This is a post about why I’m not scared of butter anymore. I wasn’t actually scared of butter until we came back from hospital and there on my long list of ‘forbidden foods’ was butter among the salt, pasta and the bread and the cakes, I looked at every ingredient in my fridge and cupboard thinking it might kill us all.
I began a ‘can’t eat that, not allowed that’ mantra which was depressing and of course, unsustainable. You can’t live on broccoli and kiwi.
So, putting butter into the trolley on Friday, Nico asked “ Can Dad have that? I thought butter was bad”
Until recently, I thought butter was indeed, bad (it was on my list of forbidden foods after all) but actually it is better for you than margarine, as far as fats go, I mean. I had no idea.
This revelation came about when my friend (an amazing individual who happens to be a doctor and really knows about nutrition and healthy eating) sent me a flapjack recipe.
“For your starving son”
The recipe asked for butter or coconut oil and I suggested using olive oil instead of butter because it wouldn’t be healthy enough for my husband. (“I’m terrified of butter” were my actual words)
“Olive oil might taste weird, she said, and anyway don’t be scared of butter, it’s margarine that’s terrible for you.”
Healthy alternatives, might not be that healthy
It seems I have no idea about a lot of things food related and had been going with the flow, not questioning things and believing much of the marketing messages. Hearing the news about margarine makes me wonder just how healthy my diet actually was before my husband’s stroke. Not that healthy, I’m guessing. Which still is difficult to swallow, pun totally intended.
Thankfully I am not fooled by the marketing and advertising of the alcohol industry anymore, but it does make me worry about just how much of the ‘supposed health benefits of foods I have been buying into over the years. Now, I have never been one for so-called ‘diet foods’ or ‘low in this or that’, foods. I have always tried to eat as naturally as possible.
As I say in the About Me section, I have always cooked from scratch and would never ever dream of buying a ready meal or frozen lasagne. Even my pizzas are homemade, base and all and my babies’ weaning foods were mashed potato and broccoli, homemade apple puree, fish pie with peas and carrots, or a full-on shepherd’s pie, pureed and spooned into ice cube trays for freezing. I never bought a jar of baby food in my life.
But still, if there is a healthy version of something like margarine instead of butter, being actively promoted by the industry, experts, and government, then obviously, you would go for the healthy version, wouldn’t you? I mean, it’s the government, and the food companies, they wouldn’t lie, would they?
So, here I was willingly swapping a perfectly natural, great tasting product for a very highly processed and actually not that healthy either alternative, without even questioning it. So it was a shock to discover that marg is actually, bad for you!
Why is margarine bad for you and butter not so much?
Obviously, it won’t do to be slapping butter on toast and bread so thick you can see your teeth marks when you take a bite, but would it be so bad in terms of health, to swap my tub of supermarket’s own brand of margarine (or vegetable spread) for butter, unsalted of course?
I know our taste buds will definitely be happier. In her book ‘Foodology’, Saliha Mahmood-Ahmed refers to the ‘butter taste’ and paints a vivid picture of chefs adding vast amounts of butter to everything in order to make whatever dish they are preparing, taste better. Which it obviously does and to be fair, margarine is not the nicest tasting of fats out there.
If baked potatoes were on the menu at home, then it had to be butter. Similarly, for soups, garlic bread, and in times of comfort, toast with butter and jam was the breakfast of choice. So butter obviously wins in the taste test, but is it really that much worse for you than marge or is it worth sacrificing the taste of butter for the health benefits of margarine??
What is butter?
Butter is concentrated milk fat, churned up cream if you like, so it contains animal or saturated fat. It is natural – which is important.
Margarine on the other hand is an extremely processed food designed to look like butter and while the saturated fat content is much lower than in butter, because of the way it is made, margarine contains transfats which can cause chronic heart disease, and can actually push up your cholesterol. There are different types of margarine that don’t contain as much bad cholesterol making trans fats, but a really detailed look at the label is required to work out which.
And according to Harvard Health, “There never was any good evidence that using margarine instead of butter cut the chances of having a heart attack or developing heart disease.”
Both butter and margarine are fats, obviously, and I do know that some fat is good for you but it can be confusing to try and decide which one to go for. Personally, I will continue to use a good quality extra virgin olive oil for cooking and drizzling and even for making flapjacks. But, I will also continue to buy butter, and I will never again buy margarine.
Are we being lied to?
The real issue here is, not whether it’s okay for us to use butter in our baked potatoes or flapjack recipes, but what are we being ‘fed’ when it comes to healthy eating by the health experts, government, and ultimately the food industry?
Are the so-called ‘health foods’ we’re encouraged to buy really good for us? Or, are we better off going back to basics as my friend said, and ‘eating good fresh food your grandmother would recognise’? (minus perhaps the bread and dripping!)
This is obviously a huge topic and I’m quite annoyed that it has taken my husband to have a stroke to be made aware of just how much junk we are being fed both literally, and in the form of perhaps not completely true information when it comes to what to put on our plates.
It all boils down to money (of course it does) and at the moment when it is cheaper to serve highly processed crap such as chicken nuggets and super noodles at tea time than it is to make a homemade vegetable broth with proper bread and fresh fruit for afters, there is something fundamentally wrong.
I never intended this to take a political twist but I would encourage you to do your own research, look at labels and start asking questions about what it is we are being told and more importantly, what we are feeding ourselves and our families.
For a deeper dive into some of the misinformation we’ve been fed about food over the years, and ideas on what to eat instead I highly recommend this interesting article in the Guardian, and of course Tim Spector’s book, ‘Spoonfed.’ Tim is a professor of genetic epidemiology at Kings College London and after suffering a mini-stroke at 50, he began his own journey into reassessing everything he thought he knew about healthy eating. Incidentally, Tim also has swapped his tub of low-fat olive oil based spread in favour of good old fashioned butter.
Over to you. did you know this about margarine or was it just me?