Sven-David Müller has recently published “Cows would eat margarine”, in which he debunks the myths about margarine. He shared his view on the composition and health effects of margarines with IMACE.
1) This book presents the key findings of a research comparing margarine and butter. Can you tell us what led you to conduct such a research?
I wanted to investigate the “myths” about margarines, regarding their composition, and especially, their amount of trans fatty acids – or trans fat. For the record, trans fatty acids raise “bad” LDL-cholesterol and thus increase the risk of heart attack. Trans fatty acids are present in both products, margarine and butter. They originate either from the stomach of cows or from the partial hydrogenation process which can be used to make vegetable oils. It is often said that margarines contain a lot of trans fat and I wanted to check whether this is indeed the case.
2) Can you tell us about the key findings of your research?
The research has shown that in terms of fats, margarine is actually healthier than butter. In comparison to the butter brands, the margarine brands contain less unhealthy fatty acids and more healthy fatty acids. In particular, margarine is almost free of trans fat (between 0.28g and 0.81g per 100g), as opposed to butter, which contains higher amounts (between 1.98g and 3.10g per 100g). Same with saturated fatty acids which can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease: butter can contain up to 67.7g of saturated fats while margarine only amounts to 25.1g per 100g.
3) Next to the reduced saturated fatty acid content, are there other health advantages to margarines?
Margarine provides our body with some “very good and healthy” fatty acids. It can cover our needs regarding Omega-3 fatty acids and unsaturated fatty acids – especially the essential fatty acids linoleic acid (Omega-6 fatty acid) and alpha linolenic acid (Omega-3 fatty acid). The mean polyunsaturated fatty acids content of the studied margarines was 15.8g per 100g. When it comes to Omega-3, margarine brands contain between 2.13g and 5.35g per 100g, while butter brands contain much less. Omega-3 fatty acids are key for normal blood and cholesterol concentrations, as well as the development of our brain. Also, regarding the cholesterol content the differences in favour of margarine are enormous. Margarine brands contain between <1mg and 1.9mg per 100g (which is practically cholesterol-free), while butter cholesterol’s content is between 138mg and 261mg per 100g (which is practically rich in cholesterol)!
3) What is your opinion on the difference whether you consume trans fat from animal or vegetable origin?
According to several official agencies such as the German Risk Authority (BfR), the WHO, the FDA or the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA), ruminant and non-ruminant trans fatty acids have the same adverse effects on health. They increase “bad” LDL cholesterol and reduce “good” HDL cholesterol. This increase in LDL cholesterol is associated with a bigger risk of cardiovascular disease. So, with all that was said about butter, it should be consumed as rarely as possible and in low amounts. Personally, I say NO to butter!
4) Most people have in mind that margarines are artificial products. Do you have an explanation for this perception?
No, but for some reason, many consumers are not aware of what margarine really is and what it is made of. They stick to butter because it suits their taste and because they believe it is “natural”. Yet there are a lot of misconceptions. Margarine is made from high quality vegetable oils, such as rapeseed, sunflower or soy oil which grow naturally in fields. Of course these oils need to be crushed, and they are processed in a plant to become margarine; however, butter is also created in a plant! And we should accept that today, all what we eat comes from the food industry. Butter does not grow on trees and margarine is not an artificial product; it is a mixture of healthy vegetable oils and water. As a nutritional medical scientist and dietician I say YES to margarine and its advantageous nutritional profile, and NO to butter!
5) In terms of sustainability, can you tell us a bit more about the environmental footprint of margarine?
Margarine is produced out of vegetable oils and fats, so no need to raise cows. Cows require an enormous amount of energy to feed, they produce lots of waste, and they’re a major emitter of methane. Margarine production out of vegetable oils and fats saves a lot of CO2. Margarine therefore has a several times smaller footprint than butter. Theoretically one can prepare margarine easily at home. So if you care about the planet, do not hesitate and go for margarine!
Sven-David Mueller studied Applied Nutrition Medicine as a nationally recognized dietitian, diabetes educator of the German Diabetes Society. He is Master of Science in Applied Nutritional Medicine. Sven David Mueller is Chairman of the German competence center prevention and dietetics. He is the author of 177 books that have been published in 14 languages. He is one of the most successful authors in nutrition and diet in Europe. www.svendavidmueller.de