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Butter Vs Margarine

Promoting butter to aid weight loss may seem a little over the top, however, products such as eggs, butter and bacon do add up to a high fat and protein and low carb meal subsequently reducing hunger pangs due to stabilisation of the insulin levels.

When you replace saturated fats with refined carbohydrates, your triglycerides increase and your good HDL cholesterol can decrease hence contributing to weight gain. Butter has been used for centuries it is produced by churning the fatty portion of cow’s milk until it turns into the much loved product, butter. Margarine is a completely different ball game. It is a highly processed food that was invented to replace butter. The primary ingredient is vegetable oil with the addition of emulsifiers, colours and various artificial ingredients which the body does NOT need.

Vegetable oil is in liquid form at room temperature. Margarine is a product which is hydrogenated (a process which turns a liquid fat into a solid fat which involves exposing the oils to high heat, high pressure, hydrogen gas and a metal catalyst…yuk), which gives it a harder consistency. Hydrogenation also turns some of the vegetable oils into trans fats (the bad fats which lead to high levels of cholesterol and cardiovascular disease).

Butter has been demonised by the media and nutrition “professionals” because it contains large amounts of both saturated fat and cholesterol. Studies show that these ones taboo nutrients may actually be beneficial to our health!

A large review study published in 2010 looked at 21 studies that included a total of 347.747 participants; they found absolutely NO association between saturated fat and cardiovascular disease. Similarly, many other studies lead to the same conclusion.

Did you know eating saturated fat actually improves the blood lipid profile? It increases HDL (the “good”) cholesterol and changes the LDL (the “bad”) from small, dense LDL (very bad) to large LDL, which is benign. Eating cholesterol and saturated fat rich foods like eggs, butter and meat leads to the same improvements in blood lipid profiles as discussed above. The LDL pattern improves and HDL levels increase. Unless you have a medical condition like familial hypercholesterolemia, then there is NO reason to fear saturated fats or dietary cholesterol. Margarine is loaded with vegetable oil and safflower oil, which in normal form is liquid. Hydrogenation converts the oils into solids and as a bonus (to the manufacturer), the process prolongs the shelf life of the products. Hydrogenated fats are also known as trans fats (nasty fats), which are highly toxic and strongly associated with heart disease. In the past margarine used to be loaded with trans fats; today there are some trans-fat free varieties available. Be aware though! Manufacturers can label their products trans-fat free as long as there is less than 0.5 grams of trans fats per serving. To avoid trans fats, if it says “hydrogenated” anywhere on the ingredients list, don’t touch it!

Unfortunately vegetable oils used in margarine, such as soybean and safflower oil, may be seriously harmful on their own. These types of oils are the biggest sources of polyunsaturated Omega-6 fatty acids in the diet, which we’re already eating too much of.

Several studies link excess consumption of polyunsaturated vegetable oils with cancer, violence and the very thing margarine is supposed to prevent… heart disease. The fantastic news about butter from grass-fed cows is that it is much more nutritious than margarine or any other fluorescent coloured spreads. It contains more:

Omega-3 – Grass-fed butter has less Omega-6 and more Omega-3, which is important because most people are already eating way too many Omega-6 fatty acids.
Vitamin K2 – This rarely discussed vitamin plays a role in preventing many serious diseases, including cancer, osteoporosis and heart disease. Studies show that this fatty acid can have anti-cancer properties and aid body fat loss.
Butyrate – A short-chain fatty acid found in butter which is also produced by bacteria in the intestine. It can fight inflammation and improve digestive health.

To be fair to margarine, it does lower some risk factors for heart disease, especially if it is enriched with plant sterols or stenols. These margarines lower total and LDL cholesterol in the short term, but they may also decrease HDL (the good) cholesterol which does not reduce the risk of heart disease. Just because something improves a risk factor for heart disease, such as LDL, it does NOT mean that it will actually lead to a reduction in heart disease, which is the outcome that really matters. There are many medications that have been proven to decrease LDL cholesterol too, but not all of them actually lead to a reduction in heart disease. This is because there’s a lot more than just cholesterol that causes heart disease!

The studies that look at outcomes like heart attacks show that butter is either non-contributing factor or healthy, while margarine actually increases the risk. When looking at evident heart attacks, there is literally NO evidence that butter contributes to them.

High-fat dairy consumption was found to lower the risk of obesity, with no consistent association between dairy fat, cardiovascular disease or other metabolic diseases. The Framingham heart study was an observational study that went on for 20 years. In this study, margarine was found to drastically increase the risk of heart disease, while butter had no effect.

In the Sydney Diet Heart study, 458 men that had recently had a cardiac event were randomized into two groups.
One was instructed to reduce saturated fats (includes butter) and increase their intake of polyunsaturated vegetable oils, which includes margarine. The group increasing their vegetable oil (and margarine) consumption was 62% more likely to die and 70% more likely to die of heart disease. This makes perfect sense given that both trans fats and vegetable oils have been associated with cardiovascular disease and death.

Given that nutrition professionals have been warning us about butter and pushing us towards processed industrial margarine, you would think that there was at least a hint of evidence suggesting this to lead to better outcomes. In my fridge I always avoid processed pseudo-foods like margarine and use real, grass-fed butter instead…I would recommend you guys do the same!

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