It’s time. Time to sign off of the fake butter revolution, and start putting real butter on your toast. And your potatoes, vegetables, in your baked goods…and anywhere else you might use margarine or a “spread” that makes some health claim or another.
This might be incredibly difficult for some of you, having grown up with the misconception that butter will not only make you fat, but will probably kill you with cancer if the heart attack doesn’t get you first.
For me, I had to stop using margarine when I finally learned about the hazards of trans fats. Butter seemed expensive, but so did the Smart Balance and similar spreads. I couldn’t fathom allowing trans fats in my house anymore, though, so I went with butter.
When my husband was diagnosed with high triglycerides (really high, with a family history of heart disease and early heart attacks!), we did what the doctor told us and switched to Smart Balance for the plant stanols, or sterols, or whatever they’re called. (Hubby calls the stuff “plant paste” in their honor.)
I find myself reading and re-reading the ingredients on the tub, wondering how, if not by hydrogenation, do the liquid oils listed become the solid spread within. ?? I actually asked the company about it. It’s a trade secret, so they won’t tell me. But it makes me nervous. Something is telling me there’s some sort of trans fat, or at least something rather unnatural, about those plant spreads.
The one my mother-in-law was told to buy after her heart surgery this summer is called Benecol (and it’s $5 for a tiny tub, too). Guess what the third ingredient is? Partially hydrogenated oil. GAAAAAHHHHH! The nutrition facts, of course, claim “zero trans fats”, but we know about that loophole.
If you’re nervous about the “artery-clogging” saturated fats in butter, please, please read keep reading. I can’t stress enough how we need to drop the margarines, even those that claim “no trans fat.” Go with something that people have eaten for centuries, and if you think it might cause a heart attack, just eat less of it.
- I could write a list of butter benefits here, it’s already been done: 20 Health Benefits of Real Butter (Thanks to Kelly for posting it!)
- Also see Shannon’s 7 Reasons to eat more Saturated Fat
- If you’re already a butter believer but want to find better butter, check out this post for the benefits of grass-fed butter. The health benefits of our meat sources depend largely on what the animal eats.
- If you haven’t read this week’s Food for Thought, learn about why saturated fats are good for you.
- Kelly the Kitchen Kop’s Margarine, Then and Now is an absolute must-read. She quotes from an old book on what “margarine” really is. It’s nothing I want on my toast, that’s for sure!
- In a study referenced in Nourishing Traditions, p. 286, orphan boys were fed a diet containing either margarine or butter. The boys on butter grew, the boys on margarine did not. The study was from an older era, and I’m sure margarine has changed its face since then, but the fact remains: butter was healthy for the boys who consumed it.
- The other side of the coin: Mayo Clinic says margarine “usually tops butter when it comes to heart health.”
- UPDATE: You must see the stats here about margarine vs. butter and heart disease! FASCINATING! Thank you, Food Renegade.
How is it that you can buy a “soft tub” margarine or “heart-healthy” spread that lists only liquid oils in its ingredients, claims no hydrogenation, yet the contents of the tub are clearly a solid?
Although I’m not sure I know the answer, I know that sounds fishy to me. Hydrogenation (forcing hydrogen through a fat to change the shape of its fatty acid chain) is an unnatural process that has been proven to be dangerous to our health. Since I can’t find evidence of any natural processes that turn liquid oils into solids, I remain skeptical about the possibility that these spreads could be healthy. I’m not arresting anyone for a crime, so there’s no “innocent until proven guilty” here. When evaluating a new product, I always take the precautionary stance of “dangerous until proven innocent”.
A New-Fangled Fat Process: Interesterification
Interestification [sic] is one process that has come into practice since trans fats became taboo. Nina Planck in Real Food for Mother and Baby on the issue:
“The food industry begins with unsaturated oil and randomly inserts stearic acid (a perfectly good saturated fat in beef and chocolate) into the fatty acids. Next, they scramble the fatty acids, which makes the liquid oil solid, and they can call it Trans Fat-Free. …Unfortunately, the evidence so far suggests these fats aren’t good for you, either. …[They] lower HDL, raise blood sugar, and raise insulin resistance.”
I’ve seen this word (can anyone pronounce it?) on some cracker packages and a few other places. Has anyone noticed it on spread or margarines?
More good reading on the subject:
- The Weston A. Price Foundation describes how interesterification works and the potential hazards.
- A positive interpretation endorsed by the U.S. Government.
“Heart Healthy” Plant Sterols
I mentioned before that my husband’s doctor recommended Smart Balance or other spreads with “plant sterols” to get his HDL/triglycerides back in check. Hubby never loved the “plant paste”, and now I finally found some info that contradicts the doc (do I thrive on this controversy stuff, or what?). Nina Planck again:
“Plant sterols are phytoestrogens…and they disrupt hormones, which can cause infertility and birth defects. That’s why the Australia-New Zealand Food Authority requires that foods containing plant sterols carry labels warning pregnant and nursing women, infants, and children to stay away.”
*sigh* Mommy guilt again for my son’s exposure. Praise be to God that we are through with this stuff now that my little girl is eating. It’s certainly possible for a country’s dietary regulations to be wrong (ahem), but if the entirety of Australia is being warned about this, it’s hardly a sideline concern or a niche issue. I’m avoiding the plant paste from now on. How about you?
A Homemade Spread?
Tammy’s Recipes has an easy recipe (butter, water and canola oil) for a soft butter spread. I haven’t yet tried it, but a faithful reader recommended it at the Monday Mission post. Another reader was quick to point out that you could make it with olive oil instead of canola oil if you want to avoid the possible hazards of canola (coming in a few weeks). That would help my homemade butter be less hard-as-a-rock when it comes right out of the fridge.
Added Bonus: This ought to stretch your butter a bit, nice for an ingredient on the pricey side.
Your other option for spreadable butter, as long as you’re going through your butter fast enough, is just to leave it at room temperature. I’ve never had a problem with it going rancid (the store-bought stuff, at least). In college I left some boxed butter out for a very, very long time. Long story about why, but believe me: you’ll know if your butter goes bad. I’ve never had a worse taste in my mouth, and that was after cooking with it (mac and cheese, no less).
Next up: Dairy Fats
If you’ve missed any of the Fat Full Fall Series, catch up here.