Margarine tubs flood the supermarkets with their big bold claims gracing their packaging,
“Less than 1% fat”
“Tastes like butter”
But is it that straight forward?
If you stop and look at the ingredients list you will note on most margarines that it is primarily made from soybean oil. Soybean oil has the lowest amount of heart friendly monounsaturated fats of all oils. It also has the highest ratio of Omega-6: Omega-3 fatty acids (a balance that has been highlighted recently as needing to be redressed drastically in most western diets).
So why is this oil used?
Quite simply – it’s cheap!
Not only that, but regardless of which oil is used, the fact remains that it is an oil. Liquid at room temperature (Saturated fats are solid at room temperature) so to make this unsaturated fat more solid for the purpose of spreading, it is hydrogenated. A by-product of this process is the formation of Trans fats. Trans fats have been found to be just as bad, if not worse than saturated fats when it comes to heart disease.
Margarine has been shown to not only increase LDLs in the body (Bad Cholesterol) but it also lowers HDLs (Good Cholesterol). It has also been shown to lower the quality of breast milk in pregnant women and has been shown to decrease immune response.
To top it off, it is also usually more expensive than butter.
But what about the healthier margarines?
Since the benefits of the low-fat diet have been put into question, and the problems of Trans fats have started to become more a part of the consumer conscience, a number of ‘healthier option’ margarines have hit the shelves with claims to:
To have “No Trans Fats”
And to be “Fortified with plant sterols which appear to lower LDLs (Bad Cholesterol)”
And to be “an excellent source of Omega 3”
Let’s look at a couple of examples of these claims:
I Can’t Believe it’s not butter claims to have “Zero trans fats” but if you have a look at the nutritional information you will find the following:
Per 14g serving
Kcal – 90
Total Fat – 10g
Saturated Fat – 2g
Polyunsaturated Fat – 4.5g
Monounsaturated Fat – 2.5g
Cholesterol – 0mg
The FDA allows manufacturers to make the “Zero Trans Fats” claim providing each serving of the product has less than half a gram of trans fat in a serving of 14g. This equates to up to 3.5% fat by weight.
Look again at the fat break down – 2g + 4.5g + 2.5g = 9g of Total fat, but the total fats are listed as 10g. The reason for this is there are trans fats making up the rest, but as they can claim “Zero trans fats” on the front of the packet, they are hardly then going to list them on the rear.
Further, have a look at the ingredients list. These include:
Vegetable Oil Blend (Liquid soybean oil, [we’ve already seen why this is bad] liquid canola oil, hydrogenated soybean oil, partially hydrogenated soybean oil) plus numerous other ingredients including ‘artificial flavours’
So, what about the “Great Source of Omega 3” claim?
Well, let’s have a look at the content in Flora’s Omega 3 Plus margarine:
The ingredients list shows 1.8% fish oil (180mg per 10g portion) if you consider that it is generally felt that 500mg should be the recommended amount of fish oil in a daily diet and that a 4 oz portion of Wild Salmon contains over 1230mg of Omega 3, suddenly the words “Great Source” seem to lose their significance.
But then there’s the plant sterols lowering our LDLs. That’s got to be a good thing, right?
Well perhaps. It is true that plant sterols appear to lower LDLs by around 10% however there is some question as to whether they may have some negative effects on the heart independent of lowering LDLs.
The fact is these extra ingredients are just that, ingredients. What you should remember is that Margarine is a processed, manufactured substance as compared to butter which is one ingredient – butter (sometimes with added salt – look for sea salt if that is your choice). There is no getting around the fact that Margarine will always be a laboratory produced product and added with the ‘good’ ingredients are the colours and preservatives all used to make it look like butter. (That yellow sheen doesn’t come naturally).