If you ask 10 people if they prefer butter or margarine, no doubt you’ll have a very even number for both sides of the coin. Those who prefer butter probably do so because of the taste and the fact that they know where it comes from and that’s what their parents and grandparents used. For those preferring margarine, they probably grew up in a household that was more health conscious and they choose margarine for the decreased fat content when compared to butter. Let us compare butter and margarine and see how they truly line up and see if we can’t put this butter vs. margarine debate to rest.
What is Butter?
Unlike margarine, butter is simple and doesn’t vary in its mode of creation. All butter starts from the same place; cow’s milk, or better yet the cream at the top. This rich cream is churned until the fat starts to solidify and that solid matter is what is used as butter. After the butter is churned, there are a variety of things that companies do to the butter to turn it into their final product. In many cases, this is where the health of the butter is determined.
What is Margarine?
Margarine, on the other hand, is a little harder to explain. The process to create margarine differs greatly but as a general rule margarine is made of oil put through a very complicated process called hydrogenation. During hydrogenation the oil is turned into a solid and each company adds their own set of additives for their end results. Later we’ll discuss this process and the additives that can be contained in margarine as this greatly determines the health of margarine.
Heart Health – The True Debate
Butter and margarine are easily comparable when it comes to taste. Butter wins without a doubt. When it comes to price, that’s another easy comparison. Margarine takes the trophy. But the real ongoing battle that never seems to get a champion is which spread is best for your health and the answer always comes down to fats. We know we should limit our fat intake for the sake of our heart health and butter and margarine are some of the main sources of fat in our diet. People have been trying to decide which they should be using and they’ve always come up with differing opinion. Years ago, margarine was the easy choice because it did contain less fat, or more importantly, less saturated fat. But today there have been numerous studies done on how the different types of fats affect our health. The studies have shown that the real dangerous fat is trans fats, which many brands of margarine contains.
Butter: Your Best Choices
It used to be that butter was better but because it got a bad rap companies have been doing what they can to make their butter more health conscious. For this reason, you have a few different options on which butter to use. The butter with the highest fat content and calorie content per tablespoon is the butter that comes in stick form. Each tablespoon comes with roughly 100 calories and about 10 grams of fat, 7 of them saturated. This is the most compact and dense pure form of butter. This is also the worst choice if you are concerned with choosing the least artery clogging butter.
There are better choices including light butter which is a stick of butter with added water and/or gelatin. This cuts the fat content by up to a half. Whipped butter is another choice, which generally will cut the calories and fat per tablespoon in half because the whipping process makes it fluffy and airy. There isn’t any real difference in the makeup of the butter but you get less butter per tablespoon making it easier to psych yourself into using less butter.
There is an even better choice for fat content as some companies take the whipped butter one step further and make it a light butter and oil blend. Not only does this cut down on overall calories and fat content but also cuts down on saturated fats, which are what everyone is booing about in butter. Another good option is to look for butter made from the milk of grass fed cows or organic butter.
Margarine: Your Best Choices
Like butter, your worst choice in margarine comes with the traditional stick margarine because it has the highest trans fat content. There are also whipped margarines that cut down on the calories and fat content per serving but the absolute best thing to look for in a margarine is the trans fat free option but be careful because some brands claim to be trans fat free but really aren’t so read the labels well. You can also get light margarine spreads that has added water and can cut the calories down to only 40 calories per serving and less than 5 grams of fat. ** **
Hydrogenation: The Ugly Side
Many of those who favour butter do so because of the ugly process needed to make margarine. Hydrogenation puts the oils through one chemical process after another including high temperatures and high pressures. The use of hydrogen gas, nickel, bleach, emulsifiers, and coloring are all included in this complicated process. Many people are worried about the toxic effects this can have on our bodies. It is possible to make margarine without the hydrogenation process. Some countries, like Australia, have developed a healthier way to make margarine through a process called esterization, where milk, salt, and lecithin are added to the oil to solidify it instead of using gases and metals. This cuts the amount of trans fats down immensely and also decreases the processing of the oils. Why only certain countries have adopted this system is a real head scratcher.
Not Really Worth the Debate
When it all comes down to it, whether you choose butter or margarine, limiting your daily usage will ultimately be the best for your health. Neither butter, nor margarine will cause a great change in your health if you use them sparingly. A lot of people use butter for baking but margarine for cooking and there’s nothing wrong with that. This ongoing debate isn’t really worth our time. Butter is a naturally produced product with vitamins and minerals intact and a higher fat content and margarine is a highly processed product with less fat and has to have vitamins added. They both have their evils and they both have their good points. Your choice won’t make a great impact on your health. All you really need to ask yourself is, which settles best with your health conscience?
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