Butter versus margarine

As a netizen (Internet user), I like everyone else am generally inundated with misinformed chain-letters which illustrate why you should never rely on anonymously-authored and randomly-forwarded messages for health advice (or any other advice for that matter).  On that note, I recently received an email regarding butter and margarine which clearly was written by a butter-loving nitwit with absolutely no historic or scientific knowledge.

Let’s first begin with the message in question.  Below is the email I’m referring to.  Note that I’ve left the poor grammar, Anglophilic spelling, and capitalization and punctuation mistakes intact without marking them with standard editorial signals like [sic].

The difference between margarine and butter?

Both have the same amount of calories.  Butter is slightly higher in saturated fats at 8 grams compared to 5 grams.  Eating margarine can increase heart disease in women by 53% over eating the same amount of butter according to a recent Harvard Medical Study.

Eating butter increases the absorption of many other nutrients in other foods.

Butter has many nutritional benefits where margarine has a few only because they are added!

Most people agree that butter tastes much better than margarine and it can enhance the flavours of other foods.

Butter has been around for centuries, where margarine has been around for less then 100 years.

Now for Margarine…  very high in Trans Fatty Acids…  Triple risk of Coronary Heart Disease.  Increases total and LDL (this is the bad cholesterol)…  Lowers HDL cholesterol and this is the good one.  Increases the risk of cancers by up to five fold.  Lowers the quality of breast milk.  Decreases the power of the immune response.  Decreases insulin response.

And here is the most disturbing fact….

Margarine is but ONE MOLECULE from being PLASTIC…  (this fact alone could be enough to have you avoiding margarine for life and anything else that is hydrogenated — this means hydrogen is added changing the molecular structure of the food).

You can try this little test for yourself at home!  Purchase a tub of margarine and leave it in your garage or shaded area.  Within a couple of days you will note a couple of things — No flies, not even those pesky fruit flies will go near it, (that should tell you something!).  It does not rot or smell differently…

Because it has no nutritional value, nothing will grow on it, even those teeny weeny micro-organisms will not find a home to grow…Why? because it is nearly plastic.

Would you melt your tupperware and spread that on your toast???

What you’re looking at above is not a coherent essay written by a single, knowledgeable author.  It is nothing more than a compilation of facts and opinions from many unidentified sources.  As with most chain letters, the truth often is not compelling enough.  It only gains widespread appeal after someone sensationalizes it with questionable and blatantly inaccurate information.

It is true that a 1994 Harvard University study as well as research from other credible sources have concluded that a diet high in trans fat doubles the chance for heart attack and decreases life expectancy.  While trans fats can occur naturally, they are most commonly associated with chemical preservative techniques.  Hydrogenation is one of these techniques and health experts recommend that you limit your intake of hydrogenated or partially-hydrogenated foodstuffs as much as possible.

Stating that eating butter increases the absorption of many other nutrients in other foods is scientifically accurate yet deceptive.  It’s not the butter which provides increased nutritional transport.  All nutrients (vitamins and minerals) are either water-soluble or fat-soluble.  This means the body cannot process them without the proper transport.  Vitamin C, for instance, is water-soluble, meaning the body requires a supply of water in order to process and utilize Vitamin C.  If butter contains more fat than margarine, it would by its very content be able to transport more fat-soluble vitamins and minerals than a product with less fat.  This does not make it healthier to consume, however, and certainly isn’t a reason to move to a diet with heavier fat content.

While butter and margarine may indeed have similar caloric values, butter generally ranks higher in saturated fat.  We should all know by now that saturated fat is detrimental to heart health.  Margarines differ from brand to brand, but generally they are lower in saturated fat and contain small amounts of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats (which are considered healthier than saturated).  Furthermore, according to a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, switching to margarine from butter can greatly reduce blood cholesterol levels.

Margarine was the outcome of a competition that Napoleon III held in France to provide his troops with an alternative to butter that would survive long campaigns without refrigeration.  Minimal research on my part shows that this happened immediately prior to the Franco-Prussian war.  This would certainly explain why margarine is less likely to suffer from microbial or other contamination while butter is volatile.  In fact, one could say the same of unpopped popcorn.  When it’s left out with no protection, it neither suffers insect nor microbial infestation and will keep in a usable form for a significant amount of time in this manner.  Shouldn’t that be a cause for concern and shouldn’t we equally stop eating popcorn — simply because it can survive with minimal care and protection without becoming spoiled?  And think about the other foods you keep in this manner, such as pasta, cooking oil, salt and pepper and other spices, jerky…  Well, you get the idea.

The final argument in the letter above is what has made it so popular, but is also the farthest from reality and preys on the layman’s general ignorance of chemistry.  It is not true that margarine is “but ONE MOLECULE from being PLASTIC.”  Many items in nature are chemically similar to one another, but that doesn’t make them similar in appearance or effect.

For instance hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) is “but one molecule from” water (H2O).  Does that mean we should drink hydrogen peroxide?  They are, after all, but one molecule from each other, so certainly that means they perform the very same function — or at least a similar function.  Similarly, ozone (O3) is “but one molecule from” oxygen (O2), but the former can create serious respiratory problems, while the latter can alleviate them.  Salt (NaCl) is one molecule from being sodium (Na) and chlorine (Cl), both of which are highly toxic, yet we don’t find discomfort in consuming regular table salt.  In fact, our bodies require salt in order to function properly.  How can that be if the two molecules needed to make it are actually toxins?

The “plastic” outrage has been added as the chain circulates and is total bunk, but is unfortunately what appeals to most readers.  This is one reason why I recommend strongly against relying upon or forwarding health advice via email chain letters.  In fact, I always recommend not forwarding chain emails altogether as they have never (and let me repeat that — NEVER) been completely truthful or accurate.

The medium is simply too unreliable to trust.  That’s why I always say you should never forward chain mails for any reason — whether they are about computer viruses or health and medicine or terrorism or anything else.

4 thoughts on “Butter versus margarine”

  1. This article is most interesting and informative, but all it has succeeded in doing is to curtail my efforts to care enough about others to never send any info period. Your condescending arrogance is quite obvious, and I would like to hear your rational explaniation for things of faith. You must have a tender heart in there somewhere, for I don’t believe He, who has more intelligence than you, would never crush other’s nieve intentions to care and share. Your superiority of knowledge is your disability of heart. I feel sorry for you.

  2. Thanks for visiting, Searcy D, but I have to say your comment lacks anything other than the very condescension you pretend to take offense with.

    Who’s your god, some voodoo-wielding hocus-pocus being in the sky you’ve never seen and can’t truly prove? I happen to know that’s an absolute fact. What you know is nothing other than cheap lies you learned as a child and never questioned.

    Arrogance? Look in the mirror. Don’t come here trying to act as though you’re know-it-all faith is anything other than the grotesque monstrosity you claim to be offended by. Hardly. Talk about empty claims of intelligence…

    If you really cared about others, you would have foregone this offensive diatribe and would have moved on with a bit more knowledge, as a human a bit more informed than when you arrived, and you would have completely ignored the urge to berate me on my site for telling you something you didn’t already know. Instead, you offend and bitch, you act contrary to the very beliefs you claim to uphold.

    What god is it you worship? The god of war, the god of argument? That’s the only thing you’ve shown here.

    As for a tender heart, you know nothing about me. I do animal rescues far more than you breathe, I tend to those around me with greater compassion than you have ever known, and I care for my friends and family until it causes me great pain and loss–literally and figuratively, emotionally and financially. What you’ve done is show up, hope to be the faithful deliverer of some great truth, and instead shown you’re nothing more than an empty religious zealot who wants to play the victim while putting others down. Pathetic. And typical.

  3. Oh my god (choose whichever one you like best…), this email is still doing the rounds. I got it the other day from a friend and wanted to check it out. Thank you for your informative article on this. As I suspected, it was a load of old tosh.

    And I tend not to send circular emails on because a) too much clutter b) too busy c) can’t be arsed d) still can’t be arsed…

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