Thursday, July 19, 2012

Margarine or Butter?

There are those certain things in life that we are so sure we are 'right' about and that other people are just 'wrong'.  Like back in 7th grade when I thought wearing my bangs sticking up 3 inches high and rolling my pants would never go out of style.

As it turns out for me both my bangs and some oils were certainties gone wrong, especially margarine...


(Photo from stock.xchng)
Margarine, or "plastic butter" as it's jokingly called, because a hydrogenated fat molecule from margarine inspected under a microscope looks the same as a plastic molecule.  Margarine is made by taking vegetable oil and hydrogenating it, so that it is harder and has a longer shelf life.  Hydrogenation is the process of heating liquid vegetable oil and combining it with hydrogen gas. Hydrogenated fats or oils are also called trans fats.  This process ruins the nutritional value of the oil. 

Most margarines contain trans fats, which are so bad for you that some European countries have made trans fats illegal. 
Trans fats decrease the cholesterol that clears your blood vessels and increase the cholesterol that clogs your blood vesselsHydrogenated vegetable oils, account for about 80 percent of trans fats in the American diet, reports the University of Maryland.

A group of people in India that used margarine and was followed in a study for 20 years, was found to have a heart disease rate of 15 times higher than that of the group using butter.  (Journal of Clinical Nutrition Study)  Over the long run the consumption of these trans fatty acids causes high levels of cholesterol, and raises the overall level of toxins in the body.

Recommended:  Butter

Grass-fed organic butter is a great alternative, and it tastes really good!  (Check out my post on grass-fed beef for more on why buy grass-fed.)  The right kinds of fats, such as butter, serve many important roles.
Butter is rich in short and medium chain fatty acids, including even small amounts of lauric acid. It is rich in antioxidants as well, in the form of beta carotene, vitamin E, and selenium. It is one of the best sources of vitamin A. Because living grass is richer in vitamins E, A, and beta-carotene than stored hay or standard dairy diets, butter from dairy cows grazing on fresh pasture is also richer in these important nutrients. The naturally golden color of grass-fed butter is a clear indication of its superior nutritional value. (Searles, SK et al, “Vitamin E, Vitamin A, and Carotene Contents of Alberta Butter.” Journal of Diary Science, 53(2) 150–154.)
Butter from grain-fed cows is very high in the omega-6 fatty acids, of which most people are consuming too much due to the high amounts of omega 6 vegetable oils and foods in the US diet. The omega-3 fatty acids in most conventional dairy products today are very low, and most people are dangerously deficient in them. Milk from grass-fed cows has a much higher content of omega-3 fatty acids. (source)
*Both margarine and butter from grain fed cows have the potential to lead to higher rates of heart disease (as a result of the higher omega 6 ratio in the grain fed cows).  1 in 4 men, and 1 in 4 women, who died last year died from heart disease.

I buy KerryGold at Trader Joe's for $3.  Most health food stores should also carry it.

There are so many kinds of oil to choose from now a days from sunflower to almond to coconut, to who knows what's next (tree bark oil anyone?).  It can get a little overwhelming knowing which ones we should choose, and more importantly which ones are good for us? 

To help you sort it all out here's a guide to some of the more common oils we all use...

 Vegetable Oils

The most common sources of vegetable oil for everyday cooking are canola, safflower, sunflower, peanut, soybean, olive and sesame seed. Vegetable oils are versatile because they can be used directly as an ingredient, and since they can be heated to a high temperature before they burn, they're used to fry and saute. (source)
Vegetable oils serve different purposes in cooking, but they deliver little nutritional value other than vitamins K and E. Vitamin K plays an essential role in blood clotting and bone building. Vitamin E is an antioxidant that maintains healthy cells throughout the body and decreases the risk of heart disease. The value of vitamin K in vegetable oil varies depending on the type of oil.
Since the body does not store large amounts of vitamin K, it's important to regularly obtain it from dietary sources. Even though vegetables such as broccoli, kale, spinach, swiss chard, brussels sprouts and cabbage contain more vitamin K per serving, canola, soybean and olive oils are considered to be good sources, according to the Linus Pauling Institute.
Most vegetable oils also are a source of vitamin E. Canola, peanut, olive, soybean, corn and flaxseed oils all provide 1.9 to 2.4 mg of vitamin E, representing 10 to 12 percent of the recommended daily intake. Safflower oil is higher, with 4.6 mg or 23 percent of the daily intake. (source)

Some important points to know are that when oil burns the fumes from it are carcinogenic (or cancer causing; the same applies to burnt meat).  When heated to cooking temperatures oils can lose their nutritional value because the heat destroys it.

Canola oil and soybean oil, once considered healthy, are now mostly genetically modified (unless labeled USDA Organic).  Watch out for these oils in processed foods and common places like salad dressings.
Researchers reviewed data from 19 studies and found that parameters including blood and urine biochemistry and organ weights were significantly disrupted in the GM-fed animals. (source)
For more on Canola oil, and some major health concerns about it check here.


Recommended:  Organic Coconut Oil, Extra Virgin Olive Oil, or Grapeseed Oil

Exrta Virgin Olive Oil is a great healthy choice for adding to foods, as long as you don't cook with it.  When heated it easily looses its nutritional value that you were eating it for in the first place.  Try it on a salad with in a dressing like this Honey Mustard  recipe.  Or if you like tangy try it as my friend Karen likes to eat it on a salad with red wine vinegar.  Olive oil can be purchased at most grocery stores.  Look for cold pressed and organic if possible.

Grapeseed Oil is nice as a replacement cooking oil.  It costs a little bit more, but is harder to burn and holds its nutritional value much better. Grapeseed oil is high in anti oxidants which fight off harmful free radicals.  I have purchased Grapeseed Oil at Target and am sure you could find it at most grocery stores.

Coconut oil is my new favorite.  Oh I like it so much!  Coconut oil looks like a clear liquid at temperatures above 76 degrees, and a white solid at temperatures below 76 degrees.  It does have saturated fat which makes it fantastic to cook with, as it holds its nutritional value even at higher cooking temperatures.  I have used it almost any time a recipe has called for butter or oil to be used.  It's cholesterol free, which can be a benefit over butter and other oils.
My favorite thing to do with it is bake.  It tastes amazing replacing oil in any baking recipe I have tried.  Think about slightly coconut flavored brownies, pancakes, and my kids favorite corn bread.  (Just make sure to mix it with the dry ingredients before adding any cold ones or you'll have clumps of coconut oil in the mix, as I have done). 
For those wanting to lose weight it is also gives your metabolism a boost.
I have purchased Coconut oil from Trader Joe's, Dr Bronner's, and Vitacost.  Look for cold pressed, organic, non-bleached, and non-deodorized.
Coconut oil is fantastic for your skin.  Check out these great recipes for lotiontoothpaste, and deodorant so good that it makes store brands smell weak.


Bonus Oils:  Cod Liver Oil and Flax Seed Oil

Flaxseed oil and cod liver oil are two significant sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which are known to be essential for child development and human health.  
Cod liver oil contains two omega-3 fats called DHA, and EPA, while flaxseed oil contains a different omega-3 fat called ALA. The body needs all three of these fatty acids for different purposes. The body can convert the ALA in flaxseed oil into EPA and DHA, though in much smaller quantities than the same amount cod liver oil naturally contains. Cod liver oil, however, does not contain ALA nor the resources for the body to produce it.

In a study published in "Cardiovascular Research" in 2009, researchers found that the omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in fish oils, like cod liver oil, helped reduce occurrences of heart failure, whereas those in flaxseed oil did not. They further found that dietary supplementation with fish oil but not flaxseed oil suppressed inflammation and prevented certain kinds of heart failure. Fish oil also increased production of a blood hormone that helps burn fat and suppress appetite, while flax oil does not. Unlike other fish oils, cod liver oil in particular is a significant source of vitamins A and D.  (Take in the dose as directed to avoid overdose of vitamins A and D.)

Never in a million years did I think I would be giving myself and my children cod liver oil.  After learning how healthy it is for us I am sticking with it.  I buy the best quality of cod liver oil on the market which is Green Pastures.  I bought the non-flavored on sale, and I don't really recommend that.  I have finally gotten my oldest daughter to eat it with yogurt and fruit and my son to eat it in a fruit smoothie.  It is expensive because of the quality.  A lot of other brands heat the cod liver oil to the point that the minerals and micronutrients are destroyed, but omega fats remain.  They taste better and have the fats but may not absorb or work as well without the other nutrients in tack.  If you decide to buy Green Pastures brand I have heard the mint flavor is good.  :)

To make sure you are getting a health amount of fat consider that the recommended amount of fat in your daily diet is 30-40% of your total daily calories.  That includes all the foods you eat.  What kind of fat we eat is a very important part of remaining healthy.  Your saturated fat intake should make up only 10 percent of your daily fat intake. (source)

Enjoy eating oils that are helpful to you and what you're cooking, while also being able to enjoy their flavors!

No comments: