The New Margarine – Healthier Than Butter
Butter was the bad boy on the block with its infamous artery-clogging saturated fat and cholesterol. Then margarine slid smoothly in to take the place of butter in many homes.
How did this happen? It was Emperor Louis Napoleon III of France who encouraged the invention of margarine as a substitute for butter. He had to feed his soldiers and the poorer French population with something that tasted like butter, but was cheaper.
Hippolyte Mege-Mouries, a chemist, rose to the challenge. He studied past inventions, modified some edible oils and churned out what was known as “oleomargarine”. Later, the name was shortened to “margarine”.
Margarine took off and the butter manufacturers were up in arms. For more than a century, the dispute between butter manufacturers and margarine makers was fierce. All political clouts were used. Restriction after restriction was drafted. No yellow food coloring allowed. No, margarine should not look like butter! It should be in its original white or stained pink, but not yellow like butter.
Then came the World Wars, with the Great Depression in between. Dairy products and butter dried up, and margarine became the staple breakfast spread. Butter was reserved only for the rich.
After the crises, the two groups returned to do battle in the marketplace. The powerful margarine lobby successfully fought the majority of legal restrictions and margarine products dominated the supermarket shelves.
Then the bad news! Something inside margarine called “trans fat” was supposedly killing everybody. Those who were not “killed” rushed back to butter. At least, butter came from nature. To die of saturated fat might be better than dying from trans fat, or so it seemed.
However, the truth is that both saturated fat and trans fat are notorious in raising cholesterol levels.
Trans fat is, of course, not good for anyone. When vegetable oil is infused with hydrogen atoms, it becomes semi-hard or solid. This is what is known as hydrogenation. This process is responsible for creating trans fat in margarine. The end products are usually packaged like stick butters.
Trans fat reduces good cholesterol or high-density lipoprotein (HDL) in our blood vessels. HDL carries cholesterol away from the arteries to the liver and subsequently, out of the body. Therefore, it does not need medical experts to tell us that low levels of HDL will increase the risk of heart disease.
To prevent being wiped out of the global marketplace, margarine producers brainstormed. Desperate situations required desperate measures, so scientists, food technologies, product specialists and skilled experts worked overtime. It was do or die!
There were many breakthroughs. New margarine variants with better health benefits began to appear. Who needed hydrogenated oil anyway? The healthier non-hydrogenated oil could produce much better margarine products.
Softer in texture, these new inventions are now marketed as “soft-tub” margarines. Most margarine manufacturers have rejected the unhealthy hydrogenation method. They now use tiny portions of modified palm kernel and palm oil to produce the same soft result. Made with all natural ingredients like canola, corn, safflower or sunflower oils, these products are not only cholesterol-free, but high in monounsaturated fat. They also contain Omega 3 and Omega 6, and some come with reduced salt and reduced fat variants.
Eureka! The new margarine products are very good for health – trans fat is reduced to a tiny fraction; saturated fat and total fat are near zero.
Around the world, many soft margarine products are making a strong comeback. You will notice new awareness campaigns and branding exercises flooding the market, with claims like “Trans-Fat Free”, “Non-Hydrogenated”, “No Cholesterol, 5% Less Saturated Fat Than Butter”, “100% Less Cholesterol Than Butter”, “50% Less Fat Ans Calories Than Butter”, “Good Source Of Vitamin E” and “100% Expeller-Pressed Oils”. Yes, the margarine industry is bouncing back.
Good old butter is back as the bad boy on the block. Unlike margarine, butter contains more saturated fat. The new margarine, on the other hand, is high in HDL. It is manufactured without or with very low amounts of trans fat.
So, you can add soft-tub margarine back on your marketing list. Most margarine products have as little as 0 to 2 gm of saturated fat per tablespoon serving. The “wow” factor is that some types of margarine contain up to 70% less saturated fat than real butter.
However, before buying margarine, you still need to read the labels. Choose a product that does not contain more than 2.0 gm of saturated fat per tablespoon. It should have no trans fat. Its primary ingredients should be liquid vegetable oil.
Unsaturated fats, especially polyunsaturated fats, are really great for your heart because they lower LDL. The guideline is that you should not have more than 30% of saturated fat in your daily diet. Trans fat is an absolute no-no.
So, boldly drop that tub of margarine in your shopping cart. The new margarine is not only healthier than butter, it is also easier to apply. When you take it out of the refrigerator, it is still soft. With all the value-added properties in the new margarine, it would be a shame to ignore.