If you've been paying any kind of attention to the online world recently, you know that pretty much the biggest story when it comes to being ludicrous is Charles Carreon and FunnyJunk.com suing TheOatmeal.com for having the audacity to call FunnyJunk out on its business practices. That story has become so ridiculous, that I actually feel the need to write a fluff piece today just to retain my own sanity. So here is a subject that is tangentially related to the Oatmeal debacle, in that it also involves food consumed at breakfast: Butter vs. Margarine.
Before you get your panties in a twist about how this is totally unrelated to anything, and how can something like this possibly relate to the typical subject matter of How To Not Suck, I'm not actually going to be comparing the two. That would be stupid. What I am going to do is take a particular "fact sheet" that's been passed around the Internet since 2003 and debunk a whole bunch of it, because I'm tired of getting misinformation in my breakfast.
Here is the thing you've probably seen posted online somewhere:
Margarine was originally manufactured to fatten turkeys. When it killed the turkeys, the people who had put all the money into the research wanted a payback so they put their heads together to figure out what to do with this product to get their money back. It was a white substance with no food appeal so they added the yellow coloring and sold it to people to use in place of butter. How do you like it? They have come out with some clever new flavorings.
The difference between butter and margarine?
Both have the same amount of calories, butter is slightly higher in saturated fats at 8 grams compared to 5 grams. Eating margarine can increase heart disease in women by 53% over eating the same amount of butter according to a recent Harvard Medical Study.
Eating butter increases the absorption of many other nutrients in other foods, butter has many nutritional benefits where margarine has a few only because they are added! Butter tastes much better than margarine and it can enhance the flavors of other foods. Butter has been around for centuries where margarine has been around for less than 100 years.
Now for Margarine, very high in trans fatty acids triple risk of Coronary Heart Disease, Increases total and LDL ( This is the bad Cholesterol), Lowers HDL cholesterol and this is the good one, Increases the risk of cancers by up to five fold, lowers quality of breast milk, decreases immune response, and decreases insulin response.
And here is the most disturbing fact......
Margarine is but one molecule from being PLASTIC..... (This fact alone was enough to have me avoiding margarine for life and anything else that is hydrogenated, this means hydrogen is added changing the molecular structure of the food.)
You can try this for yourself, purchase a tub of margarine and leave it in your garage or shaded area, within a couple of days you will note a couple of things, no flies, not even those pesky fruit flies will go near it, (that should tell you something) it does not rot, smell differently... Because it has no nutritional value, nothing will grow on it, even those teeny weeny microorganisms will not find a home to grow... Why?
Because it is nearly plastic. Would you melt your Tupperware and spread that on your toast?
Now, some of the observations in this little piece of scare tactic literature were actually pretty close to the truth at the time it was first circulated. As Snopes disclosed, According to the latest findings in the medical world in 2003, margarine increase the risk of heart disease, depending upon the type of fat contained in the spread. Previously, the dietary villain in the development of coronary disease was presumed to be saturated fat, but new evidence points the finger at trans fat (also known as trans fatty acids). Although butter has its own set of dietary shortcomings, it does not contain trans fat. Basically, it used to be true, but in a world where trans fat is now the enemy, it is not; in fact, many margarines go out of their way to advertise right on the container that there aren't any trans fats in them. That Snopes article is worth the few minutes it will take to read it, though realize as you do so that it was published in 2006 and parts of it may be out of date.
So, let's get on to tackling the claims in the source material, shall we? Again, I'll be ignoring most of the nutritional stuff as margarine recipes have changed since the thing was originally written.
On the Origins of Margarine
The Snopes article handles this topic quite handily. In summary, it was created in 1869 as part of a contest run by Napoleon III to produce a cheap low-cost butter substitute. Originally it contained animal fat, but by 1900 the fat had been replaced by vegetable oil.
Margarine raises Bad Cholesterol
Alright, so this is a nutritional one I'm going to tackle after all. Please forgive me for quoting Snopes again: Because butter is an animal product, it contains cholesterol, amounting to 30mg per tablespoon or 10% of the USDA recommended daily allowance. Margarines, because they are non-animal products, do not. So any claim of margarine having cholesterol is necessarily false, because it's basically just processed vegetable oil.
Shit Margarine does to you
This includes increasing heart disease in women, increasing risk of cancer, lowering the quality of breast milk, decreasing immune response, and decreasing insulin response. Actually, it's the trans fats that do those things to you. So while at the time they may have been correct claims, now that most margarines are free from trans fat they are no longer true. In fact, according to this Australian site dedicated to comparing breakfast spreads, butter contains more trans fat than margarine does.
Shit Butter does for youButter has never been proven to increase the absorption of other nutrients. And do you notice that the source text never actually says what the "many nutritional benefits" of butter are? The ingredients of butter are cream and salt, so whatever nutritional benefits butter has, it's nothing you couldn't get from a glass of milk. Butter is really high in saturated fat, which actually comprises 50% of its weight. Saturated fat increases the bad cholesterol while decreasing the good cholesterol. All of this sounds mighty familiar as a claim against margarine in the original text, doesn't it?
In fact, according to this Australian nutrition website, that margarine contains plant sterols means eating 1.5tbsps of margarine a day will lower your cholesterol by up to 10%. Again though, keep in mind that the stuff about health and nutrition might have been true at the time the thing was written, so be sure to keep this in context.
Butter tastes better!
This is subjective. It might taste better to you, but taste worse to me. Any subjective argument is invalid when trying to assert a claim like this. Logic, bitches.
Butter is older!
...And? How is this an argument in favor of either one? Desktop computers are older than iPads, but they both still get used en masse. In fact, in most cases whatever's newer is usually better, because it's an improvement upon what came before. So if it were to be a valid argument, it would actually be saying we should use margarine more than butter because being newer, it's better. When's the last time you saw someone driving around in a Ford Model T?
I also saw a version of this once that made a huge point out of the fact that margarine is only yellow because it's coloured that way. Again, so what? You know that orange cheddar cheese everyone eats? It's only orange because of food colouring; cheddar cheese is naturally white. Again, this is a non-argument.
Margarine is One Molecule Away from being Plastic
If anyone ever says this to you, you are now obligated to say this in response: "Cool, which one?" This will undoubtedly evoke from the other person a blank stare as they have no idea what you're talking about. And that is the greatest gift of all. Let me explain:
If margarine were one molecule away from being plastic, then by definition that molecule would be known, and you could tell me what I have to add to margarine to get plastic, or what I have to add to plastic to get margarine. Oh, but be sure to tell me which variety of which brand of margarine to use, because they all have different ingredients and different chemical structures; I'd hate to use Becel when I'm supposed to use Imperial.
Basically, this claim is patently false, because it's impossible for it to be true. But just for fun, let's suppose it was true; then what? So it's one molecule away. Water is one molecule away from being explosive hydrogen gas, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't keep drinking it. Not only is the "one molecule" argument false, it's a non-argument because it's totally meaningless. In the world of chemistry, one molecule is an enormous difference.
Spreads and Flies
I'm not going to go ahead and test this one out, I'm just going to assume it's true. If you take a tub of margarine and a stick of butter and put them both out, flies will gravitate to the butter. Here's the thing though: flies aren't after the same things as we are when it comes to nutrition. We're after calories, protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins and minerals. Do you know what flies are after?
All it means when flies gravitate to butter instead of margarine is that butter has more salt, which is something people are told they should minimize in their diet anyway. So flies gravitating to butter isn't actually an argument in butter's favor, it's an argument about just how unhealthy for you butter actually is.
Oh, and as for whether shit will grow in your margarine, I've had to throw out a tub of margarine because it had turned blue before. Here's the thing though: it takes weeks for that to happen. If you have visible evidence of growth after two days, you've done something seriously wrong.
I really just needed some kind of title to separate the arguments from the wrap-up. I imagine anal fisting would do a pretty good job of breaking things up.
The point is that there isn't really a good argument that says butter is better than margarine, in just about any way. From a nutritional standpoint, well chosen margarine is miles ahead of butter. And from every other argument presented, they're essentially non-arguments to begin with. Ultimately, what it's going to come down to between butter and margarine is which one you prefer. As for me, I spread margarine and I cook with butter. They can both live in harmony, so just fucking let them already.