By: Clifford M. Sonnie, M.D., M.P.H.
Remember the commercial where the steroid enhanced German hunk with long flowing blond hair looked into the camera and said “I can’t believe it’s not butter.” Well, this has been the message that chemical companies have been pushing on us for some time. In fact I had an argument with a dietician who works at the “Mecca of Medicine” in northeast Ohio about this very subject. You see, the basis for all this hubbub, is that margarine has less saturated fat than butter and therefore is better for you. In fact, todays advertisements show a margarine product that is not only flavored with all different flavors but has all kinds of vitamins, minerals and omega 3 oils added. Folks, the additional ingredients are synthetic, so it don’t make a hill of beans what they put into it. It is still bad for you. Why? I’m glad you asked.
First let’s discover why synthetic fats like margarine were developed. When I was a kid (no wise guy, not when the earth was cooling) I remember margarine first making the rounds. Again the big selling point was saturated fat. They called it the “bad fat” back then too. Problem was that margarine was being used long before that. You just didn’t know it. Initially margarine was invented as a substitute saturated fat (butter was too costly) to give to animals (especially poultry) to bulk them up. They wanted a “heavier” animal. Go figure. Unfortunately, the heavier part was mainly added fat. Not only did a diet high in saturated fat cause this, but the injected hormones did not help matters any either. At first the birds did not eat it. So, with persistence and making sure it was the only thing to eat, over time they did consume it as part of their diet. The hitch was that before the birds could reach adulthood so that they could be harvested for meat, they died. Oh shoot. Millions spent on research and what do we do with it now? Let’s add a yellow color, a flavor similar to butter and let’s give it to Mikey, he’ll eat anything. Welcome to the era of “I can’t believe it’s not butter”. Yes that is the story.
Now let’s look at margarine and butter. First they are right. Margarine has less saturated fat. Forget the fact that it is processed synthetic saturated fat. Harvard Medical School has three studies all showing that margarine increases the risk of heart disease in women by over 50%. Margarine is high in trans fats as well. Butter has none. Another study from the west coast shows that margarine not only increased oxidized cholesterol (yes folks that is the bad thing that can happen to the good guy cholesterol), but also increased the risk of cancer up to 5 times and is well known to decrease the effectiveness of the immune system. Butter on the other hand, has just as many ingredients as the “enhanced” margarine but they are all “God made”. Butter also has been shown to enhance the absorption of several vitamins and minerals including trace minerals and many of the vitamin B class. Bottom line, there is no contest. Butter is the clear choice and the ads are wrong. Still think that the talking tub of margarine is better than butter? Ok, here it is. Google this when you get a chance. Find a chemical picture of margarine with all the carbons and hydrogens and what not. Then find a picture of plastic. Except for ONE molecule, they are identical. Look also at the ingredients in oil-based paint. Margarine shares almost 2 dozen of the same ingredients.
I have said over and over that saturated fat, just like polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fat, is vital for your health. About a hundred million inhabitants of the South Pacific who uses coconut oil (a highly saturated fat) as a major staple in their diet can’t be wrong. Their incidence of heart disease, diabetes and obesity is far less than in the U.S. Remember, butter if taken in excess, as with anything, will do more harm than good. Margarine will do more harm than good too. Problem is you don’t need to take all that much.
As with any diet or exercise change please check with your family MD or DO or give us a call. In the meantime, I’ll have some butter on my popcorn. After all, the smart health care consumer is informed and aware.
Clifford Sonnie, M.D is the Medical Director of the Balance of Life Clinic.