When I was growing up, we always had margarine in our kitchen because the health experts said it was better for you. Later when I was in college, I always bought real butter because natural was in. Now, I’ve gone back to margarine again (although it’s now termed a “buttery spread” and is processed much differently than previous margarines). The question is this—what is really the best choice?
The debate is not so much about butter or margarine, but about “natural” food against processed food. Is natural always better? Generally I go for the natural—or foods that are the least processed. There are a few exceptions to my preference, one of them being margarine.
Butter is natural in the sense that it came from an animal, but there is a process that it goes through before it becomes that sweet, thick, and delectable cream. So in a sense, it is natural and processed. Margarine usually comes from a vegetable oil and is processed too. Okay, it’s usually a lot more processed than butter. But the reason margarine for me is the winner over butter is that butter has so much cholesterol and bad saturated fats. Margarine on the other hand, uses non-saturated fats. You can even buy margarine that uses cholesterol-fighting oils, like olive oil and canola oil.
The most important thing to remember when buying margarine is to stay away from hydrogenated oils. What made margarine so bad twenty years ago was the high content of these deadly oils. Margarine brands like Smart Balance, Earth Balance, and Promise are the ones to go for because they do not go through the hydrogenation process.
I know that taste is important, and to many people butter is better. However, I do think some of that is a pre-conceived notion. I’ll just say that I make very good cookies now and then, using margarine. Then I send them off to work with my husband. (No, I do not keep them around to tempt me!) The feedback I get from the happy people who eat those cookies are enough to keep me making them again and again. Maybe margarine tastes better after all.