Butter or Margarine for my health?

A recent study on dietary influences on IQ turned up a surprising connection: children who ate margarine regularly scored significantly lower on intelligence tests than their peers. The study was conducted by researchers from Auckland University in New Zealand and published in the journal Intelligence.

After adjusting for other factors that might influence IQ, including socio-economic status, the researchers found that children who ate margarine daily scored three points lower on IQ tests by the age of three-and-a-half than children with lower margarine consumption. By the age of seven, the average IQ scores of some margarine eaters were six points below those of their peers.
The researchers suggested that the reason for this may be the trans fats present in margarine, which are now well known for their damaging effect on our metabolism.


The partial hydrogenation method used to make many margarine’s involves bubbling hydrogen through an Omega-6 or 9 oil (i.e. soybean or OLIVE oil) at high pressure and high temperature (120 – 240 oC) in the presence of an aluminium/nickel catalyst (leaving residues of nasty heavy metals in the product).

Hydrogenation attacks the double bond present in both Omega-6 and 9 oils in a random fashion, potentially either – shifting them along the molecule, rotating them into trans fats or clipping the molecule into fragments. The potential number of different molecules made by this random process is staggering and has never been fully characterised.


Because of the image damaging trans fat problem with hydrogenation, many margarine manufacturers now use a method called interesterification to make a margarine with lower levels of trans fats. This involves complete hydrogenation of an Omega-6 or Omega-9 oil, which means the damaged fragments of fat created by this process are still present.
The resulting solid fat is then mixed with an Omega-6 or Omega-9 oil in the presence of enzymes or catalysts to modify the triglyceride structure of the blended oil into molecules that do not normally exist in nature but which give the right texture.

Does this process make a margarine which is any better for your health? Well actually recent evidence suggests not.
The first longer term human study showed that after only four weeks on a diet with a high proportion of interesterified margarine, there were substantial adverse health effects. Fasting glucose was raised by 20%, to a level considered pre-diabetic and insulin production was reduced. This diet also reduced the HDL: LDL ratio in a similar manner to Trans fats.
(Yes I have read the rebuttal of this data by Nestle, who are major producers of interesterified fats, and they used a very dubious statistical model to suggest the results weren’t valid.)

Try This

If you are not convinced, try this little experiment – take a lump of butter and margarine and put them on a plate somewhere accessible out of the sun.
When I did this, it took three days for a mouse to find them and eat all the butter. When I threw the margarine out 3 months later it was still sitting there totally inert – the mouse wouldn’t eat it, insects hadn’t touched it and no fungus had grown on it. In other words IT IS NOT FOOD – there are no enzymes in nature or in your body to digest it.
Since your body uses whatever fats are in your blood stream to make the cell walls of the billions of new cells it makes daily, eating bad fats like margarine is going to affect many bodily processes.

So is it surprising that your brain and your children’s brains don’t function as well if you have margarine – not to me!

Butter is Better

So go and enjoy a moderate level of butter in your diet – I do (well according to my family it’s not a very moderate amount at all – they accuse me of having toast on my butter).

Tip of the Day.

 You can make very healthy soft butter by combining a softened 500 g pack of butter with a 250 ml bottle of Flax Original in your food processor. Store in the fridge, preferably in a light-proof container.

Check out the best oils at http://functionalwholefoods.co.nz/


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Filed under Good Fats and Bad Fats

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