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Mythbusting: Margarine

November 12, 2018

 

 

If you want to start a heated debate at Thanksgiving dinner, bring up "butter versus margarine."  You'll be sure to hear some passionate opinions!  For many, it's a matter of taste preference, but others worry about the health effects of the stuff in the tub.  What are the misconceptions about margarine?  

 

Let's start with my favorite.  

 

Myth: Margarine is one molecule away from plastic

 

Fact: Carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen make up many compounds, including fats, and many have similar structures.  While margarine (and many other fats) have similar chemical backbones to plastic, it doesn't make them even remotely the same.  In the chemistry world, one molecule matters!  One molecule is the difference between quenching your thirst with drinking water (H20) or hydrogen peroxide! (H2O2)

 

Myth:  Margarine has been around for less than 100 years, while butter has been around for centuries.

 

Fact:  Math was not my strongest subject, but even I know that 1869-2018 is more than 100 years.  

 

Myth: It was invented to fatten turkeys.

 

Fact: It is unclear where this myth took roots, but margarine was not invented for the purpose of fattening up your Thanksgiving bird.  In 1869, Napoleon III offered a prize to anyone who could come up with a lower cost alternative to butter. Frenchman Hippolyte Mège-Mouriès combined beef fat (today's margarine uses vegetable oil) with salt, water, milk, and margaric acid to develop the first margarine.

 

Myth: Butter and margarine have about the same amount of saturated fat.

 

Fact:  Depending on the brand you choose, margarine is often significantly lower in saturated fat.  Butter contains 7 grams of saturated fat per tablespoon, while some margarine contains less than 2 grams.

 

Myth:  Margarine is full of trans fats.

 

Fact:  Many of the health concerns surrounding margarine involve trans fats, which have been shown to be harmful to our hearts.  Trans fats raise bad cholesterol levels (LDL) and lower good cholesterol (HDL).  While some stick margarine contained trans fats at one time, that hasn't been the case for many years.  The same goes for tub margarine.  Still worried?  Don't be. Trans fats were officially banned in the U.S. in June.

 

Myth:  Margarine won't decompose, which means it's not real food!

 

Fact: While margarine doesn't decompose as quickly as butter, it's because butter contains milk, which microorganisms love!  Margarine, like any food, will eventually go bad; the fat in the margarine will turn rancid and have an off flavor and smell.
 

 

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