The Debate: Butter Verses Margarine

Project: C.H.E.K Your Health

When the “experts” start recommending margarine (a processed food) over butter (a natural food), you’ve got to wonder what on earth is going on.

So, after reading an article titled  FOOD MYTHS, DEBUNKED published on Fairfax’s new Daily Life website, I’ve decided to go all Media Watch on your asses.

In fact, a number of us at Soul Sessions and Momentum for Life genuinely feel like we have no choice but to respond.

Yes, the aforementioned article was written by a well-meaning and accredited nutritionist but, OMG, it’s no wonder people are confused about what to eat.

To make sure I wasn’t shooting myself in the foot with this retort post, I checked in with esteemed author of Primal Body, Primal MindNora Gedgaudas. She is God/Goddess for many nutritionists.

Nora’s repsonse:

“Wow! This argument – at least within the realm of science – has been put to rest a LONG time ago now,” she says. “Apparently, politics and economics are still trying to prop this one up… sort of like a scene from Weekend At Bernie’s.”

Just to be clear, the writer/nutritionist presents the following statement – butter is better than margarine – as a “myth” that needs debunking. Whoa!

So appalled was C.H.E.K practitioner Gus Rickard (left) that he dug up a plethora of good-quality research papers so we could respond intelligently.

The text below in italics is taken directly from the nutritionist’s article while the normal text is Gus’s response.

(NOTE: If the below feels like too much detail, come back soon for the dummies guide to good and bad fats)

MYTH #3 TO BE DEBUNKED IN ARTICLE: Butter is better than margarine

ARTICLE NUTRITIONIST: I’ve done some consulting work for a company that makes margarine, so I have some inside information on this one. I’ve had long chats with food technologists whose job it is to tweak the recipe, and talked to top-notch scientists to sort through the evidence. I eat margarine myself and recommend it over butter to my family and friends. Margarine is made from vegetable oils, with just enough hard fat (often palm oil) to make it spreadable. It has vitamins A and D added (required by law), an emulsifier (often lecithin from soybeans) to stop it separating, a little salt for taste, natural colour and a preservative to keep it fresh.

GUS: I strongly disagree that margarines are better than butter. Butter contains saturated fat (not trans fat) and is a rich source of vitamins A, D and K2, the latter especially being something that we all struggle to get a lot of. The nutritionist mentions that many margarines have vitamin A and D added, but they are synthetic vitamins that will never have the same effect as the natural equivalent found in something like butter.

ARTICLE NUTRITIONIST: Sometimes a little milk is added, also for taste. About 99 per cent of the ingredients in a typical margarine spread are from natural sources (the preservative is not). Margarine is not much more processed than butter.

GUSCan you make margarine in your home? If you can’t, I’d argue that it’s not more processed than butter. Ideally, butter should not be processed at all, just churned from cream. With margarine having more than one ingredient, it’s already more processed than butter.

ARTICLE NUTRITIONIST: To be fair, margarines developed a bad reputation because of the presence of trans-fats. These bad fats are produced when liquid oils are partially hydrogenated to make them solid at room temperature. However, when the science emerged that these were harmful, reputable manufacturers changed the way they made table margarine. There may be a few cheap variants that still contain some trans-fat – check the label before buying.

GUS: I agree

ARTICLE NUTRITIONIST: Butter is made from cream and is almost 70 per cent saturated fats that increase cholesterol. Every tablespoon of butter is eating the equivalent of two tablespoons of pure cream – not milk – which is why it isn’t part of the dairy food group. Eating butter and cream will increase your blood cholesterol and they don’t give you any calcium. Butter is 80 per cent fat but contains no essential fats (omega-6 and omega-3). Although it does contain some vitamin A, so does margarine. It’s a real ”sometimes food” – all about taste and nothing about health.

GUS: I really disagree with this. The nutritionist writes from the assumption that cholesterol is bad for us and causes heart disease, but this hasn’t been proven. Cholesterol is proven to be correlative to heart disease only, not causative. Cholesterol’s role in the body is to go to the site of damage as a way to help heal and repair. If someone has elevated levels of cholesterol it’s a sign that their body is under stress and something is wrong. It is a signal that we need to look at our lifestyle and food choices. Blaming cholesterol for heart disease is analogous to blaming fires on fireman!

There is not much research that actually shows saturated fat causes heart disease and most studies that do, haven’t differentiated between saturated and trans fats.

Trans fats are actually the villain. They are man-made fats, usually from polyunsaturated vegetable oils, that have been altered chemically to be solid at room temperature. Fats are used within our cell membranes to give them their shape and rigidity and have an important role in the body, but trans fats cause cell walls to become weaker and unable to hold the cells membranes together. They also prevent proper communication between the cells, which is exactly what we need cholesterol for.

Cholesterol is used to create a barrier between the inside and the outside of the cell. This is vitally important because the cell wall keeps the inside of the cell inside the cell, and the outside of the cell, outside. Without cholesterol, we can’t do that.

Source: Know your Fats by Mary G. Enig p58-64

Also, our brain is composed of a high amount of fat and cholesterol. The nerve cells in the brain are protected by a myelin sheath which is composed of cholesterol. Cholesterol is indispensable for brain maturation and without that myelin sheath, our nerve cells can’t communicate with each other in order to get jobs done. That’s when things get messy and people can’t function properly. Omega three fats are also very important for brain and we have big deficiency in them.


As for not eating butter and cream, the argument again relates to whether saturated fat causes high cholesterol and heart disease. The cholesterol hypothesis hasn’t been proven either way, so it’s just a hypothesis at this stage. The big thing here is, she hasn’t mentioned the source of butter and cream, just banned them all together as a blanket bad. Butter and cream from a grass fed cow, grazing in sunlight is very diff from a cow that has been eating grains in a shed. The end product has a very different profile as far as the fats within the milk/cream. Butter made from grass fed cows has a much better ratio of omega 3 and 6 which is exactly why we eat it, for the essential fats. Omega 3 fats are very important for the brain and we have a big deficiency in them.


Butter also contains fat soluble vitamins A, D and K2, which we need. In his epic study on human health Weston A. Price found that butter from Grass Fed Cows was a staple to many extremely healthy human populations. They saw it as a sacred food that sustained life. They used it to cure diseases including Rickets and even tooth decay.


LeeThe Debate: Butter Verses Margarine

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