Food Myth Friday: For Better Health, Ditch the Butter.

I want to start this post by assuring you that my mother is an absolutely fantastic cook! Dinner was always fresh and ready every evening, even after long days of nursing. She is, and always will be, a saint for the amount of effort she puts into our family. However...

Storytime! Being of the caring (yet busy) sort, my mother used to lovingly make my sister and me breakfast every morning before we'd ship off to school. Some of the most memorable dishes, and honestly still some of my favorite memories, were various flavors microwaved Pop-Tarts with melted margarine seeping into the iced shell on top. The only thing that surpassed these were Little Debbie honey buns, topped with a tablespoon of margarine, nuked, and served warm and gooey upon a folded paper towel.

Listen, my adult self still finds my mouth watering at the thought of nuked honey buns whenever I pass the Little Debbie display. However, though mom used that "healthier" alternative to butter, that doesn't particularly mean it was any better for us to slurp down right out of the gate. Let's look at why mom probably should have just stuck to the real thing.


What is butter, though?

Good question. Freaking delicious, that's what it is. Oh, you meant actually. Sure! Well, it's a dairy product made from milk or cream. Surely you've made it in elementary schools by violently shaking cream around in baby food jars. The churning action causes butterfat (the solid) to separate from buttermilk (not the same as the stuff with the green cap in the supermarket) and ultimately create the salted and unsalted solid sticks we crave.

The best part about butter is that it can quickly be produced at home due to its basic ingredients, simple production method, and modern refrigeration. However, the commercial stuff has to be at least 80% fat to be sold, and the other 20% consists of water and milk proteins.


What is *gulp* margarine?

Well, this butter wannabe is made from oil, water, salt, and a few other ingredients like emulsifiers that keep everything blended together. It's artificially flavored like butter and usually doesn't contain a scrap of dairy anywhere within its makeup. Margarine is created through a complicated chemical process (yum) and is definitely out of the home cook's reach to produce.

Like butter, margarine has to weigh in at 80% fat. However, manufacturers can get away with a little marketing sleight of hand if they want to drop below 80% and call it a "spread" instead of margarine.


So, which is better?

It all comes down to the fats used in the creation of our opponents. Butter is an animal product; therefore, it contains higher cholesterol and saturated fats (which can raise that LDL level). Margarine, however, has more polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats (the good fats) but also harbor some unsaturated fats (bad guys) and some trans fats (Thanos evil fat). But instead of disappearing, it's just heart disease and stuff.

Let's look at the compositions first. Their chemical makeup is different, making margarine solid at room temperature, and butter just kind of melts away. Though most bakers with any sort of love of what they do prefer butter for the taste, margarine does have a place in the baker's pantry. Margarine's water content makes for softer baked goods, but be wary in subbing butter in older cookbooks that call for margarine. Those have been adapted to handle extra water. The results may come out a bit dry if you don't account for that.

Now, back to Thanos. That trans fatty acid comes from hydrogenated foods that have actually been shown to lower your good cholesterol (HDL). They literally have a molecular kink in the end that lends itself to clogging up the old ticker over the years. Then... *snap*. Butter doesn't have any of that manufactured mess. Am I telling you to go slide a stick of butter down your gullet? Of course not! Everything in moderation... including moderation, right? However, in the long run, going with the more natural choice tends to be healthier.

In a study of more than 600,000 people, researchers found that folks who ate butter daily had a four percent lower risk of developing type two diabetes and showed no real factor for increased heart disease.


To be fair, kinds of margarine are not all created equal. The sticks usually contain more trans fatty acids, so stay away. However, some of the tubs actually have very little trans fatty acids or unsaturated fatty acids. Those can be used in moderation and are used in my house (just not by me).

So, don't be scared of butter! It's delicious, can be raised humanely and sustainably, and can really up your Little Debbie game.

Seriously, please don't butter up boxed pastries every morning. However, I never say in any of my writing not to try it at least once.

Butter up a cherry Pop-Tart, nuke that bad boy, and raise a cold glass of milk to my mom... relatively guilt-free!

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