Debunking the Myths Around Margarine

A couple of months ago I did a video segment on margarine vs. butter. I thought I did a good job of explaining the health benefits of margarine. But when I read through the comments I was shocked at how many people strongly believe in what I call "margarine myths."

I'm going to explain some of the assumptions people have and provide more information to clear up some of the more popular myths, and hopefully get people working with the correct information. Many of these half-truths or claims may come to you from well-meaning friends or relatives, but the information is incomplete and can lead to more confusion than necessary. So, push the pause button on redistributing these bits of information and let's debunk them.

"Margarine is one molecule away from plastic."

This is by far one of the more popular myths. Simply put: This is not true. Many substances share similar chemical structures or compositions, but it's the variations in these structures or ways they are arranged that make a difference in their properties and to the end product. Most types of margarine are blends of vegetable oils, while plastics are usually a polymer (chain of repeating molecules) of ethylene molecules (four hydrogen atoms and two carbon atoms). Even if they were both made from vegetable oil the variation in their chemical structures would result in different end products. So adding another molecule to margarine does not turn it into plastic. The bottom line is that many substances share similar chemical properties but even the smallest variation can set them a world apart in terms of what they are.

"When a square of butter and a square of margarine were put into a baking pan, then insects (ants/flies) were added, they went to/landed on the butter. This tells you that nature chooses real food!"

I'm not sure how bugs have the ability to detect between real food or not. I've seen them land on just about anything -- they don't seem to discriminate. But I could be wrong, so I did some digging. It turns out there's no scientific evidence to back this myth up. The basic method of making margarine consists of emulsifying a blend of vegetable oils, water and sometimes milk, which are real foods. Choose the margarines that are free of trans fats.

"Margarine is hydrogenated for longer shelf life and contains trans fats."

We know from years of research that trans and saturated fats increase LDL cholesterol ("bad" cholesterol) and lower HDL cholesterol ("good" cholesterol). As a result, manufacturers have created non-hydrogenated, trans fat-free soft margarine, which is now widely available. These margarines are made from vegetable oils such as canola, olive, soybean and safflower, which contain polyunsaturated fats that may help lower your cholesterol level, whereas butter, lard and shortening contain saturated fat that can increase your cholesterol level.

The bottom line?

To maintain a healthy lifestyle, choose unsaturated fats more often, like soft margarines that are non-hydrogenated and trans fat free. Simply put, consider what you are consuming. Both butter and margarine have the same amount of fat, but different types. Fat is essential in our diets. It is important to know which types of fat we want to make sure we include in our diet (unsaturated )and which types of fat we want to limit (saturated).

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