Margarine or Butter?

A question you may have been asked in the past. Well I can tell you what, I know what my answer would be…BUTTER every time thanks! What..wait…hold on you say! But I thought butter was unhealthy and high in saturated fats, I thought we were supposed to avoid them. Well i’ll leave the saturated fat debate for another time, what I have to say on that subject may well be controversial and blow your mind! For now we’ll talk about margarine and why I wouldn’t touch it with a barge pole!

The majority of margarines these days are made using a process called INTERESTERIFICATION. Due to the internet and the easy access of information most people now know about the dangers of paritally hydrogenated oils (if you don’t we will blog about this in the near future). Thankfully they are far less prevelent in our food now. But has anyone heard of Interesterification? The answer is probably No.

So what is it you ask and why should I care? Well if you care about your health and what you put into you body, read on! The dangers of partially hydrogenated oils were discovered back in the mid-nineties and since then manufacturers have gradually reduced the amount the trans-fats in our food (although many many products still contain trans-fat…but thats a topic for another day). So since then the food industry was left with a question…if using hydrogenation to make margarine was out they would have to find another way, but what? The answer was Interesterification. Fats occur naturally as Triglycerides…put very simply this means 3 bits of fat stuck to a sugar backbone.

Saturated fat, is solid at room temperature as it’s made up of straight molecules (full with hydrogen) which pack tightly together, hench why butter is solid. Margarine however is made from oils, which are liquid at room temperature. These oils or polyunsaturated fats have bends in the molecules (they are missing hydrogen) and so don’t pack tightly together. In order to make something spreadable for your toast these oils need to made to be more solid, but not as solid as butter of course, I mean we wouldn’t want you to ruin your toast! Margarine used to be made using a process called hydrogenation which works by pumping hydrogen atoms into the molecules and straightening them out in order to make them more solid. Interesterification however chops up the fat molecules and re-arranges them on their sugar base….ummmmm yum, that all sounds so good and appetising! The process is not as extreme as hydrogenation but when you are taking a liquid and using chemical processing and enzymes to turn that liquid into a solid you have to wonder what is going on at a molecular level!

The process of Interesterification was first invented back in the 1940s. It has changed over the years and now uses enzymes to ‘re-order’ the fatty acids. Manufacturers can MANIPULATE in what sequence the fatty acids attach to their base in order to create, yes artificially CREATE the kinds of tastes and textures they know we prefer in our food! Not only do they do this but the oil goes through processes such as ‘bleaching’ ‘degumming’ and ‘deoderising’…again it all sounds so delightful doesn’t it! Hydrogenation produces deadly trans-fats, which are STRONGLY linked to heart disease. Interesterified blends, whilst being trans free have been shown to have equally if not worse effects on our bodies!

Studies have been carried out which show that Interesterified oils raise blood glucose levels, depress beneficial HDL cholesterol and decrease insulin production in the body by twice as much as trans-fats! Whilst the dangers of trans-fats have been recognised and the levels in our food have been reduced, the food industry is, as far as I can see simply swapping one bad fat for another that is potentially even worse! The vegetable oil industry though is such big business that they will keep pushing these fats upon us and, using their powerful PR machines keep demonising butter and saturated fat as the enemy and proclaiming their ‘heart-healthier’, ‘cholesterol lowering’ magical margarines as the way forward. Interesting isn’t it that some of these brands are significantly more expensive than butter! Also margarine is around 2-3 steps from being a plastic.

The simple truth is that not enough is known about the long term effects such oils have on the body. It was long thought that hydrogenated oils where healthy and so they were promoted as a way of reducing saturated fat. The point is, we don’t know anywhere near enough about Interesterification and its effects but for my money, anything that’s bleached, deorderised, degummed, re-arranged, messed about, manipulated, created and bibbidi-bobbidi-boo changed from liquid to solid and presented to me as food, well…thanks but no thanks! I’ll stick with my lovely butter, ta very much!

For your interest below is a list of ingredients for butter and magarine…

Fat (cream)
A little salt

Edible oils
Edible fats
Salt or potassium chloride
Ascorbyl palmitate
Butylated hydroxyanisole
Mono- and di-glycerides of fat-forming fatty acids
Disodium guanylate
Diacetyltartaric and fatty acid esters of glycerol
Propyl, octyl or dodecyl gallate (or mixtures thereof)
Propylene glycol mono- and di-esters
Cucrose esters of fatty acids
Annatto extracts
Tartaric acid
ß-apo-carotenoic acid methyl or ethyl ester
Skim milk powder
Vitamins A and D.
(Yep I don’t know what half of these ingredients are either!)

Ok, so one final final thing before I go. If having read this you’re thinking about switching to butter I recommend organic butter from grass-fed cows. Enjoy!

Thanks for stopping by, see you again soon.