100 years ago, when people flocked to cities to work in factories, they often became sick from lack of fresh food, clean water and sunshine. The cure was a stint in the country, nourished on farm foods and breathing the country air. With Farmer’s Markets we now try to bring the farm to the city because live whole foods, grown and eaten seasonally, are still our best defense against disease. The development of chemical additives and dead, factory-made foods may turn out to be a greater health hazard than cigarettes. Consider the changes in the environment and the food supply just in the last 60 years since World War II.
But, let’s go back to a new discovery in the 1880’s that brought about a dramatic change in a staple food and how that is affecting us today and may even be contributing to cancer. Emperor Louis Napolean III offered a prize for anyone who could invent a substitute for butter, to be used by the lower classes and armed forces. French chemist Mege-Mouries took up the challenge and invented oleomargarine in the laboratory. Since it was white in color, and the addition of yellow coloring was banned in many countries, including the U.S., for almost 100 years, margarine did not intially threaten the dairy industry or the use of real butter in the marketplace. For example, it was not legal to sell colored margarine in Australia until the 1960’s.
In the mid 1880’s, margarine was taxed at 2 cents a pound in the United States, and in several states with big Dairy interests, legislators passed laws demanding the addition of pink coloring to make margarine unpalatable to consumers.
In the 20th century, bootleg colored margarine became common and yellow coloring was sold separately so that people could make their own white margarine appear yellow. What happens when you ban a product? Human nature seems to demand that it become desirable. So, despite added taxes, margarine did sell.
World War I brought strict rationing of dairy products, and margarine consumption increased enormously, both in the U.S. and Europe.
Originally margarine was made from beef fat, until hydrogenation of plant matter was developed. This makes the melting point of plant oils higher, so that you get a solid spread at room temperature and not a pool of oil for your toast. And herein lies the problem with margarine. Hydrogenation is a process that takes place in a chamber so that heat and pressure can be applied to the oil, along with a metal catalyst of nickel or palladium, to force hydrogen into the chains of fatty acids. This creates trans fats, which have been linked to cardiovascular disease. Newer methods of manufacturing have attempted to limit the risk of hydrogenation, but all spreads and margarines are still laboratory made, not natural foods.
My advice is always to stick to the nature-made when it comes to food. Real butter is a fat that also contains Vitamins A and D, Vitamins E and K, anti-oxidants, selenium, conjugated linoleic acid for lean muscles, iodine, and other factors essential for human health.
Margarine contains no nutrients and has the same calories as butter. All fats have about 100 calories per tablespoon. Altered, laboratory made, adulterated foods are a giant science experiment. We don’t really know the effects of these foods. But we do know that we have far more heart disease and cancer, obesity and Type 2 Diabetes and the numbers keep growing. There appears to be an inverse relationship to the consumption of nature-made fats and heart disease. The more processed fats consumed the higher the rates of heart disease.
The first written reference to butter dates back to 4500, hammered on a limestone tablet that illustrated how butter was made. Humans have consumed butter as long as they have lived with domesticated animals, pre-dating farming and raising grains. There are many religious references to butter, both Biblical and Hindu.
Taste test? No contest! Look for organic butter, as many synthetic hormones and petro-chemicals, such as might be in the feed of cattle, are fat-loving. Butter is truly a health food.
Should you worry about saturated fat? There is no proof that saturated fat (fat that is hard at room temperature) winds up in your arteries. Sugar is probably far more dangerous, because triglycerides are made from sugar, not fat. We really don’t know why some people have clogged arteries and others don’t. All the studies are inconclusive. We do know that some people who die from heart attacks have clear arteries on autopsy, while others, who die of other causes have completely clogged arteries but had no symptoms of heart disease.
We also know that indigenous (native) people on local diets of animal or fish protein, fermented or raw dairy, natural fats and carbohydrates from vegetables and fruits had no Diabetes, Heart Disease or Cancer until they began eating the white man’s processed diet of white flour and white sugar. They also had no dental cavities or gum disease.
The French have one quarter the heart disease of Great Britain. With their low incidence of heart disease but high butter and cheese consumption, the French also enjoy great tasting food!
By the way, ever wonder what shortening is? Often made from soybean or cottonseed oil, shortening is a hydrogenated fat that is used in baking because it is 100% fat. Butter and margarine are only 80% fat. It is called shortening because it “shortens” the gluten strands in bread, making the dough more elastic thus yielding a softer loaf.
Nature-made fats are vital for human health and are referred to as “essential fatty acids”. Any nutrient that is vital for health is going to be cancer-protective, since human cells need the genuine, unprocessed fats for cellular metablolism, and they don’t need Frankenstein fats made in the laboratory.
In my next Health tip I will tell you more about food and lifestyle choices that may help protect you against cancer.
Dr. Anne Dunev
PhD, is a Naturopath (Practitioner of Natural Medicine),
Certified Nutritionist, and Certified Health Educator