is a hands-down winner.
Dr Kenneth Woliner, M.D.
1 No auth. listed. The Deadly Chemicals in Cotton. EJF, 2007, pg 8.
2 Zock PL and Katan MB. Butter, margarine and serum lipoproteins. Ateroschlerosis, Volume 131, Issue 1, Pages 7-16 (May 1997).
3 Shaper AG, et al. Milk, butter, and heart disease. BMJ, Volume 302, 30 March, 1991, pp 785-786.
4 Hana SN, et al. Effect of hydrogenated and saturated, relative to polyunsaturated, fat on immune and inflammatory responses of adults with moderate hypercholesterolemia. Journal of Lipid Research, Vol. 43, 445-452, March 2002.
5 Yanagi S, et al. Comparative effects of milk, yogurt, butter, and margarine on mammary tumorigenesis induced by 7,12-dimethylbenz(a)anthracene in rats. Cancer Detect Prev. 1994;18(6):415-20.
6 Bolte G, et al. Margarine Consumption and Allergy in Children. Am. J. Respir. Crit. Care Med., Volume 163, Number 1, January 2001, 277-279.
7 Sausenthaler S, et al. Margarine and butter consumption, eczema and allergic sensitization in children. The LISA birth cohort study. Pediatric Allergy and Immunology, Volume 17, Issue 2, pages 85–93, March 2006.
8 Bolte G, et al. Margarine Consumption, Asthma, and Allergy in Young Adults: Results of the German National Health Survey 1998. Annals of Epidemiology, Volume 15, Issue 3, Pages 207-213 (March 2005).