Which is best for you? Butter or margarine? The debate is still raging. Discover the eleven areas of debate and the winner for each round.
2013 marks the 200th anniversary of the discovery of margaric acid, the ancestor of modern margarine. Most of those 200 years have been a struggle between these two ‘foods’, with the battle now fought between two powerful food lobbies and marketing campaigns.
Recently it looked like margarine was a clear loser. Its high level of trans fats got it labeled as “just one molecule away from plastic,” with the ability to quickly block your arteries and cause heart attacks and more.
But, now margarine has reinvented itself, decreasing trans fats and adding new healthy ingredients.
Cost was the driving factor behind the development of margarine and for many price-conscious consumers, it turns out to be a significant factor.
100 grams of margarine in a Canada Safeway costs 35 to 90 cents depending on the quality.
100 grams of butter starts at 90 cents and goes up to $1.50.
In most countries the dairy industry is either regulated or subsidized so consumers end up paying extra either at the till or in their taxes.
Note: Canadians take their butter and margarine seriously. Margarine was banned for 62 years during which time bootleg margarine was smuggled in from the former Dominion of Newfoundland for half the price of butter.
Although this is a more subjective topic, there is no question of the winner.
Decades ago when margarine seemed to be the latest ‘health trend’ many people dug in their heals to stay with butter on this aspect alone. There is something unique about the taste of butter. Many artificial flavorings try to copy it but are never totally successful.
Just the fact that we have phrases like “melt in your mouth like butter” shows its profound attraction.
3. Heart Healthy Saturated Fat Levels
This area was and is margarine’s strongest attempt to look healthier.
Butter has more saturated fats (averaging 50 grams of saturated fat per 100 grams) whereas margarines range from 10 to 35 grams depending on the quality.
Saturated fat for a long time was directly associated with higher rates of heart disease and other health problems.
It turns out this association may be wrong!
Many studies now can’t find a connection between the two. For example a study published in the March issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that risk of heart disease or stroke were similar between people who consumed the highest and lowest amounts of saturated fat.
Some saturated fats are now known to be extremely healthy for you. Virgin coconut oil, for example, has been shown to increase the absorption of other good essential fatty acids and even helps you to lose weight. When we test for the best oils for individuals, coconut oil often comes up highly recommended.
If saturation is a concern for you please note that all margarine still has some saturated fat and the cheaper margarines may contain significantly high levels of saturated fat, so you have to read labels carefully.
Winner: Margarine (by a slight margin)
Next page: Butter fights back.