In your pantry: fats
This is another in a series I have been writing about the healthiest choices for you to make at the grocery store. So far I have discussed different ideas for proteins like meat, poultry and fish and last week got to the pantry, listing items you should keep on hand for baking (also useful for a lot of other recipes).

Should I be concerned about cholesterol in food?
This is a challenging issue because when your cholesterol is high, the first thought is to simply eat less cholesterol, and that's often what people are told. Unfortunately, the recommendation - usually to consume less than 300 milligrams per day - wasn't based on the best science and we now know that for most of us the amount of cholesterol we eat isn't that important.

What is the Mediterranean Diet?
Over the last three decades a lot has been written about how the French ate a diet high in fat and didn't have the problems with obesity that America has developed. The so-called French Paradox has been the foundation of a great deal of research, and that reasearch extended well beyond France to almost every country surrounding the Mediterranean Sea.

It's easy to get answers about health and nutrition! Just send your question by email to [email protected] and Dr. Harlan will respond to selected questions of general interest. Answers will be posted in the Ask Dr. Gourmet newsletter (sign up now!) and archived in the Ask Dr. Gourmet section of the website.

Please note that the Ask Dr. Gourmet feature is restricted to questions regarding food and nutrition. Due to the many questions we receive, not all questions may be answered. For more specific questions about your individual health, please contact your doctor. About Timothy S. Harlan, MD, FACP, CCMS | Terms of Use | Privacy Policy


Ask Dr. Gourmet

Is this chain letter about butter and margarine true?

I recently received this email about "butter and margarine" and since I really like margarine I got very concerned and decided to ask your expert opinion on it. I eat margarine and butter once or twice a week I use each for different food. So is margarine that bad, or is this another one of those email that exaggeratedly misinforms people?

# # #

Pass The Butter... Please.     

This is interesting...

Margarine was originally manufactured to fatten turkeys. When it killed the turkeys, the people who had put all the money into the research wanted a payback so they put their heads together to figure out what to do with this product to get their money back. 

It was a white substance with no food appeal so they added the yellow coloring and sold it to people to use in place of butter. How do you like it? They have come out with some clever new flavorings..    

 DO YOU KNOW.. The difference between margarine and butter?   

Read on to the end...gets very interesting!    

Both have the same amount of calories. 

Butter is slightly higher in saturated fats at 8 grams; compared to 5 grams for margarine. 

Eating margarine can increase heart disease in women by 53% over eating the same amount of butter, according to a recent Harvard Medical Study.

Eating butter increases the absorption of many other nutrients in  other foods. 

Butter has many nutritional benefits where margarine has a few and only because they are added! 

Butter tastes much better than margarine and it can enhance the flavors of other foods. 

Butter has been around for centuries where margarine has been around for less than 100 years . 

And now, for Margarine.. 

Very High in Trans fatty acids. 

Triples risk of coronary heart disease. 

Increases total cholesterol and LDL (this is the bad cholesterol) and  lowers HDL cholesterol, (the good cholesterol) 

Increases the risk of cancers up to five times.. 

Lowers quality of breast milk. 

Decreases immune response. 

Decreases insulin response. 

And here's the most disturbing fact.... HERE IS THE PART THAT IS VERY INTERESTING! 

Margarine is but ONE  MOLECULE away from being PLASTIC... and shares 27 ingredients with PAINT 

These facts alone were enough to have me avoiding margarine for life and anything else that is hydrogenated (this means hydrogen is added, changing the molecular structure of the substance).    

You can try this yourself: 

Purchase a tub of margarine and leave it open in your garage or shaded  area. Within a couple of days you will notice a couple of things: 

 *  no flies, not even those pesky fruit flies will go near it (that should tell you something) 

 *  it does not rot or smell differently because it has no nutritional value; nothing will grow on it. Even those teeny weeny microorganisms will not a find a home to grow. Why? Because it is nearly plastic. Would you melt your Tupperware and spread that on your toast?   

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Dr. Gourmet Says...

a piece of toast topped with a pat of butter in the shape of a heart

There was a time when nutritionists and dietitians recommended avoiding butter and using margarine because of the amount of saturated fat in butter. We know now that while too much saturated fat can promote heart disease, it is trans-fats that are far more of a problem. While these types of fats do occur in nature, they do only in small amounts. Unfortunately, for a long time many products that were produced were very high in trans-fats.  

The reason for this is that when margarine and vegetable shortening are created by hydrogenating oils, trans-fats are created in the process. Those trans-fats were found in a wide variety of foods and have probably been a greater promoter of heart disease than has butter or other saturated fats.  

These days more and more foods contain less and less trans-fats, including margarines. The "spreads" that are on the market now are lower fat versions of margarine and contain very little trans-fats. Smart Balance® is a good example of this.  

The email you received is another of those urban myths. Anytime you receive such silliness in your email box, you should be suspect. For the best answers I turn to Click through to this link for the research on your email:

Thanks for writing,

Timothy S. Harlan, MD, FACP, CCMS
Dr. Gourmet