As both an ND and a dietitian, this is a question I’m frequently asked. Everyone has an opinion, and here’s mine.
The winner, is unquestionably, butter. Not only does it taste better, it’s better for you. But first, a little history on margarine.
Margarine has an interesting history. Invented in the 1860’s, margarine was originally designed as a butter substitute for the lower classes. It made it’s way to North America, but was actually banned in Canada until 1948. Believe it or not, Newfoundland used to sell bootleg margarine made from seal oil to the mainland!
Originally, margarine was the darling of the food industry. Made from hydrogenated vegetable oil, it was a solid at room temperature and therefore the perfect choice for making shelf stable products like crackers and baked goods. The problem, however, is that these trans fats were found to be more dangerous to human health than the saturated fats they were designed to replace. So, the industry adapted, and now almost all margarine is free of trans fats. But, what’s actually in margarine, and is it real food?
Unlike butter, which is made from cream, margarine is industrially processed pseudo-food. The full process is outlined here, and as you can see it’s quite complicated, and includes using caustic substances, and nickel catalysts. It is cholesterol-free, and low in saturated fat, neither of which should be big selling points.
But what about saturated fats? Aren’t they bad? Don’t they raise LDL (aka bad cholesterol)? Shouldn’t we avoid them? Well,sort of, but not really. Like many other things, we should watch our intake of saturated fats, but we needn’t be afraid of them. And yes, we should continue to choose leaner meats, and eat more fish. But, we should also choose healthy saturated fats.
Butter is rich in lauric acid, which may inhibit the growth of pathogens. It also contains vitamin A, an essential fat soluble vitamin. And, best of all, organic butter from healthy, grass-fed cows is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, an essential fat that many of us are lacking in.
So, like most things, butter can be enjoyed in moderation. Don’t over do, and choose organic butter whenever you can.