As I mentioned in a previous blog ‘Why Does Wheat Make Me Sick,’ our food journey and education – which is ever evolving – has really surprised us and has often disheartened us. We are learning more than we set out to learn. We are becoming more and more aware of both the facts and the fallacies. And, we’re still learning.

With regards to the 200-year-old butter/margarine debate, I know I can’t possibly present all the facts in this blog. My hope is that you will comment and share something we may not have touched on here. However, I do know that most food and pharmaceutical lobbies do have good reason to mislead us by claiming saturated fats make us fat and promote cardiovascular disease.

I want to start out by stating that both the Mayo Clinic and the American Heart Association recommend soft margarine over butter. And, for those of you who follow the ‘experts’ no matter what facts may get in the way that may be good enough.

When researching for this article, I read a lot from writers who sit on both sides of the fence. I found Diana Herrington, a host to Care2 group, consolidated both sides nicely. When I do my research, I always like to read about the contributors in order to determine what, if any, agenda is being propagated. I felt comfortable with what I gleaned about Ms. Herrington. She has listed 11 categories to look at when comparing butter and margarine. I have augmented her list with data from other articles.

In most countries the dairy industry is either regulated or subsidized so consumers end up paying extra either at the register or in their taxes.

Although this is a more subjective topic, there is no question of the winner.

Heart Healthy Saturated Fat Levels
This area was and is margarine’s strongest attempt to look healthier. Butter has more saturated fats (averaging 50 grams of saturated fat per 100 grams) whereas margarines range from 10 to 35 grams depending on the quality.

For years we were told that saturated fats were directly associated with higher rates of heart disease and other health problems. It turns out this association may be wrong! Many studies now can’t find a connection between the two. In fact, some saturated fats are now known to be extremely healthy for you.

For instance: in order to function properly, your lungs, heart, immune system liver, bones, hormones and cell membranes all require high-quality saturated fats – in moderation of course. Fatty acids and cholesterol are needed for healthy cell membranes, hormone and vitamin D production, and the transport and utilization of important vitamins and minerals.

Cholesterol Content
Margarine contains no cholesterol while all animal products, such as butter, contain cholesterol since the body creates its own cholesterol for essential functioning.

Many researchers and nutritionists maintain that blood cholesterol is dependent not on dietary cholesterol levels but how much our bodies naturally produce. They also point out that dietary cholesterol is necessary for intestinal health and that human breast milk is high in cholesterol.

Essential Fatty Acids
Butter has small, but equal, amounts of omega 3 and 6 fatty acids. This for most people is a much healthier ratio than what we normally consume.

Some of the expensive margarines have started adding omega 3 fatty acids to its higher-priced brands.

Trans Fat Content
Margarine originally got its “hardness” from its unsaturated oils, and a hydrogenation process that filled up certain molecular bonds is what made it spreadable. This caused high levels of trans fats. Modern nutrition has now discovered that these artificial fats with their unnatural bonds have very strong negative consequences. So much so that manufacturers are required by law to declare the amount of trans fats on their labeling.

Trans fats health risks include:

  • Triples the risk of coronary heart disease.
  • Increases total cholesterol and LDL (the bad cholesterol) and lowers HDL cholesterol (the good cholesterol).
  • Increases the risk of cancers up to five times.
  • Lowers quality of breast milk.
  • Decreases immune response.
  • Decreases insulin response.

Some of the more expensive margarines are now hardened with different methods.

What We Don’t Hear About Butter
Butter contains an easily absorbable vitamin A, E, K, and D and has higher levels of selenium, a trace mineral, and morewarm powerful antioxidant than even garlic. It also supplies iodine, needed by the thyroid gland. I’ve listed a few other butter benefits:

  • Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA): raw organic, pastured butter has loads of anti-tumor CLA, which inhibits the growth of cancer cells in the skin, colon, breasts and lungs. It’s anti-fungal and it stimulates muscle growth while preventing weight gain.
  • Butyric Acid: butter contains 4% butyric acid – a short chain fatty acid that research indicates can inhibit tumors. It also signals the immune system into action when an infection is brewing.
  • Vitamin K2: raw, organic, pastured butter and cream contains vitamin K2 – a necessary co-factor in vitamin D synthesis. K2 also ushers calcium out of your blood stream and into bone cells which increases bone density instead of calcifying arterial and heart tissue.
  • Fat–Soluble Vitamins: butter is a good source of the fat soluble vitamins A, D, and E. It’s also an excellent vehicle for their assimilation.
  • The Wulzen Factor: raw, unpasteurized butter, cream and milk contain the “Wulzen factor” an anti-stiffness agent. It protects against calcification of the joints (osteoarthritis) as well as cataracts, and the calcification of the pineal gland. Pasteurization destroys the Wulzen Factor.

Dairy Allergies and Sensitivities
Butter has small amounts of milk proteins which some may be allergic to. It also contains small amounts of lactose. Cultured or fermented butter has less but still has traces.

Level of Processing and Naturalness
Butter has been a staple for many cultures, created with minimal processing. Margarine, on the other hand, is a newer product that keeps reinventing itself based on popular nutritional beliefs.

For many people the naturalness of butter is a deal-breaker, which is more important than any new research or nutritional orientation that might emerge. For them, comparing butter to margarine is like comparing honey to refined white sugar or a gourmet homemade feast to a McDonald’s drive-through.

Margarine has succeeded in avoiding the huge negative publicity it gained from trans fats but how do we know that some new health factor related to its processing will not emerge that is just as unhealthy – or even more so?

Even if the better margarines are not subjected to the same high heat process of hydrogenation, the oils that go into margarine have already been subjected to high heat and processing.

Final Word

Although margarine has made great improvements, it has not yet proved itself safe over time. And, ‘healthy’ margarine cost is now reaching, and sometimes exceeding, butter.

My hope, as always, is to present the facts as best I can, so that you can make informed and educated food-related decisions. I want to hear from you.

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