The butter/margarine debate is rife amongst health professionals and food consumers alike, with numerous arguments for each in regards to their effects on health. Having had little interest in the stuff myself, I have never entered the debate actively; however, enthusiasts from both camps will offer passionate reasons why the opposing team should be shelved. So I set out to find the facts…
The arguments for butter:
It’s more natural:
True. It contains few ingredients besides cream. But does this make it better? Butter is naturally high in saturated fats; (over 50%), which when consumed in high amounts can be linked to an increase in the bad LDL cholesterol; a risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
It tastes better:
This is of course subjective; strangely I’ve never been all that enticed by the taste of butter and am more inclined to spread my toast with vegemite sans any other spread, but those loyal to the solid stuff will scoff at any imitation.
The arguments for margarine:
It’s lower in saturated fats:
Also true. Margarines are made from plant oils, with variations containing sunflower, canola, olive, or even a combination of several. Consequently, margarines contain both poly and monounsaturated fats, which are known to protect against the high cholesterol butter may encourage.
Furthermore, a number of margarines have been developed in recent years to contain phytosterols, naturally occurring substances found in plants that have the ability to bind to cholesterol in the body and prevent reabsorption. This is pretty exciting news for those on cholesterol-lowering medication such as statins, as these people may be able to control their condition in part by substituting butter with spreads.
It’s easier to spread:
This not only makes life easier, and food presentation less messy, but also means you’re cutting down on the kilojoule content in comparison to the thicker, more solid butter.
But isn’t margarine full of trans fats?
This is a common misconception. Trans fats are a name given to unsaturated fats that have been processed, via means of hydrogenation, to make the fat behave – and appear – like a saturated fat. This means that, rather than behaving as an oil at room temperature, a trans fat will appear solid – thus taking on the sensory characteristics of butter, which has a higher melting temperature than oils contained in margarine.
This is all sounding pretty good so far, and at one stage it appeared to solve at least a few of those margarine-doubters’ concerns. That is, until it was discovered that trans fats also elevated the levels of bad (LDL) cholesterol and decreased the levels of good (HDL) cholesterol – after which trans fats were linked to a whole host of diet-related diseases, in particular heart disease and the rate of inflammation in the body overall.
For this reason, margarine in Australia has amongst the lowest rates of trans fats in the world, according to the Heart Foundation. You’re more likely to be consuming trans fats through processed meats, chips and pastries than marge.
So which is best?
When it comes down to it, the best choice really is margarine. However, if you really can’t bear to part with butter, rest assured you can still maintain a healthy lifestyle. As always, moderation is the key, so ensuring you keep your portion sizes to a few small scrapes, rather than spreading it thickly, on will avoid overloading on empty kilojoules.
If, like me however, you’re not entirely swayed by either, consider using avocado as an alternative. This provides a similar creamy texture, and boasts a wide range of nutrients (vitamins A, E, C and K; antioxidants and fibre), and has had absolutely no processing!
To dispel one final myth, let’s clear up the age-old rumour that margarine is black before processing…
Most margarines are made of sunflower and canola seeds, which are naturally dark in colour. In order to release the oils from these seeds, they are crushed, removing the outer shell, and thus, the black colour.
Categories: fact or fiction