What’s more healthy, margarine or butter? That’s the question I’ve been asking my 7th and 8th grade science students for several years now. And almost every time I get the same response – margarine. I sometimes ask adults that same question and the response is frequently the same. But what I’ve discovered is quite the contrary – butter and saturated fats in general are much more healthy for you than unsaturated and polyunsaturated fats that make up margarine. In fact, there are numerous studies that have been conducted on the subject but for some reason don’t make their way to the general public. It has been almost politically incorrect in the last 40 years to use butter.
So why use butter? Well, first of all, butter is essentially made up of saturated fats. These are molecules that are just chains of carbon atoms attached to each other with hydrogen atoms completely saturating the sides. There are no other atoms involved and that’s why they are called saturated fats. It’s deceiving because it sounds like it’s saturated with bad stuff to make us fat. However, saturated fats constitute 50 percent of the cell membranes, are important for our bones, lower Lp(a) – a substance in blood that is an indicator for heart disease, protect the liver, enhance the immune system and the list goes on. This is not to say that eating lots of butter makes you healthier, but when deciding on butter or margarine, butter is clearly the more healthy choice.
Margarine is made up of unsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. While important in our diet, they need to be treated with care as they can go rancid easily and are highly reactive. These fats are actually more complicated than butter. Unsaturated just means that there are more ‘other’ substances taking up some of the places that would have had hydrogen atoms attached. Unsaturated does NOT mean less stuff, etc., it means more. Margarine not only has polyunsaturated fats but in order to make them solid at room temperature, they must be partially hydrogenated. This process makes them worse for you due to the chemical changes that occur to make it more ‘butter-like.’ In fact, margarine is naturally a grey color and must be bleached and colored to make it look like butter (edible).
With all this, why do people believe margarine is better than butter? Follow the money! The companies making the products we eat, like margarine, have a symbiotic relationship with the government, big pharma and the media. You scratch our backs and we’ll scratch yours. Having good health is not important to them. In fact, your poor health is money in the bank and an investment for them. Margarine and other altered partially hydrogenated fat products are directly related to cancer, high cholesterol, diabetes, obesity, immune problems and the list goes on and on. So, the next time you are deciding on butter or some other butter wanna-be, just choose the butter. It’s the healthy choice.
Ben Theiss is a devoted father and husband as well as an avid runner and cyclist. He earned his Bachelor’s Degree in Earth Science from the University of California at Berkeley. He has been a Math and Science Teacher for over 13 years. Ben served in the US Army and is a Veteran of Desert Storm.