Health Supreme by Sepp Hasslberger

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September 29, 2003

The good, the bad and margarine

I must say I am a great fan of butter. Never did like the "artificial" kind that was hyped as more healthy: margarine. As the decades passed, we found out about trans fatty-acids and about the absorption of fat soluble vitamins. And after half a century, all of a sudden butter does not seem so bad any more - compared to margarine.

Partially hydrogenated margarines and shortening are even worse for you than the highly refined vegetable oils from which they are made because of chemical changes that occur during the hydrogenation process. Man made trans fats are toxins to the body, but unfortunately your digestive system does not recognize them as such. Instead of eliminating them, your body incorporates the trans fats into the cell membranes as though they where naturally occurring fats called cis fats. Your cell actually become partially hydrogenated. This interferes with cellular metabolism because it changes the normal chemical reactions which take place in the cell.

Summarized from Fallon, Sally. Nourishing Traditions. Washington, DC: New Trends, 1999. page 15 (found on Rami Nagel's site)

Here is a spirited but essentially correct description of what we are now coming to realize about the good, the bad and - the margarine.

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

- Both have the same amount of calories.

- Butter is slightly higher in saturated fats at 8 grams compared to 5 grams.

- 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 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.

Now for Margarine...

- Very high in Trans Fatty Acids...

- Triple risk of Coronary Heart Disease...

- Increases total cholesterol and LDL (this is the bad cholesterol) ...

- Lowers HDL cholesterol, (the good cholesterol) ....

- Increases the risk of cancers by up to five fold...

- Lowers quality of breast milk...

- Decreases immune response...

- Decreases insulin response.

- And here is the most disturbing fact....

- Margarine is but ONE MOLECULE away from being PLASTIC...

This fact alone was 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 in your garage or shaded area. Within a couple of days you will note 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?

Update November 2003:

As a kind reader has pointed out, the article I posted has been around the internet as a letter for a while. It is also mentioned on a site called the Chainbreaker, where the following information is given:

What you're looking at above is not a coherent essay written by a single, knowledgeable author. It is actually a compilation of facts and opinions from many unidentified sources. As with most chain letters, the truth often is not compelling enough and gains widespread appeal only after sensational and questionable information is tacked on.

It is true that a 1994 Harvard University study, as well as research from other credible sources have concluded that a diet high in Trans Fat doubles the chance for heart attack and decreases life expectancy. While trans fats can occur naturally, they are most commonly associated with chemical preservative techniques. Hydrogenation is one of these techniques and health experts recommend that you limit your intake of hydrogenated or partially-hydrogenated foodstuffs as much as possible.

While butter and Margarine may indeed have similar caloric values, butter generally ranks higher in saturated fat, which is also known to be detrimental to heart health. Margarines differ from brand to brand, but are lower in saturated fat, and contain small amounts of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats (which are generally considered healthier than saturated). Furthermore, according to a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, switching to margarine from butter can greatly reduce blood cholesterol levels.

The final argument in the letter above is what has make it so popular, but is also the farthest from reality and preys on the lay man's general ignorance of chemistry. It is not true that margarine is "but ONE MOLECULE from being PLASTIC." Many items in nature are chemically similar to one another, but that doesn't make them similar in appearance or effect. For instance hydrogen peroxide (H 2O2) is "but one molecule from" water (H 2O), but I don't recommend drinking it. Similarly, Ozone (0 3) is "but one molecule from" oxygen (O 2), but the former can create serious respiratory distress, while the latter can alleviate it.

The "plastic" outrage has been added as the chain circulates and is total bunk, but is unfortunately what appeals to most readers. This is one reason why recommends strongly against relying upon or forwarding health advice via e-mail chain letters. The medium is simply too unreliable. Please break this chain.

I agree that the article is using descriptive language that is somewhat exaggerated, but in my view, the main thrust of the message (margarine is one of the big sources of trans-fatty acids, which are damaging to health) has not been contradicted. So I have decided to keep this post on line, quoting both the letter and the refutation, and letting you, the reader, decide for yourself.

For more information on trans-fatty acids, see also this excellent article of Jenny Thompson, of the Baltimore Health Sciences Institute.

Doing the Math

Health Sciences Institute e-Alert

November 12, 2003


Dear Reader,

Whether you know it or not, you're probably getting plenty of trans-fatty acid (TFA) in your diet. And in case you haven't heard: a little TFA is way too much.

Right now, it's not easy to tell exactly what the TFA content of a loaf of bread or a box of crackers might be because "trans fats" aren't listed on the "Nutrition Facts" panel of processed foods. Not yet anyway.

Last July, the FDA announced that by January 2006 all nutrition labels must reveal trans fat content. But until then, there are a few key items listed on food packaging you can look for to avoid a diet heavy in this "franken-fat."

A little is a lot

Trans fats are created by the hydrogenation of vegetable oil; a process that gives the oil a longer shelf life and makes it less... well, oily. These qualities also make hydrogenated vegetable oil an appealing choice for "quick service" restaurants and snack foods such as cookies, crackers, and chips. But many studies over the past decade have shown trans-fatty acids to be associated with artery damage and a high risk of heart disease.

And that's only part of what makes TFA dangerous.

In a review article published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, nutritionists at the Harvard School of Public Health wrote that trans fats inhibit the natural process by which alpha-linolenic acid is converted into EPA and DHA, the omega-3 fatty acids that are critical to so many facets of good
health. And in a study of more than 800 subjects conducted at Chicago's Rush University Medical Centre, seniors who had a high trans fat intake were found to be twice as likely to suffer from Alzheimer's disease compared to those with the lowest intake.

But how high is a high intake?

Bruce Holub, a professor of nutritional sciences at Canada's University of Guelph, told the Toronto Globe and Mail that ingesting a daily gram of trans fat over several years is enough to significantly boost your risk of heart disease. And professor Holub points out that as few as two crackers can contain an entire gram of TFA.

Go figure

So until Nutrition Facts panels start revealing trans fat contents in 2006, there's a relatively simple way to figure out the TFA content of processed foods.

First check the list of ingredients. If the product contains hydrogenated oil or partially hydrogenated oil, that's obviously your first trans fat tip-off.

Next go to the Nutrition Facts panel where you'll see grams of "Total Fat" listed. Below that, the fats will be broken down into saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated fats. If the "Total Fat" number is higher than the other three combined, the difference between the two totals equals the grams-per-serving of trans fat.

Some products, however, aren't required to list monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. In that case, if the grams of "Total Fat" are higher than the grams of "Saturated Fat," it's time to go back to the list of ingredients. If "hydrogenated" appears high on the list of ingredients, you're definitely getting some trans fat. If "hydrogenated" appears lower on the list, the trans fat content is probably low.

Let's take a look at a popular brand of "natural light" microwave popcorn. Total fat is 5 grams, saturated fat is one gram, and no other fats are listed. So with 4 fat grams unaccounted for, we check the ingredients and find only three items, in this order: popcorn, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, and salt. That's a pretty good indication that you're getting at least a gram or two of trans fat, and maybe even four.

But be sure to also check the serving size. This 3-ounce bag of popcorn claims to be 2.5 servings. So if you sit down and eat the whole bag, you might end up getting well over 4 grams of trans fat.

And because trans fat is present in so many food products, it's easy to see how you could pick up a dozen or more grams every day without even trying.

Zip, nada, goose egg...

In the e-Alert "The New Big Oil" (8/20/02) I told you about a 2002 report from a National Academy of Sciences panel that attempted to set a safe intake level for trans-fatty acids. The report confirmed previous findings about the relationship of trans-fatty acids and the risk of heart disease, and concluded with this recommendation: "The only safe intake of trans-fat is zero."

The bad reputation of this dangerous fat is on the rise, and every day we're seeing more and more products claiming to be "trans fat free." I'm sure this trend will probably continue, and the result could be better health for millions.

But what about restaurants? You'll know we've officially entered the Trans Fat Free Era when menus start boasting, "No trans fats."


"Health Effects of Trans Fatty Acids" American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, vol. 66, 1006S-1010S,

"Dangerous Fats Lurk in Seemingly Healthy Snacks" Paul Taylor, Toronto Globe and Mail, 10/28/03,

"Exposing Trans Fats" Lyrysa Smith, Albany Times Union, 10/28/03,

"Research Update: Trans Fatty Acids" Christian Finn's Research Update, Issue 133, 7/16/03,

"NAS Panel: Only Safe Intake of Trans Fat is Zero" Center for Science in the Public Interest, 7/10/02,

Copyright (c)1997-2003 by, L.L.C.
The e-Alert may not be posted on commercial sites without written permission.

See also related articles

Fats, Hydrogenation, Margarine

Margarine linked to dramatic asthma rise

Is cholesterol really deadly?

Canada Could Be Second In Worlds To Ban Trans Fats

tfX::the campaign against trans fats in food

Margarine, Fatty Acids and Your Health
To maintain good health it is important that we have the correct intake of omega fatty acids in our diets. Hydrogenated fats like margarine are non-foods with toxic effects and should be avoided at any cost.

The Big Fat Truth

The Devastating Consequences of Replacing Butter with Margarine


posted by Sepp Hasslberger on Monday September 29 2003
updated on Thursday September 19 2013

URL of this article:


Related Articles

The following article (extracted from Dr. Lawrence Wilson's information dense site) is one of the best that I have seen on this issue. While the propaganda mill of the industry has hood winked us into thinking that their counterfeit copy is better - the real reason is the considerable profit that margarine, and other processed foods bring over the more expensive natural products. The cost of the margarine is based... [read more]
November 24, 2004 - Chris Gupta

Cholesterol - what a business plan
When cholesterol was identified as health-enemy number one, we switched from butter to margarine and did without eggs for years, in an effort to avoid falling prey to the oily killer. At the same time, a whole pharmaceutical product sector, accounting for revenues in the $ billions, magically appeared to sell us pills. The sales pitch was: "Protect your heart - lower your cholesterol" or any variation of that mantra.... [read more]
October 17, 2003 - Sepp Hasslberger

What's a little cholesterol amongst friends?
This note from Eddie Vos is yet again another reminder on how Health Canada misuses it's its scant resources including our tax dollars: all the while parading to protect us from mythical dangers of generally safe health foods and vitamins. When in fact they are nothing but cronies of the money boys. Strange that we have to sue Health Canada, our supposed protectors, just to do their job as per... [read more]
August 21, 2003 - Chris Gupta

Forget Cholesterol - it's really not relevant
For decades we have been told that we must avoid cholesterol at any cost if we want to stay healthy. Want to protect your heart and arteries? Then forget cholesterol, it is almost certainly one of the great myths of 20th century medicine. As a matter of fact, there seem to be certain benefits to high cholesterol that medical authority is very reluctant to tell us about. In his article... [read more]
June 03, 2003 - Sepp Hasslberger

Fat and cholesterol - a nutty myth
How reliable is "official" dietary health advice? This question has bugged many of us, especially since we have found out about the myth of cholesterol, which spawned a whole series of "cholesterol lowering drugs", some of them taken off the market because of serious and at times fatal side effects, but many of them still selling strong. One of the underpinning factors of the cholesterol myth was the misconception that... [read more]
August 01, 2003 - Sepp Hasslberger

Lipitor: Side Effects And Natural Remedy
Serious side effects have been reported for Lipitor and other cholesterol-lowering drugs - the so-called statins - prescribed to millions for preventive purposes. The prescription of these drugs is based on the discredited hypothesis that high cholesterol levels cause heart attacks. The cholesterol myth has been one of the most long lived falsehoods around - probably because it has been excellent business, both for large pharma producers as well as... [read more]
March 18, 2004 - Sepp Hasslberger




Readers' Comments

Some soft margarines claim to contain no transfatty acids.I agree with you about the hard margarines. Butter is very atherogenic in animal experiments and does contain transfatty acids. Also IGF 1 and this has been put forward as a cause of breast and prostate cancer. I use only olive and coconut oil.

Posted by: Alistair McFarlane on September 30, 2003 03:21 PM


I personally have always been using butter, but now, living in Italy, probably olive oil overbalances. Mainly, my post was to say that the great myths (butter is bad -
margarine is better) are not all to be taken so seriously. They change with time.

Same with the cholesterol story. Tremendous changes but the public goes along
on the old information that has been hammered in for decades, and that is not
"hammered out" with similar zeal when discovered to be false.

Posted by: Josef Hasslberger on September 30, 2003 10:21 PM


All very nice. However, margarine is much healthier for the cows. Maybe we should look beyond our own comfort.

Posted by: T. Smith on October 29, 2003 09:38 PM


The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has margarine listed under "Group A Plastic" (the moist hazardous class of plastics!)and doesn't care whether it's in a metal or other container (see NFPA 13 (2002), Table A., it is considered highly flammable and difficult to extinguish like other Group A Plastics - yep, one molecule away from being plastic in oh so many ways!

btw - Butter is listed as a Class III commodity, much less falmmable/hazardous...

Butter IS better

Posted by: Ms. Jaimie Blackstone, PE (fire protection engineer) on December 1, 2004 07:25 PM


You bash margarine unrelentingly as being far more harmful to your health than butter because of the chemical process involved, ie, hydrogenation. How about 'Soya Margarine'. Is it any different? Are there any benefits in eating soya margarine vis-a-vis regular margarine. I favour soya margarine over butter or regular margarine for health reasons and actually use a fair amount, especially at breakfast. And I'm a great fan of hazelnuts which I eat in copious amounts. I also often eat almonds, walnuts, and peanuts.

Posted by: Miguel Arouca on March 23, 2007 10:12 AM


I have no information that margarine made from soya oil is better than margarine made from other vegetable oils. The hydrogenation process is always used, and it does tend to create trans-fatty acids. Not really to be recommended.

Posted by: Sepp on March 23, 2007 10:35 AM


Well now:

The "good, vs the "bad"! Some "experts" would have us believe that medical "science" has actually "progressed", in the last 100 years.

Circa 1920, death from cardiovascular disease was about 1/22,000 ~~ today, it is 4/10!! What was it that we started to use, circa 1920 ~~That's right, vegetable oils.
We won't mention white flour, OR homogenized milk. but they too, are part and parcel of the "story".

Too much is being made of "changing lifestyles", and not enough as to what is CAUSING Cardiovascular disease, which was, up until very recently the leading cause of death, in humans.

I have "opened up" the can of worms, let's see the "experts" get out from "under" on this one.....

Posted by: Ray Parker on December 15, 2007 01:52 PM


Easy enough to "get out from under this one". Not a can of worms at all.

The general life span of man has increased significantly from 1920. Changes in lifestyle, education, awareness, and safety has reduced death due to other causes. As such, the decrease in "reported" deaths from non-cardiovascular disease results in a directly proportional increase in "reported" death from cardiovascular disease. Everyone dies from something--today, it is more likely to be due to diet.

Inferring that the increase in cardiovascular disease is directly related to the increase in the use of vegetable oils is like claiming the sun only shines on days when tennis is scheduled.

Posted by: Keven on May 1, 2008 02:20 PM


I remember as a kid taking a scoop of butter and putting it in my mouth and having a peculiar feeling in the back of my throat and head. Hard to describe but no other food did that. I am vegan so wouldn't touch butter with a bargepole, as someone pointed out it is NOT healthy for the poor cows. Transfatty acids versus high fat animal protein and all the problems that causes. I know which I choose. As for the person who put 2 and 2 togther to make 5 in linking margarine with increased deaths, well that's a great trick that the big pharma's use constantly. Nice try!

Posted by: NorthernTracey on May 4, 2008 11:34 AM


I came to this site because of the email chain letter. It seems that most of the information I was able to find contradicts the letter itself. Maybe what I need to consider this households consumption of butter or margarine. Switching from margarine back to butter would be healthier, I believe, for us. After all butter is real food, margarine is not. I believe that is the real issue.

Posted by: LadyG on June 17, 2008 01:19 PM


Most of your comments on margarine are out of date. Bad margarine is still sold - just read the labels and buy the kind that is a LOT better than butter.

Posted by: John Watney on August 25, 2008 06:34 PM


John Watney, can you let us know what margarine is a LOT better than butter and why that is?

Posted by: Sepp on September 24, 2008 05:36 PM


Sepp, I'm looking at the nutritional label of "Smart Balance" margarine. It says it's "non-hydrogenated". And the trans-fat is 0 grams. So, do you have any problem with this then? Or you still have a complaint against these new types of margarines?

Posted by: Val D on January 6, 2009 10:51 PM


Val D, that is great! Personally, I would still prefer butter to margarine, but if you prefer margarine, that's just as well and it's a good thing you can find one now that isn't hydrogenated or full of trans fats.

Posted by: Sepp on January 10, 2009 03:58 PM


A friend sent this one by email just recently ...

Here is how butter is made

Milk a cow.
Skim off the cream.
Add salt.
Churn the cream until it's thick and chunky and tastes awesome.

Here is one of the processes for making margarine

Farmers grow seeds.
The seeds are harvested.
The seeds are crushed to extract some of the oil.
The rest of the oil is extracted by mixing the seeds with hexane, a chemical solvent.
The hexane is (supposedly) all removed.
The oil is pumped full of hydrogen gas and nickel powder.
The remaining oil is subjected to heat and high-pressure CO2 gas.
The oil is mixed with sodium hydroxide and passed through a centrifuge.
The oil is mixed with water and passed through another centrifuge.
At this point, the margarine is a gray, speckled, oily mass that doesn't smell so good.
The oil is mixed with hydrated aluminum silicate that binds to and filters out the unwanted pigments.
The mix is heated again and the oil is extracted.
The oil is passed through a steam distillation chamber to remove unwanted odors.
Yellow food coloring and artificial flavors are added.

Posted by: Sepp on October 6, 2009 09:54 AM


Although I do really like the taste of butter too, margarines with added plant sterols, (Smart Balance, Benecol, etc.) have been extensively researched and lower LDL, or 'bad' cholesterol by about 15. They also contain trivial amounts of trans fat per serving. It would be difficult to argue butter is healthier than these alternatives.

Posted by: Pey on November 10, 2009 05:04 PM


"It would be difficult to argue butter is healthier than these alternatives."

Yet, many do argue that point, Pey.

The margarines you promote may lower cholesterol, but there is no evidence that lower cholesterol actually leads to lower deaths from heart disease.

Butter has been eaten for centuries. Do we really think that just because an industry proposes us a "healthier" alternative (that for them is much cheaper to make) we should change?

Certainly everyone should make their own decision here.

To me, the "extensive research" (funded by the people who then propose the alternative) is less than convincing...

Posted by: Sepp on November 27, 2009 02:48 PM


I agree, Sepp. To me, any "food" that is first processed in a lab is suspect, to say the least. Humans lived for millennia on a diet of animal proteins and fat, and naturally occurring fruits and vegetables. Hunter-gatherer societies have very low instances of things like heart disease and diabetes, at least until they get polluted by people advocating a more "modern" diet. (and peddling things like refined sugar.) It is the people who stand to make the money who are telling us the diet we evolved on is no longer good for us, and that we should eat their "better" foods that were concocted in their labs. Hogwash, I say.

Posted by: Cornelius on December 8, 2009 08:58 PM


If you go to the Becel website you will find that they say all of your claims are untrue for some of the margarines. It says that Becel is not one molecule away from being plastic.|Becel is made with vegetable oils(canola,sunflower,olive)is non hydrogenated and has no trans fats and is low in saturated fats. Can you prove otherwise or are you just spouting untrue facts?

Posted by: betty on April 3, 2013 12:05 PM


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The Individual Is Supreme And Finds Its Way Through Intuition


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