There are lots of things up for debate in the world of healthy eating, but we don’t typically take the time to sit down and chat about which fatty spread poses the bigger risk to our health. Most people don’t even know the difference between margarine and butter, just that margarine has been hailed as the healthier option in our modern world. Have we ever stopped to ask ourselves why that is? Looking more in depth at these two delicious items may give us a clue.
The War On Fat
Butter is made from fermented milk and is made up of water, butterfat, and milk proteins. These natural substances are churned until they thicken into a consistency we can comfortably spread on toast. People have been eating butter for hundreds of years, and the natural fat sources found in butter are actually healthy for humans when consumed in moderation—just like everything else in the entire world.
Unfortunately, as a culture we’ve demonized anything containing fat, which is actually an important part of the human diet. Things only start to get unhealthy when we over consume or begin adding synthetic ingredients to our foods that aren’t as pure and natural as what we find in butter. Enter margarine.
The “Science” Of Health
Just to compare a bit, let’s take a look at how margarine is made. First, solvents are used to collect oils from soybeans, corn, canola, and other seeds—many of which come from genetically modified crops. Next, the oils which have been unnaturally removed through high temperatures and high pressures are steam cleaned. (Isn’t that something we do to our carpets?) This doesn’t necessarily mean that the residue from herbicides have been eliminated. After the oils have been “cleaned” they are mixed with a highly toxic substance: ground nickel. This helps a chemical reaction take place. While these small amounts of nickel aren’t enough to hurt you, does anyone truly fancy pocket change ground into their breakfast?
A grease is the result of this chemical reaction, at which time emulsifiers are added to encourage the proper shape. (You know, they stuff used to make soap.) A few more steps to clean the substance takes place and then, finally, vitamins and artificial colors are added.
Does this sound healthy to you?
Even if you are scooping the trans-fat-free version of margarine off the shelf at the grocery store, it still isn’t a natural substance in any way, shape, or form. It’s kind of hard to understand why this laboratory creation was ever hailed as a healthy alternative, but the power of advertising on the American psyche is a powerful thing.
We can trace the very few ingredients that make up our sticks of butter by looking back at the animal who produced milk for it. Non-GMO fed animals will produce non-GMO butter, and being free of genetically modified organisms isn’t the only thing butter has going for it.
Eating The Way Nature Intended
Yes, margarine can lower bad cholesterol in the short term. It also lowers good cholesterol. It can also lower the risk for heart disease, but there are several other options to do this as well. (Lay off the cheeseburgers, why don’t you?)
Butter on the other hand does more good for our diets than it does harm. Butter supplies the human body with many vitamins, minerals, and good cholesterol. It also contains fatty acids we need to support metabolism, brain function, proper immune system function, and helps protect the gastrointestinal tract from infection. If your butter comes from grass-fed cows, you may have the additional health benefit from CLA which has been shown to help the body build muscle instead of storing fat as well as offer protection against certain cancers.
The Facts Don’t Add Up Against Butter
We are truly lucky to be living in modern times where we have the benefits of science; however, science for the sake of science is not useful—it can actually be harmful. Our ancestors have developed some pretty fabulous, natural ways of doing things, and we should seriously ask ourselves what reason we have to change those practices. If we can safely and efficiently boost production and create new things via science in a way that is still natural, then we should. If we are just going to create things like margarine, it’s not worth the time.
The facts about how “unhealthy” butter is just don’t add up. The health benefits completely outweigh the risks. In fact, the risks only appear to be prevalent when we misuse butter. What it really comes down to is personal accountability and taking responsibility for our choices with food. When we can commit to that, butter is the clear choice.