Choosing the Right Spread
Perhaps you need it for baking a cake, stuffing into a jacket potato, or enriching a sauce – and can anything beat a plate of warm buttered toast? (Be it for breakfast or any time, really!)
Butter, margarine, or inbetween. Whatever you use them for, have you ever thought of swapping your butter or margarine for an alternative? Whether your shopping list involves substantial amounts of butter or a couple of tubs of margarine, it’s worth noting that numerous misconceptions surround both. Some people detest margarine, while others vilify butter, deeming it detrimental to our health and a major contributor towards weight gain.
So, what’s true and what’s just speculation? To start with, you might find it intriguing that there are several health benefits to be derived from eating plain old butter…
- The fat content in butter contains vital nutrients, but it can also provide you with energy and support your metabolic processes.
- Naturally occurring compounds in butter, such as linolenic acid, have anti-inflammatory properties and other disease-preventative abilities that work to protect the body.
- Certain types of saturated fats found in butter aid hormone balance and
- Fats help to make you feel fuller for longer, also aiding the stabilisation of blood sugars.
… Perhaps there are more advantages than you thought to being on Team Butter. However, is it more beneficial to avoid pure butter and choose margarine instead, or perhaps a blend of both?
Butter, a dairy product created by churning cream or milk, typically contains 80% butterfat and 15% water. Traditionally, salt or a robust brine is incorporated into the butter production process to enhance flavour and act as a preservative. Despite this, various ‘unsalted’ butter options are available for purchase today.
Interestingly, the earliest forms are likely originated from sheep or goats’ milk, as it is believed that cattle domestication occurred much later. Nowadays, butter is primarily derived from cows’ milk, and, being an animal product, it’s rich in saturated fat and cholesterol. To improve its visual appeal, many manufacturers add synthetic or chemical colouring during production, imparting a ‘buttery’ yellow hue to the final product.
Margarine, conceived as a healthier and more economical alternative to butter, was first created in the 1870s and gained popularity from the 1950s onward, as butter and lard were deemed ‘unhealthy’ due to their high saturated fat content.
The margarine manufacturing process begins with a liquid plant-based oil, such as sunflower, canola, olive, palm, or soybean oil. Originally, margarine production involved transforming vegetable oil into a solid through a chemical process called hydrogenation. This process entails adding hydrogen to the unsaturated bonds on fatty acid chains, converting unsaturated fats into saturated ones. This increases the melting point, transforming vegetable oils from liquid to solid. However, an unintended consequence was the production of ‘trans-fats,’ now recognised as extremely unhealthy, and linked to inflammation, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and other chronic illnesses.
The term ‘margarine’ has fallen out of favour over the last two decades, with few spreadable products marketed as such. Nevertheless, advancements in the production process for margarine and other plant-based spreads have eliminated trans-fats, with the hydrogenation process being replaced by other methods. In the UK, trans-fats are now rarely included in foods, making them unlikely to be found in any margarine or blended spreads currently available for sale.
DID YOU KNOW?
DID YOU KNOW?
The manufacturing process of margarine yields a product with a pale white colour. However, it became evident early on that consumers found the pale appearance of margarine unappetizing. Consequently, manufacturers began incorporating colouring to give it a more butter-like appearance. This raised concerns among American butter producers, who argued that consumers would struggle to distinguish between butter and margarine. The outcome was the imposition of laws regarding colour constraints on margarine in 32 US states. Wisconsin, the last state to resist, only repealed its margarine-color law in 1967. Until 2008, Quebec prohibited margarine producers from colouring their products. The restrictions on margarine colouring even led to the emergence of an industry-producing DIY colouring solutions for individuals wanting to ‘yellow’ their margarine at home!
So what about a mix of both?
Are they butter or margarine? The answer isn’t straightforward, some of them are a bit of both! Many plant-based oil spreads also contain some buttermilk. The table below compares several popular brands of butter and blended margarine spreads:
So, what should you be choosing – butter or margarine?
From a health perspective, both butter and margarine have their advantages and disadvantages. Your decision should align with your individual health and dietary requirements. If you prefer margarine, scrutinise the nutritional label and opt for a variant made with healthier oils, such as olive oil. If butter is your preference, ensure it originates from grass-fed cows, preferably selecting an unsalted, organic variety. Salted butter typically contains about 2% salt, while unsalted contains virtually none at all. Recognising this slight difference could help you make a healthier choice.
However, given that there’s no 100% healthy option between butter and margarine, exploring alternative products for your toast may be prudent, even if it’s just every so often. Avocados are a great choice as they offer various health benefits, including high levels of vitamin E (which supports the immune system), magnesium, fibre, and potassium, and is rich in folic acid. Nut butter, like almond, peanut, or cashew, is another option. Almond butter, in particular, serves as an outstanding source of vitamins, minerals, healthy monounsaturated fats, protein, and fibre.
Regardless of your decision, it’s essential to keep in mind that if weight gain is a concern, the primary culprit often lies in consuming highly processed, high-sugar foods. Therefore, your butter consumption is unlikely to be the root cause. Indulge in your crumpets and toast with the spread you believe will benefit your body the most, keeping awareness of their advantages and disadvantages at the forefront of your mind.