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A new look at the Margarine vs. Butter debate

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Margarine has been feted for a generation as a healthier substitute for butter. But is it really? A recent review by researchers in the British Medical Journal may indicate otherwise.

In the study, it found that men who were instructed to reduce the saturated fat commonly found in meat in favour of polyunsaturated fats found in vegetable-oil based margarines were found to have an increased health risk.  A better understanding of their differences may explain this finding.

What are they made of?

Margarine is made from vegetable oil, which is liquid at room temperature. To give it a harder consistency and extend its shelf life, additives like emulsifiers and artificial ingredients are added, in addition to having the oils undergo the process of hydrogenation. This involves using high heat, high pressure, hydrogen gas and a metal catalyst.

Adding the final touch to this entire production process are the yellow colourants added to make margarine yellow instead of grey.

EQE6307SA
The Electrolux EQE6307SA refrigerator has a deli compartment that can store butter while keeping it soft and spreadable.

Butter on the other hand, comes from churning cow’s milk until it turns into the yellow spread we all love on toast.  With the use of the deli compartment in refrigerators like the Electrolux EQE6307SA, delicate dairy products like butter need not rely on extra processes or chemicals to preserve its consistency or flavour.

Which is better for health?

If the natural vs. processed nature of butter and margarine respectively wasn’t enough of a hint, here’s more on their effects on health.

Due to its animal origins, butter is high in saturated fat and cholesterol, which is why this dietary staple has been demonised in recent times.  However, studies are showing that there is no association between cholesterol and cardiovascular disease. An expert writing in the British Medical Journal has also said that there is no significant association between saturated fat intake and risk of heart disease.

Butter
By DJ-Dwayne
http://www.flickr.com/photos/dj-dwayne/4652345168
Butter can be the healthier choice when it comes to breakfast spreads.

The hydrogenation process margarine undergoes to keep it solid causes the oil to turn into trans fats, which are associated with a higher risk of heart disease. This means that margarine could actually be more damaging to health than butter.

But isn’t saturated fat really bad for you?

Saturated fat, in fact, has actually been found to be protective. They have been identified as key components of cell membranes, essential to the production of some hormones and play an important role in the transport and absorption of certain vitamins and minerals.

Perhaps the key is returning to the way our ancestors ate before the advent of mass production and processing of food – “real”, fresh food like butter, cheese and whole grains.

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