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ImageSorting out the facts...

We get a lot of conflicting messages...

Sometimes it's hard to know what to believe. We'll see an article in the newspaper or a health report on television about the dangers of this additive, that chemical or these foods. The next week, there are a team of scientists refuting it. Sometimes you have to look to who has a vested interest in saying what they are. We, the consumers, have been the target of much mis-information. It can get very frustrating sometimes.

For the low-carbohydrate dieter (who's constantly being told by those of an old-school mindset that their diet is a "fad"), trying to get the most accurate information can be more important than ever.

For me, personally, I try to do all the research I can before making a decision that affects my health and my family's health. The opinions stated here are purely mine, and the facts stated are those that I've gathered from my research. I'll only quote facts I've verified from several sources.

       Butter vs Margarine: A look at "trans fatty acids":

Butter/Margarine 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.

Concern 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 achieved?
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 hydrogenation...
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 "serving size.")

Saffola trans fat free margarine 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 as well.

Olivina trans fat free margarine UPDATE: On a recent trip to Canada, I located some margarines (soft; yet still REAL margarines) that truly have NO TRANS FATTY ACIDS. Unlike becel trans fat free margarine 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.

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!

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