Margarines are butter-like spreads that are made from vegetable oils and other ingredients. They are often marketed as a healthier alternative to butter, as they contain less saturated fat and cholesterol. However, margarines may also have some drawbacks, such as containing trans fats, artificial additives, and lower levels of beneficial nutrients. In this article, we will explore what margarines are, how they are made, and how they affect your health.
What are margarines?
Margarines are a type of emulsion, which means that they consist of tiny droplets of one liquid dispersed in another liquid. In the case of margarines, the main components are vegetable oils and water, with some additional ingredients, such as emulsifiers, salt, preservatives, colorings, flavorings, and vitamins.
Margarines were invented in 1870 by a French chemist named Hippolyte Mège-Mouriez, who won a prize from Emperor Napoleon III for creating a cheap and stable substitute for butter. He used margaric acid, a fatty acid derived from animal fats, to make his product, which he named after the Greek word for pearl, margaron.
Since then, margarines have undergone many changes in their composition and production methods. Today, most margarines are made from vegetable oils, such as soybean, corn, canola, sunflower, or palm oil. These oils are usually refined, bleached, and deodorized to remove impurities and odors. Then, they are subjected to a process called hydrogenation, which involves adding hydrogen atoms to the unsaturated bonds of the fatty acids, making them more solid and stable at room temperature.
Hydrogenation also changes the shape of some of the fatty acids, creating a type of fat called trans fat, which has been linked to various health problems, such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. To avoid trans fats, some margarines use a process called interesterification, which rearranges the fatty acids on the glycerol backbone, creating a different type of fat called inter-esterified fat, which may have similar or worse effects than trans fats.
Margarines vary in their fat and water content, which affects their texture, flavor, and melting point. Some margarines are soft and spreadable, while others are hard and suitable for baking. Some margarines are also fortified with vitamins, such as vitamin A, vitamin D, and vitamin B12, to mimic the nutritional profile of butter.
How do margarines affect your health?
Margarines have some advantages and disadvantages for your health, depending on their ingredients and quality. Some of the potential benefits and risks of margarines are:
- Margarines have less saturated fat and cholesterol than butter, which may lower your risk of high blood cholesterol and heart disease.
- Margarines may contain omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which are essential for your brain, skin, and immune system.
- Margarines may provide some vitamins, such as vitamin A, vitamin D, and vitamin B12, which are important for your vision, bone health, and blood cells.
- Margarines may contain probiotics and prebiotics, which are beneficial bacteria and fibers that can improve your digestive health, immune system, and mood.
- Margarines may contain trans fats, which can raise your LDL (bad) cholesterol, lower your HDL (good) cholesterol, increase your inflammation, and damage your blood vessels.
- Margarines may contain inter-esterified fats, which may have similar or worse effects than trans fats, such as impairing your insulin sensitivity, increasing your blood pressure, and altering your lipid profile.
- Margarines may contain artificial additives, such as emulsifiers, preservatives, colorings, and flavorings, which can cause allergic reactions, digestive issues, or hormonal imbalances.
- Margarines may have lower levels of beneficial nutrients, such as vitamin K2, conjugated linoleic acid, and butyrate, which are found in butter and can protect your bones, muscles, and gut health.