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A dollop, a curl, a lavish swath sizzling in your pan. Butter. Can you smell it? Despite the newly found butter happiness, seemingly conflicting advice on the matter leaves many still feeling eh…fried?

On the one hand, there is the ‘butter is better’ mantra. This is buttressed by the LCHF (Low Carb High Fat) and KETO diet movements.  They advocate adding butter to coffee, using plenty of butter during food preparation, thus exiting butter lovers.

On the other hand,  there are still those who approach this slippery issue with more caution. Not fully swayed by the current “butter- on- both-sides-as-long-as-it-is-not-bread” approach they shy away from the proposed excess. Advice from health professionals, personal experience that too much butter has had on their girths, are prohibiting many from sinking their teeth in deeper. Well-channelled marketing messages from margarine manufacturers naturally also serves to make some fearful.

In the past ,  lots of money has been spent to promote the use of so-called polyunsaturated margarine. The extent of this is far reaching.  In some countries, promotion of margarine are part of nutrition education programmes. Promotion of margarine has been accompanied by e.g. free cholesterol testing, sponsored seminars and congresses and substantial research grants. Who does not like ‘free stuff’?

All is not as simple as it seems

The composition of butter, as well as margarine,  is not static. On the one hand, the composition of butter is influenced by external factors such as -feeding,  -breeding, -production season and animal husbandry practices. On the other had, raw material availability and process impacts margarine composition.

Fa composition is but one factor to consider when choosing butter or margarine…

The downside of dairy

Dairy products are potentially a source of hormones and hormone disruptors. Modern dairy farming methods require cow’s to be pregnant almost uninterrupted. Higher oestrogen levels ensue both in the cow’s body – as well as her milk. In addition, commercial use and exposure to herbicides and pesticides are known risk factors for increased levels of hormone-disrupting chemicals. Exposure through feed, water and air results in storage in the fat of animals (and humans).

Tub trouble

The tub of margarine comes with its own set of surprises too. You will find more than just ‘poly-unsaturated-heart-healthy-goodness’ inside. Potential ‘health’ benefits associated with margarine only applies to soft spread tub margarine. Brick margarine contains almost as much saturated or so called ‘bad’ fat as you would find in butter.

Of equal importance, are the type of fats used to produce margarine. There will be variation depending on availability and naturally, cost to the producer. Hence, ingredients statement on margarine products usually only state ‘vegetable oil’ and not e.g. sunflower oil or cotton seed oil. However, the oils chosen are usually high in a specific type of fat called Omega 6.

Omega 6 fat – and likewise Omega 3, are essential fats. Regular dietary intake is required as we are unable to produce them. When we ingest more too much Omega 6 fats and too little Omega 3, we have trouble!  High Omega 6’s drives development of metabolic conditions such as obesity, heart disease and autoimmune disorders such as arthritis.

Mass and ‘modern’ food production methods result in a skewed ratio of Omega 3 and 6 fats. It should be 1:1 – but is closer to 1:10

Closer scrutiny of the margarine tub (that is if you can read the small print) reveals that most margarines contain as much as 10 times the amount of Omega 6 fat compared to Omega 3 fat. The ideal ratio is 1:1.

Cells communication and ‘man-made’ fats

Cells communication is a complex process influencing all biochemical processes in our bodies. Emerging evidence suggests that the ‘man-made’ fat structures found in products such as margarine might, over time alter cell signalling. Unfortunately, the delayed appearance of symptoms masks causation. Low cholesterol might put a smile on your doctor’s face but insulin resistance, inflammation and increased disease risk might ensue.

The over-supply of Omega 6 fats, combined with altered cellular signalling impact disease risk! Highly refined, deodorised plant fats and oils are usually void of naturally occurring beneficial co-factors (e.g. vitamins and anti-oxidants).

To ensure shelf life and stability, synthetic – usually, petroleum-derived anti-oxidants are added. This then replaces those removed during processing of margarine, cooking and baking oils an fats.  The impact on human gut – and hence overall health has- largely been left unexplored. Safety studies traditionally focus on toxicity that might be associated with additives – not potential biological impact.

Heart-friendly’ margarines live up to verified claims. It does contains less saturated fats compared to butter. Some even contain added beneficial ingredients ( plant sterols and stanols) which will indeed lower cholesterol levels.  However, health encompasses more than measurable cholesterol levels.

Finding a balance

Remember, real butter is in actual fact a ‘scarce’ product. Five litres of milk is required to produce 500 g of butter. That’s a lot of milk and many cow’s produce this amount of milk…

Neither butter nor margarine come out squeaky clean, perhaps we should shift our focus and heed the age-old adage…too much of anything is unlikely better…

Each individual’s needs and demands have a potential impact on sustainable food production and our environment. Do we not have a responsibility to alter our habits accordingly. The potential environmental impact of our food choices should infact dictate our behaviour. Large scale, high volume feedlot farming and processing factories are potential culprits. (Incidentally, the same applies to coconut oil products which require land which threathens Oerangoetang populations. Deforestation associated with the increased demand for coconut oil products is most concerning.)

Less is always more

When we consume less of something – using it sparingly, it also allows us to buy better quality.  Look out for butter that has been made using traditional methods or investigate small producers that use organic production methods. Sparse use will also minimise your exposure to the hormones naturally found in dairy fat. In addition, hormone disruptors that might be on board may also be side-stepped.

It’s easy to alter your butter-experience without reverting to the convenience of a soft margarine spread. It’s possible to have the taste in a soft butter-rich spread. The BetterEat-butter spread is tasty, easy to make and cost effective. This two-flies-with-one-swath approache really makes health sense -regardless of the angle you are taking!

The benefits include:

  • No artificial ingredients
  • No preservatives
  • No chemical process involved
  • Favourable fatty acid profile
  • It’s easier to use less

BetterEat Butter Mix

Ingredients

200 g salted butter
150 ml Olive oil or cold pressed High Oleic Sunflower oil or Canola Oil (Always choose cold pressed or at least those without added TBHQ)
A blender
A pinch of sat

Method

Leave the butter outside the fridge till soft at room temperature.
Blend the butter using a blender or ‘stick’-blender til soft and smooth.
Whilst still blending, add the oil bit by bit to allow the mixture to blend fully.
Refrigerate and use instead of butter or margarine as a spread or to prepare foods.

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