My mother asked me this question last week. She has the right to be confused. Margarine is lower in fat than butter, but that doesn’t mean it’s better for you. Let me explain.
I’m sure you’ve heard the claim that a diet high in cholesterol and saturated fat have been linked to heart disease, but I’m willing to bet you didn’t know that 50% of people who have heart disease have a normal cholesterol level.
For the longest time in my late teens, I myself sang the praises of the low fat diet. This claim that “low fat” is “better” actually originates from studies dating back to the 1950s where researchers found cholesterol in the wall of the arteries and elevated cholesterol in the blood. A conclusion was reached that high cholesterol levels lead to heart attack and strokes.
If having high cholesterol was the death sentence mainstream media claims, then how do you explain the miracle preventative power of a baby aspirin? It lowers your heart attack risk but does nothing for your cholesterol. What’s up with that? Aspirin is an anti-inflammatory medication. It lowers your heart disease risk by lowering your chronic inflammatory state. So it would seem that cholesterol levels most likely don’t correspond to your heart disease risk. Better markers for your risk would be C-reactive protein (CRP) and IL-6. You can find out what your levels are by getting two simple blood tests which will measure your inflammation level.
Having said that, I do want you to watch how much saturated fat you eat. Your diet does affect your inflammatory levels.
Now back to my mom’s question. Is butter or margarine healthier?
As we all know, butter is a spread made by churning fresh or fermented cream or milk. This is high in saturated fat. Cream is fat.
Margarine is an oil that has been hardened to a solid state by exposing the oil to hydrogen in the presence of either nickel or palladium. There are all sorts of oils added to the margarine in order to decrease the hydrogenated oil content. Why? Because hydrogenation produces trans fats. And we all know that these are bad for your health. The harder the margarine (ie. shortening), the more hydrogenation took place in order to make it solid. The food manufacturers also often add colouring to make the margarine yellow. On top of all of this, you have no way of knowing that there isn’t any microscopic amounts of nickel or palladium left in the margarine.
All of this to tell you that I believe butter is the better choice as margarine is directly inflammatory for your body. Margarine is not a healthy alternative to anything. It’s an engineered and highly processed product full of funny fats that can’t be good for you.
Don’t let health claims on the food labels fool you.
Does this mean you should slather slabs of butter on your bread tomorrow morning? Of course not. Used sparingly, butter can be your friend.