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Natural is better in the battle of butter vs. margarine

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POSTED: July 31, 2014 4:00 p.m.
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Butter is natural, margarine is not - which makes a huge difference to our food columnist.

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In the 1970s, the makers of Chiffon margarine had a successful run with several commercials that depicted Mother Nature personified.

In them, a smiling matron dressed in a white gown and wearing a crown of yellow daisies is given a sample of what she believes to be butter, which is made from cow’s milk, nothing artificial. When Mother Nature is told that buttery-tasting spread is, in fact, margarine, she’s not a happy camper.

“It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature,” she growls as she unleashes strong winds, deafening thunder and bolts of lightning.

The commercial undoubtedly helped sales for Chiffon and probably margarine in general, but I didn’t like it. I’m not a tree-hugger or worshipper of the nature God created, but I do have a preference for those things that are natural. That’s the way God made it, so don’t mess with it.

I especially feel that way about butter vs. margarine. My grandmother cooked and baked with butter and always kept some butter to spread on her homemade biscuits, but Mama tended to buy margarine. It was cheaper than butter. Grandmama got her butter at wholesale prices from a local dairy near Thomasville. There was no local dairy near Parris Island, South Carolina, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, or the Marine base in Albany.

Margarine was developed in 1869 by some French dude who was looking for a cheaper way to provide a buttery spread for the poor, ignorant masses. To make this artificial, processed, vegetable-oil by-product, he added emulsifiers and artificial coloring so it looked like butter.

It doesn’t taste like butter. Not to me, anyway. Military service and age may have damaged three of my five senses, but my taste and smell remain intact. I can taste the difference between salted and unsalted butter. And I even can smell the difference between natural butter and unnatural margarine.

For decades, we’ve been beaten up by commercials, government health officials and so-called medical experts who claim that butter is bad and margarine is good. Really? Define good and bad. We’ve been told that butter contains saturated fat and cholesterol, which, experts claim, lead to heart disease.

According to an online article by Kris Gunnars, “Why I Trust Cows More Than Chemists,” recent studies have found no connection between saturated fat and heart disease. Surprised? I’m not.

Gunnars said new studies also have revealed that saturated fat actually improves HDL, or good cholesterol, and it changes LDL, or bad cholesterol, from small, dense LDL to large LDL, which is benign.

Margarine, on the other hand, is made from unsaturated vegetable oils, which are liquid at room temperature. To get it to a solid state, it’s heated under high pressure with hydrogen gas and a metal catalyst. Sounds yummy, doesn’t it? This hydrogenation process makes unsaturated fats look like saturated fats, but they’re really trans fats, which are toxic and have been associated with heart disease.

Gunnars’ bottom line is that butter is better than margarine, but some butters are better than others. He said butter made from the milk fat of grass-fed cows is better for you than butter made from cows on a grain-fed diet. He doesn’t say it, but I suspect butter made from cows that have been injected with hormones probably is not too good for you, either.

My bottom line is to eat what I like in moderation — and that includes butter, not margarine. My cardiologist thinks I’ve switched to Smart Balance. And I did, for a while. It doesn’t taste like butter.

Like Fred Sanford, I know “the big one” is coming someday. But I’d rather go out eating real butter than live a week longer eating something developed by a French chemist. Besides, evidence suggests his chemical concoction will bring on that big one before the natural stuff.

 

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