Butter vs. Margerine (a look at fats and cholesterol)

WHEW! Ok this one was a doozie to write, but I persisted! Mostly because I believe it’s one of the most important issues to know about in health, but also it’s keeps my brain going and I do love to write 🙂 So have a seat and turn those learning neurons on!
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There is huge controversy everywhere between butter and margerine and which one is better for you. So which is it? What are the exact differences between these two?

To really understand this we first need to look at the different types of fats we have (and need) in our bodies:

1) Saturated Fats – a molecule made of a long string of carbon atoms that are “saturated” with hydrogen atoms. Which means all the spots for hydrogen attachments are full and there is no space for movement, therefore saturated fats take on a solid form.
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Functions:
a) raise HDL cholesterol levels
b) necessary for calcium absorption
c) signal liver to dump fat stores
d) lubricate lungs (lack of this can lead to cardiovascular problems such as asthma)
e) and are building blocks for the brain.

Sources – meats, fish, butter, eggs, coconut oil, cocoa butter

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2) Unsaturated Fats– a molecule that is similar to a saturated fat but it is “unsaturated” with hydrogen atoms, which means there are carbon atoms that have no hydrogen atom attached to it and so attach to each other, and there is space for movement. Therefore unsaturated fats take on a liquid form. There are two kinds, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated.

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Functions:
a) keeps cholesterol levels in check
b) important for brain and nerve function

Sources: avocado oil, nuts, olive oil, seeds (flax, chia, hemp, safflower, sunflower), salmon, trout, marckerel, sardines

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3) Essential Fatty Acids – Technically a polyunsaturated fat, you’ve most likely heard of these, omega 3 and 6. They are called “essential” because our bodies cannot convert these fatty acids from any of the other fats we ingest, meaning we must intake these directly for proper body function.

Function:
a) reduces inflammation
b) increases immune function
c) help with mood and behaviour (studies have shown that this can help with depression)
d) affects cellular function and signaling

Sources:
Omega 3 – oils (canola, flaxseed, chia seed, soybean, walnut, wheatgerm), coldwater fish (mackeral, salmon, bluefish, mullet, sablefish, anchovy, herring, lake trout, sardines, tuna)
Omega 6 – leafy vegetables, seeds, nuts, grains, vegetable oils, poultry fats – so basically most of us are not deficient in Omega 6’s as we gain them from many sources. Focus on getting enough Omega 3’s to balance out the benefits of these polyunsaturated fats.

4) Cholesterol – produced in the liver, the body makes most of the cholesterol needed, but we still need to intake some (but not a ton!) LDL – transporter of cholesterol to body repairs HDL – transporter of cholesterol from body back to liver

Function:
a) building blocks for cell structure
b) also helps produce hormones, bile acids and develop neuron sheath
c) helps synthesize vitamin D from sunlight (and vitamin D is found in foods higher in cholesterol)

Cholesterol is meant to travel in the bloodstream to support/repair cells and complete functions. Free radicals caused by toxic choices (smoking, bad diet, lack of exercise etc.) leads to inflammation, including tears in the walls of the blood vessels. Your body then signals the cholesterol to repair these tears, but if there are toxins built up, the cholesterol oxidizes and becomes hard, causing the “hardening or arteries” which leads to atherosclerosis . So the cholesterol is just trying to help and fix the damage. It’s the toxins that cause the problem. So by minimizing toxins there is less of a chance of build up and therefore, no problem. Get rid of the everyday toxins, which means eliminate processed foods.

Sources: eggs, liver (beef), also chicken, pork, fish, dairy

And now for the other fat that everyone is confused about:

5) Trans Fat – a polyunsaturated fat that has undergone a process known as hydrogenation (a chemical high pressure reaction that “jams” extra hydrogen atoms into the empty spots using a metallic catalyst, changing the structure, meaning it now looks and acts like a saturated fat and does in fact have a solid form)

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Food manufacturers and restaurants started using it because it has a much longer shelf life and is less susceptible to rancidity. Your body however DOES NOT require any trans fats to function. If ingested, the body sees a trans fat like a saturated fat, however it will increase your LDL and also decrease your HDL count – which can lead to heart disease and other negative conditions.

So back to our original question: Butter or Margerine?

Most margerines have trans fats. As you just read above, not only do we not require these in our diet, they are terrible for you anyways. And what gets me even more is how companies like Becel advertise profusly – focusing on “less sodium, less cholesterol and no saturated fats” making it seem like a dream come true for so many trying to lose weight. When in reality the product is causing more harm than good.

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Butter is a saturated fat, which has gotten a lot of bad reputation relating to issues such as heart disease, cloged arteries, raising LDL(bad) cholesterol levels. Recently though, butter is growing in popularity again on the basis of natural fats. Of course, it’s never a good idea to down a bunch of butter (like our friend Homer) but those saturated fats have proven to be helpful with our health (i.e. rasing HDL levels, helping us absorb calcium, lubricating the lungs), especially if you buy grass fed butter – meaning the cows ingest grass instead of hormone laced grains – the way nature intended! Keep in mind that unhealthy high fatty diets usually consist of high refined sugars, which is the real culprit (and also the topic of a future blog entry). However, the right amount of saturated fat is beneficial and tastes delicious! Other non-animal sources: eggs, coconut oil, cocoa butter.

And remember…..the more build up of toxins, the higher your blood cholesterol levels will be. So stick to the natural fats and foods that nature intended for us. You need a balance of saturated and unsaturated fats with a touch of cholesterol.

Anyways, I hope that helped clear up a few facts! So don’t freak out and avoid eating something just because it contains cholesterol or saturated fats. Start cooking with these wonderful fats and Get Natural!

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