Spooky season may be over, but the butter aisle in the grocery stores remains scary.
Did you grow up with margarine, or butter? I grew up pulling a glorious tub of creamy yellow spread from the fridge and slathering it all over my toast. “I can’t believe it’s not butter,” was the theme of my upbringing and we hailed margarine for its angelic charm and forgiving nature.
Somehow, butter had become bad and indulgent and margarine— the friendlier and healthier alternative.
To be fair, all margarines are not created equal (formerly containing trans fats), but generally speaking, margarine is mainly composed of vegetable oil. Oil derived from vegetables may sound uncompromising, but in actuality, vegetable oil is not only incredibly processed, but highly inflammatory.
Margarine earned its place on the shelves during the 1960’s when “The Power’s That Be,” suggested naturally occurring cholesterols and saturated fat were “bad” and placed them in the “eat moderately” category along aside fried food and candy. Margarine was conveniently lower in saturated fat than butter and contained zero cholesterol taking the stage as a healthier alternative, becoming many American’s preferred spread by 2000.
I was intrigued to learn that margarine was actually invented in the 1800’s by a French chemist during Emperor Napoleon III’s rule. The Emperor offered a prize to the person that could create a less expensive alternative to butter for the French workers and his armies. French chemist Hippolyte Mège-Mouriès created, what we now think of as margarine, but the original recipe consisted of beef tallow, or fat that’s cooked down from any cut of meat of the cow.
Side note: If you have ever cooked a fatty piece of beef and watched the fat harden and become difficult to scrub from the pan, imagine what that would like like in the arteries. Concerning, to say the least. I digress.
Today, modern margarine is made by highly processing and refining “vegetable oil” and water. While that may sound less concerning than a spreadable beef tallow, from where I am standing, we should be avoiding any highly processed product that makes bold claims to be a “health food.” Margarine proudly touts itself as “free” of cholesterol, some versions even claiming to lower cholesterol. When you highly process an ingredient or nutrient, in this instance, a fat, you change the molecular structure of the food and it becomes something entirely different as far as the body is concerned.
Also, what is vegetable oil, exactly? Technically speaking, it is any oil derived from a plant source. This includes oil olive. However, olive oil is more expensive to produce so it is safe to assume that any product that advertises its use of “vegetable” oil is using a highly inflammatory blend of genetically modified canola, soybean, sunflower and safflower oils.
One could easily go down a rabbit hole, reading about the various kinds of butter alternatives and their claims to help reduce cholesterol, in the quest against butter. The body approaches food differently, however. It does not subscribe to marketing claims. The body understands how to breakdown and utilize the whole egg, egg white and yolk— Not the highly concentrated containers of egg whites we are often informed are better for our well-being.
Since “baked goods” season is just beginning, a high quality butter is a far better option for your cooking needs and every day. Predominately grass fed cow butters are a great source of naturally occurring vitamin A, plus, vitamin D and K, beneficial micro-nutrients such as selenium, magnesium, zinc, copper and iodine, as well as, butyrate, a short chain fatty acid thought to reduce inflammation. A high quality butter is generally free of casein, the protein found in dairy products that many humans are unknowingly sensitive, or allergic to, so it is often “safe” for those intolerant to other forms of dairy. Goat butter is another great option for those avoiding cow products, and if vegan— a raw, or minimally processed coconut oil, or coconut “butter” is more ideal than any sort of dairy-free spread. As it goes for any packaged product, the ingredients are always far more of interest to me than marketing buzz words, or even nutrition facts!
Do not even get me started on Crisco.
This season, spread more joy and less inflammation. Go for the real deal.