Margarine Madness

The mass move from the widespread consumption of butter to “more healthy” margarine is a study in poor scientific methodology and the opportunism that followed in the wake of a major mistake. It all began in 1957 when Aneel Keys, a leading US nutritionist, announced his findings about the link between saturated fats and heart disease. Aneel had based his research upon a ridiculously small sample of just six countries when there was actually data available for a sample four times that size. Aneel reported that consumption of saturated fats appeared to be a major causative factor in the emerging plague of Coronary Heart Disease. The American food industry seized the moment, as there were vast profits to be had from the production and processing of cheap vegetable oils as a heart-safe alternative to butter. There were a couple of weaknesses in the saturated fat hypothesis however. For a start it didn’t fit the historical evidence. Coronary Heart Disease (CHD) was only officially discovered in 1910 and prior to that time our diets were swimming in animal fats. We chewed at the fat on the bacon rind, savoured the fat on beef and mutton and lard was the most popular bread spread. When nutritional anthropologist, Dr Weston Price, researched the relative health and longevity of numerous cultures, he was unable to find any link at all between heart disease and saturated fat. In fact, often the reverse was true – the more saturated fats that were consumed, the healthier the culture. The East African Sambuku people, for example, drink 10 litres of full fat milk each day and yet suffer no heart disease. The Masai in Kenya live on a diet that consists almost exclusively of meat, milk and blood and are free from heart problems. 40% of the Sicilian diet consists of saturated fats and yet their rates of heart disease are very low. The longest living Georgians in Russia are those that eat the most saturated fats and the list goes on and on…….

Falling victim to the Food Fabricators

How did margarine come to fill our supermarket shelves if there is no evidence to support its superiority? As usual it’s all about marketing a myth to make large amounts of money. Usually there is some smoke that can be used to generate the desired fear factor. In this case the “smoke” relates to the calorie content of saturated fat. There is no doubt that the obesity epidemic is related to heart disease, so high-calorie foods make a great target. The problem is that the shops are full of low fat, no fat and 98% fat-free foods and yet we keep getting fatter. While fat contains more calories than carbohydrates, there is more tendency to pile on the pounds if carbohydrates are over consumed, and that is exactly what is happening. When we pull the fats from our diet, we stimulate a craving for carbohydrates. The subsequent over-consumption of carbs leads to increases in blood sugar levels which must be managed with extra insulin production.

Insulin stores glucose, first as glucagon, and then as fat. Excess insulin also deactivates a fat burning compound called glycogen. In short, it is more often carbohydrates that are making us fat, than fat! The reality is that saturated fat is an important nutrient, particularly for brain health, as this organ is 60% fat by dry weight. Saturated fat is essential for the uptake and utilisation of several nutrients including omega 3 fatty acids and carotenes. Saturated fats are anti-microbial and can offer protection from pathogens that affect the digestive tract.
What about cholesterol I hear you say? Surely margarine is a far safer, low cholesterol option. Research now shows that there is no relationship between the food you eat and your serum cholesterol levels. Your body produces the cholesterol nutrient as it is required and the cholesterol content of butter and eggs, for example, has no link to your serum cholesterol levels. This rule does not apply to oxidised cholesterol however. This dangerous material which sticks to artery walls is found in powdered milk, powdered eggs and most microwaved meats.

The Making of an Abomination

The manufacture of margarine usually begins with the hydrogenation of polyunsaturated oils, often rancid from heat-based extraction. The hydrogenation process is designed to stabilise these notoriously unstable oils so they will have greatly extended shelf-life and are thus much more profitable. This involves removing the natural kink (called the cis formation) from the fatty acid chain to make unsaturated fats act more like saturated fats, i.e. making them stay solid at room temperature like butter. Unfortunately, un-creasing the kink, creates an unnatural, toxic fat called a trans fat. Hydrogenation involves the addition, under pressure, of tiny hydrogen bubbles using nickle oxide as a synergist. Following this process the margarine is a stinking grey gunk. This muck is then heated and cleaned prior to bleaching and dyeing to mimick the colour of butter. The end-product is the epitomy of the industrial bastardisation of food. Nothing on the planet will eat this abomination except man. Trans fats are now found in 40% of supermarket foods and many natural health practitioners believe they represent the single most damaging aspect of the modern diet. Butter is a tremendous food, which bears no resemblance to this unnatural alternative, but don’t overdo it as it does contain more calories, along with the valuable nutrients.

Written by Graeme Sait.