MARGARINE OR BUTTER?
by Marjorie Fisher
Almost daily we are bombarded with manufactures’ advertisements and well-meaning health professionals’ advice to use margarine rather than butter, with the implication that margarine is the better choice. Research leads us to question this choice.
First, we have the problem of "trans fatty acids." Manufactures produce margarine by hydrogenation of liquid vegetable oils – the addition of hydrogen to the fatty acids contained in the oils. Most of the open bonds in the fatty acid carbon chains are filled with hydrogen atoms, making the acids more saturated with hydrogen and thus less liquid, so that they acquire the spreading consistency of butter. This partial hydrogenation disrupts the geometric structure of the fatty acids, producing many trans configurations. ("Trans" means "across, on opposite sides.") At the University of Maryland in 1980 in a study of the percentage of trans fatty acids in 202 selected foods,1 researcher Mary Enig found that 40 margarines contained from 10.6 to 36.0 percent trans fatty acids. On the other hand, butter contained only 3.1 to 3.8 percent trans fatty acids. According to Mark Keeney and associates at the University of Tennessee, "Dietary trans fatty acids are metabolized and incorporated into virtually all tissues and tissue lipid classes studied."2 This incorporation, they found, results in "alterations of membrane structures and functions"3 – a reduction in cell membrane fluidity and a disruption of important enzyme functions.
Second, new evidence in the margarine/butter battle indicates that butter may have a protecting effect against breast tumors. In a study by Mitsuaki Sakamoto and colleagues at Nara (Japan) Medical College,
NOHA speaker William E. Lands, in his book, Fish and Human Health, has some appropriate comments on butter:
However, the percentage of unsaturated fat in butter is small and any use of butter (or margarine) must take into account the concentrated calories that must be burned "to avoid overproduction of plasma cholesterol and triglycerides."6 By mapping metabolic paths Professor Lands shows impressively that any food, be it carbohydrate, protein, or fat, can be converted in our bodies to cholesterol.7
In the chapter on polyunsaturated fatty acids in his forthcomming book, NOHA Board of Directors member Walter A. Heiby reviews a great deal of the medical and biochemical literature relevant to our question, "Margarine or Butter?" He concludes, "I think a reasonable objective is to reduce total fat consumption, greatly reduce saturated fat intake, . . . [and reduce] use of trans fatty acids."8
1Enig, M., M.S. thesis, University of Maryland, 1980.
2Keeney, M., L. Pallansch, M. Enig, and J. Sampugne, "Trans Fatty Acids: Physiological Implications," Fifth Annual Symposium, Food in Contemporary Society: Its Role in the Treatment of and Recovery from Disease, Department of Nutrition and Food Science, The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, May 18-20, 1983, p. 152.
3Ibid., p. 157
4Science News 133(21):332, May 21, 1988.
5Lands, W.E.M., Fish and Human Health, Orlando, Florida: Academic Press, 1986, p. 144.
7Ibid, pp. 98-99.
8Heiby, W.A., The Reverse Effect: How Vitamins and Minerals Promote Health and CAUSE Disease, Deerfield, Illinois: Medi-Science Publishers, 1988, p. 253.
Article from NOHA NEWS, Vol. XIII, No. 4, Fall 1988, page 5.