Butter vs Margarine: A look at "trans fatty acids":
First — a definition of what a "trans fatty acid" is:
trans Fatty acids are formed during the process of partial hydrogenation in which
liquid vegetable oils are converted to margarine and vegetable shortening.
On a recent trip to Canada, I located
some margarines (soft; yet still
REAL margarines) that truly have NO TRANS FATTY ACIDS. Unlike
American spreads that claim no TFA's (because they are actually just "low"),
these margarines state NO HYDROGENATION. A very important claim. I purchased and
have tested a number of them.
has existed that this process may have adverse consequences because natural essential
fatty acids are destroyed and the new artificial isomers are structurally similar to
saturated fats, lack the essential metabolic activity of the parent compounds, and
inhibit the enzymatic desaturation of linoleic and linolenic acid.
In the past 5 years
a series of metabolic studies has provided unequivocal evidence that trans fatty
acids increase plasma concentrations of low-density-lipoprotein cholesterol and reduce
concentrations of high-density-lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol relative to the parent
natural fat. In these same studies, trans fatty acids increased the plasma ratio of
total to HDL cholesterol nearly twofold compared with saturated fats.
On the basis of
these metabolic effects and the known relation of blood lipid concentrations to risk of
coronary artery disease, we estimate conservatively that 30,000 premature deaths per
year in the United States are attributable to consumption of trans fatty acids.
Epidemiological studies, although not conclusive on their own, are consistent with adverse
effects of this magnitude or even larger. Because there are no known nutritional benefits
of trans fatty acids and clear adverse metabolic consequences exist, prudent public
policy would dictate that their consumption be minimized and that information on the
trans fatty acid content of foods be available to consumers.
Much research has been done, and reported
by Doctor Mary G. Enig, an internationally recognized trans fatty acid expert.
She is the Director of the Nutritional
Sciences Division of Enig Associates, Inc., and former Faculty Research Associate with
the Lipid Research Group of the University of Maryland.
How is Hydrogenation
Hydrogenation is a way of making vegetable oil
harden at room temperature. Small particles of nickel or copper are added and the mix
is heated to very high temperatures under pressure for up to eight hours while hydrogen
gas is injected. This process destroys the essential fatty acids in the oil and replaces
them with deformed trans fatty acids. They compete with essential fatty acids for
absorption in the body. This blocks or delays the work of the essential fatty acids,
creating deficiencies and imbalance throughout the metabolism, including fatty deposits
in the arteries.
A brief history of
Over the past 50 years hydrogenated oils have
become a prevalent part of most of our diets. The hydrogenation process alters oils
in a very basic way. In fact, it changes the molecular structure of them, producing
a fat quite different from any naturally occurring in food. Margarine by definition
is made of hydrogenated oils and is the most common source of hydrogenated oil in our
diets. "Health food store" brands are just as hydrogenated as any others.
These oils have become so commonplace in prepared foods that it is a major feat
to avoid them. Start reading packaging in processed foods in the grocery and you'll see
what we mean!
Hydrogenated oils were first sold to the American public as a cheap substitute for
butter. Hydrogenation hardens or saturates a naturally liquid oil. Ironically margarine
was originally marketed as a healthful alternative to saturated fats like butter and lard.
The truth is that although they were advertised as "unsaturated" by all the major
margarine companies, they only started out as unsaturated oils. The final product was
in fact quite saturated. Trans fatty acids are break-down products of oils and are
increasingly under attack as major contributors to disease.
Hydrogenated oils generally contain 30%-40% trans fatty acids, more by far than any
natural source. Hydrogenated oils are the chief source of trans fatty acids in our
diet. New research into the role fats & oils play in human health has indicated
that trans fatty acids are connected with an increased incidence of cancer, heart
disease, elevated cholesterol levels and a host of other health problems.
I could go on, but it gets amazingly technical from there, and I think I've made my
point. It's your decision as always. But when Dr. Atkins states in his book that
"margarine is not included in this diet — not because it contains any carbohydrates,
but because it's a health hazard", now you see why. I stick to "real butter" as much
as possible, because on a low carbohydrate diet, butter (or any animal fat) does not
cause an elevation of my LDL cholesterol.
Much of the above information comes
from Dr. Mary G. Enig and Dr. Ascherio A. Willett, Department of Nutrition, Harvard School of Public Health,
Boston, MA and reported in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
[1997 Oct;66(4 Suppl):1006S-1010S].
So is there a trans fat free
margarine out there?
There are now a lot of margarines that seem
to be trans fat free (and who make the claim.) But if you look closely, you'll see that what they
truly are is "zero trans fats per serving." That means that they do contain trans fat... but
that the serving size is such that the amount of trans fat per serving is small enough that it
can be rounded down to "zero." (And keep in mind that nearly no one really uses ONLY that small
As for a true trans fat free margarine...
I've only been able to locate two — Smart Balance, and another made by
Saffola. Saffola is a division of Ventura Foods, LLC located in City of Industry,
California. They are the
only "real margarines" on store shelves that can make the "trans fat free" claim and truly
contain no trans fat.
Real margarines are defined as containing 80% oil, as
opposed to "spreads" and other butter substitutes that contain much less oil and usually
a great deal of water. Many consumers are unaware of the difference between
margarine and spreads. There are other products on the shelf now that say "trans fat
free." Promise is one of them. However — look at the ingredients. It still
contains partially hydrogenated oil. So it can't truly be TOTALLY trans fat free.
It's also a "spread" and not a margarine, so don't try frying an egg in it! As I
understand it, Saffola is available only on the west coast, but if that changes, I'll
update this info. They have a website
The two best are OLIVINA and BECEL. They taste as
good as traditional "high end" margarines and they perform well when baking or even
frying. This means they can be used in high heat situations where regular butter
would burn. If you can get to Canada and pick these up, I recommend them!