Butter vs. Margarine – The Heated Debate


Hello everyone! You may have noticed by now that nutrition is not often black and white. You hear something is good for you, then it is found to be linked to some ______disease, then something else comes out that says, nope, it’s good for you again and it actually prevents _____ disease. Clear as mud. The fickle world of nutrition can be maddening, believe me I know. So many studies, so many different findings. The best way to deal with this dilemma is stay updated on the latest research, use common sense, and maybe become pals with a dietitian. 🙂

One of these conflicting topics I get a lot questions on is the notorious butter vs. margarine debate. I thought I’d do a little search to see what all Google had to say about it, and man was I disappointed. A lot of outdated and misleading information. It is no wonder that we are all left smacking our foreheads.

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Based off the latest research, butter is back. And as an advocate of whole natural foods, I wholeheartedly agree. A meta-analysis published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2010 and another meta-analysis published by Annals of Internal Medicine in 2014 both came to the same conclusions : there is no definitive link between dietary saturated fat and heart disease, and there is not enough evidence to advise against eating it. Crazy! We’ve had it drilled into our brains by doctors for decades, and now they tell us this? *Dramatically tosses educational handouts in the air with a look of despair.* 

Natural butter, despite it’s bad reputation, does contain some essential fatty acids and helps the body absorb certain vitamins. So, a pat of butter on your vegetables at dinner should not be considered unhealthy.  Margarine is highly processed and contains many chemicals. While many margarines claim they are now trans-fat free, many of them still have “hydrogenated” oils in their ingredients – which is trans fat. It may just be in small enough amounts they don’t have to list it in the nutrition label. Sneaky. Trans-fat is a man-made shelf stabilizer that has been shown to be extremely harmful to heart health. Vegetable oils in margarine may also produce toxic chemicals during high heat cooking.

While butter has been taking the rap, the true culprit often leading to heart disease is America’s over consumption of refined carbohydrates. Excessive carb intake raises blood insulin levels. Frequently high insulin levels prevent you from using fat stores as energy, leading to higher triglyceride levels. More triglycerides lead to more cholesterol in the arteries – and there you have it, clogged arteries.

Another culprit is the lack of healthy unsaturated fats into our diet. Studies have shown that replacing some saturated fat intake with the intake of healthy unsaturated fats found in fish, avocado, nuts, olive oil, etc. improves health. It’s all about balance.

So that being said, does this mean we can eat all the butter and bacon-wrapped chocolate we want? No, sadly it does not. Butter should still be eaten in modest quantities because the saturated fat in butter, while can increase good cholesterol, can increase bad cholesterol as well. This can be a problem especially if you have a history of high cholesterol. Butter is also high in calories which can lead to undesirable weight gain, about 100 calories per tablespoon.  

What to take away from this? If your diet is a healthy one, butter in moderation is not bad. The media and internet need to catch up with the latest information and get on board. More of their efforts should be directed in bringing awareness about eating excessive refined carbs, in my opinion. In the end, ladies and gents, “butter stick” to whole, natural foods that have no long-term health risks 🙂 . I personally buy unsalted butter for cooking and baking on occasion. If you can get grass-fed butter, even better for the nutritional content.

Let me know what you think about butter and if you have any questions!

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