Butter versus Margarine-Truth! and Fiction!

Margarine or Butter-Truth! & Fiction!

Summary of eRumor:
A list of comparative facts about margarine and butter.
The Truth:
The heart of this eRumor, the comparison between butter and Margarine, has been circulating since 2005.  Later versions added the tidbit about Margarine being manufactured to fatten turkeys.
We’ll go through the email one fact at time but it needs to be kept in mind that not every Margarine product is the same.  There are other spreads that are loosely called Margarine but may, for example, be part vegetable oil or a fat-free Margarine product.

1.  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-Fiction!
According to the National Association of Margarine Manufacturers, Margarine was the idea of a Frenchman named Hippolyte Mege-Mouriez in response to a request from Emperor Louis Napoleon for ideas for a substitute for butter.  In 1869 he used margaric acid and the name of his formulation became known as Margarine. It became a hit in the United States in the late 1800’s.
2.  Both have the same amount of calories-Truth!
A tablespoon of butter is 100 calories.  A tablespoon of Margarine is 100 calories.
3.  Eating margarine can increase heart disease in women by 53% over eating the same amount of butter, according to a recent Harvard Medical Study-Truth! But Updated!
We didn’t find the “53%” study, but Harvard School of Public Health has published a report on this.  It says that more than 30 years ago research indicated that saturated fat (such as in butter) was bad for the heart and people were told to switch to margarine.  A Harvard study of women between 1980 and 1994 found a significant reduction of heart disease risk by reducing smoking, hormone treatment, and dietary improvements including reducing or eliminating saturated fat (such as in butter.)  Further research has shown, however, that some margarines contained trans fat, which was even worse for the heart than saturated fat.  The report cautions us not to make decisions as a result of just one study but to consider the body of recent research about an issue like butter versus margarine.

4. Butter is slightly higher in saturated fats at 8 grams compared to 5 Grams-Truth!
A tablespoon of butter is 7g of saturated fat.  A tablespoon of margarine is 2g of saturated fat.
5.  Eating butter increases the absorption of many other nutrients in other Foods-Unproven!
We could not find anything definitive about this.
6.   Butter has many nutritional benefits where margarine has a few only because they are added!
It depends on what you are measuring.  The advantage of butter is that it is a more natural product than margarine and does have more vitamin content.  But butter is high in saturated fat, which is associated with increased heart attack risk.  Saturated fats are the ones that are solid at room temperature and increase the “bad” cholesterol (LDL) as well as the “good” cholesterol (HDL).  The disadvantage of true margarine is the trans fat level.  The more solid a margarine is at room temperature, the more trans fat it contains, as much as 3 grams per tablespoon.  Margarine makers have responded to that by releasing tub or liquid products that have either reduced or eliminated trans fats.  Watch for the labels.  Heart doctors recommend butter over normal margarine but recommend trans fat free margarines over butter.  It all gets very confusing.  There are even margarine products now that say they actually lower cholesterol.
7.   Butter tastes much better than margarine and it can enhance the flavors of other foods-A Matter of Personal Taste!
Butter has been around for centuries where margarine has been around for Less than 100 years- Fiction!
Margarine was introduced as an inexpensive alternative in France in 1869, according to a history found in the Margarine and Spreads Association in the United Kingdom.
9.   Margarine is high in trans fatty acids-Truth!

10.  Margarine triples the risk of coronary heart disease-Unproven!
Although trans fats are to be avoided, we did not find any research that says that the use of margarine triples the risk of heart disease.

11.   Margarine ncreases total cholesterol and LDL (this is the bad cholesterol) and lowers HDL cholesterol, (the good cholesterol)-Truth!

12.   Increases the risk of cancers up to five fold-Fiction!
We could not find any substantiation of this claim.
13. Margarine lowers quality of breast milk-Truth!
We didn’t find any research on this but there are studies on how a mother’s eating of trans fats affects the level of trans fats in her milk. One study, for example, comparing Canadian breast milk to Chinese breast milk found that Canadian mothers had 33 more trans fats in their milk than the Chinese mothers.  So the quality of the breast milk can be affected by the consumption of trans fats.

14.  Margarine decreases immune response-Truth!
We found several references to this including an article by nutritionist Dr. Mary Enig that said that consuming trans fatty acids “Affects immune response by lowering effeciency of B cell response and increasing proliferation of T cells.”
15. Decreases insulin response-Truth!
Actually the trans fat can increase blood insulin levels, which increases the risk for diabetes.
16.  Margarine is but ONE MOLECULE away from being PLASTIC-Fiction!
We found no support for this.  Perhaps whoever wrote this heard a discussion about the “plasticity” of margarine.  It is “plastic” at room temperature meaning that the shape of it can be changed when pressure is applied.  That doesn’t mean it is composed of what we normally think of as plastic. It was originally made of animal fats but increasingly now is made from vegetable oils.
Updated 3/29/07