A question that I am often asked is whether or not margarine is better than butter and vice versa. This debate should have ended a long time ago, but due to the ability that margarine has to morph itself according to the latest health claims, it remains a strong candidate in the world of oil spreads.
The simplest answer to the butter vs. margarine question is that butter is better for the simple fact that it is “natural”, but as always, the devil is in the details. The source of the butter, the processing it underwent, and how it is consumed all need to be taken into consideration.
Why is Margarine Perceived to Be Better?
Margarine is typically a man-made vegetable oil spread that has undergone a process called hydrogrenation, which turns liquid oil solid at room temperature and prolongs a product’s shelf life. This process forms trans fats, which are known to be the most harmful types of fats to be consuming.
Trans fats (or hydrogenated oils) are linked to heart disease, obesity, diabetes, cancer and other diseases, and should be avoided at all costs. For this reason, in the 1990’s margarine manufacturers began creating soft margarines that are lower in trans fats as a response to the public’s awareness on the dangers of trans fats. This metamorphosis helped change the perception that margarine was no longer harmful.
Margarine is also perceived to be better than butter due to the entrenched belief that saturated fats are bad for us and that saturated fats cause cholesterol and heart disease. Those who hold onto this belief will favor margarine since it has more polyunsaturated fats and is naturally cholesterol-free (since it does not come from an animal source) while butter is high in saturated fats. This belief needs to change however.
As I’ve previously explained here, not all saturated fats are created equal. Saturated fats from natural sources such as coconuts, avocadoes, organic grass-fed meats, and organic free-range eggs are in fact very healthy for us and should be included as part of a healthy diet – including butter! The type of butter you choose however is another important issue, but first…
Why is Butter Better?
Going back to basics, butter is natural and margarine well, is definitely not. In my opinion, that alone speaks a thousand words. But if that isn’t enough of a deterrent for you, then knowing a little bit about how margarine is made surely will.
Putting aside the amount of processing that takes place and the amount of preservatives and additives that are added, the oils used to make margarine are amongst the top four genetically modified crops; corn, soy, canola, and cotton. And not to mention, these crops are heavily sprayed with pesticides.
In addition, the process of hydrogenation creates a grey and unpleasant smelling product. As a result, the product has to be bleached, deodorized, and then artificially flavored and colored with a “natural” yellow dye because of course, synthetic coloring is not allowed. Irony much?!
Butter on the other hand from grass-fed cows is completely natural and contains many beneficial nutrients such as vitamins A, D, E, and K as well as important trace minerals like manganese, chromium, zinc, copper, selenium, and iodine. It also has the perfect ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fats and contains high amounts of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) which helps build muscle. The list of benefits can go on and on - you just can’t beat Mother Nature.
Choosing Your Butter
Raw organic butter from grass-fed cows is definitely the best type of butter to purchase since it is the most natural unadulterated source. The sale of raw milk however is banned in many countries and can be difficult to find. Therefore, your next most viable option would be pasteurized organic butter from grass-fed cows which can be found in most health foods stores and organic shops.
Cows that are fed corn develop infections that need to be treated with antibiotics. In addition, industrial dairy cows are given growth hormones to increase their production of milk to sustain mass production. Therefore, by definition, when you purchase certified organic milk products, you can rest assured they are free from unwanted hormones and antibiotics.
Pasteurized butter that we find in the supermarkets would be the next option and even though it isn’t ideal, it is still considerably better than margarine and other butter imposters.
Just be sure to consume your butter cold or at room temperature. Extreme heat, such as frying will destroy the nutrients in butter and create harmful free-radicals. If you must use oil for cooking, choose coconut oil which is the most heat-resistant.
Hope this settles the butter vs. margarine debate. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to share them.
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