It all started at the markets on a Saturday.
I was cruising the stalls, munching happily on a quichey thing sold to me by a French six-year-old, when I saw the butter stall.
Rows and rows of butter blocks. And little pieces of bread with which you could taste the butter. And the guy in charge of the stall was waving around his blocks of butter, promising that it would be the best butter you’d ever taste. And there were samples. Samples!
Oh, what was I supposed to do? My hands were tied. By butter.
And so I went over, and stuffed my face with delicious, creamy, fluffy, slightly salty butter samples. While trying to remember the last time that I’d actually tasted butter on its own.
It’s bad for you, you know. Or… that’s what we’ve always been told.
Ever since margarine rolled onto our supermarket fridge shelves in the 1960s, we’ve been nudged away from butter.
The Australian Heart Foundation, for example, suggests people use margarine instead of butter:
Butter is around 50% saturated fat – that’s the unhealthy fat that raises our cholesterol levels. Margarine is a much healthier choice because it has a maximum of only 20% saturated fat. Used daily in place of butter, margarine helps us to maintain a healthy cardiovascular system.
According to The Australian National Children’s Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey 2007, children are currently consuming twice the recommended maximum levels of saturated fat. The dietary habits established in childhood are often set for life. You can set your children on a healthier eating habit from an early age by making margarine a part of their regular healthy diet.
Some experts however, disagree.
This week, TIME magazine’s cover story is called “Ending the War on Fat”. The front page features a simple curl of butter, accompanied by two large words:
Inside the magazine, journalist Bryan Welsh writes about avoiding fat throughout his childhood. “For decades, it has been the most vilified nutrient in the American diet,” he says. “But new science reveals fat isn’t what’s hurting our health.”
Time magazine reckons that scientists were wrong in demonising saturated fats. That, according to growing research, other things – such as sugar and processed food – are largely to blame for the diseases we’re experiencing as a society.
For example, a recent study out of the University of Cambridge questioned the link between butter and things such as heart disease. It also found no proof that polyunsaturated fats – also known as the healthy fats – lower risk of heart disease.
According to the article, the negative publicity around butter has been exaggerated and the health benefits around margarine encouraged, despite the fact that it may contain ingredients that can be damaging to your health. As a result, consumers all over the world are reaching away from margarine and back to the butter.
Scientists now know that there are two different kinds of bad cholesterol particles — one is small and dense (the kind linked to heart disease) and the other is large and fluffy (the kind that seems to be mostly benign). Saturated fat raises the level of larger particles that don’t appear to be harmful.
On the other hand, refined carbohydrates (white bread, bagels, crackers, baked goods, cookies and soda), do increase the smaller, more dangerous LDL particles.
“And unfortunately when fat was vilified back in the 1970s, we replaced those fats with…you guessed it…refined carbohydrates. That’s why we’re in trouble now,” Bauer said.
Unfortunately, this isn’t a licence to eat all the butter you want. (I know – just when things were starting to get fun, hey?)
While a little bit of butter is unlikely to really hurt you, it’s not wise to be loading it on to your lunchtime sandwich at the same thickness as your tomato.
Like everything else in life, moderation is key.
What do you think about the war on butter? Do you choose to eat it or do you prefer margarine