Margarine versus butter: it’s a hot topic debate that has been battled over the decades. Health professionals tout that margarine is a heart healthy alternative to butter, while others claim that margarine is not “natural” and therefore, should not be eaten. You know, the whole “margarine is one molecule away from plastic” theory.
If you haven’t heard the “margarine is nearly plastic theory” just log on to any social media platform, and it will eventually find its way to you. It’s true that margarine shares a similar chemical structure to plastic. However, many substances share similar chemical propositions and substances, but even the slightest variation will completely alter the end product. So the slight differences in the chemical make-up of margarine and plastic lead to two totally different products! Don’t let this margarine myth steer you away from margarine; it is not backed up by science.
While butter is a dairy product made by churning milk or cream, margarine is a non-dairy product made of vegetable oils and water, and since oil and water do not mix, emulsifiers are also added. Both regular margarine (not spread) and butter must be composed of 80 percent fat. It’s the type of fat that make the difference. Butter is made up of animal fat, which has dietary cholesterol and saturated fat, which can lead to heart problems when eaten in excess. Margarine, on the other hand, is made up of vegetable fat, which lacks dietary cholesterol and has much lower amounts of saturated fat. It instead has unsaturated fats, which promote heart health by possibly decreasing total blood cholesterol. It used to be that margarine still wasn’t the greatest alternative to butter because margarine had trans fats, which are just as bad, if not worse, than saturated fats. However, the good news is that many brands have eliminated trans fats from their products.
Many home bakers will attribute their success to butter, and I can’t blame them. Butter has good flavor stability and mouth feel that you may not get from margarine. So the question remains: Should I use margarine or butter? Ultimately, the choice is yours. Margarine without trans fats is the healthier choice. Nonetheless, if butter is still preferred, decrease your saturated fat intake in other ways, which are found in animal products, and be mindful about how much butter you are using. Butter lovers could also try whipped butter, which adds air but therefore, has fewer calories making it a spreadable option.