If It’s Not Butter, WHAT IS IT?

Cartoon of cowWhen I was growing up in the States, there were a couple of memorable margarine commercials that focused on how much like butter their products tasted. One of them was Parkay – the woman insisted it’s butter, but the container insisted it’s Parkay. The other one was Chiffon – “If you think it’s butter, but it’s not…it’s Chiffon” went the jingle. In their commerical, “Mother Nature” insisted that the Chiffon margarine was butter until she was told that what tasted like her creamy butter was really margarine. And then she thundered – “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature”.


If they told the truth in those commercials they would have told you that although they managed to find chemical compounds to fool your taste buds and nose into thinking it’s butter, you really can’t fool mother nature. Your body knows the difference; when it is not getting the healthful foods it needs it slowly breaks down. Ailments that we we think of as part of the natural aging process may really be the result of poor nutrition from fake “healthy” foods.

Take butter for example. Weston Price saw that many healthy societies ate butter regularly. In Why you want grass-fed butter and where to find it in Israel we noted that butter from pastured cows eating growing grass have a great nutritional profile with plenty of vitamins A and D. Milk from cows eating grass also has five times more heart healthy conjugated linoleic acid than cows eating grains, and other health promoting constituents such as: lecithin which helps in the proper assimilation of fats; selenium, Vitamin E, and cholesterol which are antioxidants; short and medium chain fatty acids which have anti-tumor and other beneficial properties; iodine which is important for the thyroid; glycospingolipids, a particular type of fatty acid which protects against gastrointestinal infections; and other critical nutrients. It has been found that people eating butter and drinking milk from grass fed cows have a lower incidence of heart disease.

However, if you are buying margarine or butter substitutes because you thought butter wasn’t healthy or want a pareve (non-dairy) spread, it is important to understand what you are really doing to  your body when you consume imitation foods.

Blue Bond Classic Cover

One example is Blue Bond Classi margarine which, according to the container cover, is three quarters fat, has less than .5% trans fat, contains no preservatives, and no cholesterol.

Sounds healthy? Guess again.

Blue Bond Classi ingredients: Vegetable oils and hydrogenated vegetable oils, water, salt, E471, lemon acid, Blue Bond Classic ingredientssubstances to give flavor and smell, vitamins, and beta carotene for color.

The label does not identify which vegetable oils it contains (allergy information states that it may contain soy); however, many vegetable oils are generally highly processed polyunsaturated oils that by their very nature are not healthy and particularly not in the amounts we have been eating. In Choosing Healthy Fats and Oils: What you need to know (part 1 of 3) we noted that:

(1)    When the diet contains an excess of polyunsaturated fatty acids, these replace saturated fatty acids in the cell membrane, so that the cell walls actually become flabby. When this happens, cholesterol from the blood is “driven” into the tissues to give them structural integrity. This is why serum cholesterol levels may go down temporarily when we replace saturated fats with polyunsaturated oils in the diet.

(2)    Polyunsaturated oils are predominantly made up of omega-6 fatty acids which create a serious omega-6/omega-3 fatty acid imbalance in the body that can interfere with production of important prostaglandins. This disruption can result in increased tendency to form blood clots, inflammation, high blood pressure, irritation of the digestive tract, depressed immune function, sterility, cell proliferation, cancer and weight gain.

(3)    Polyunsaturated oils are usually extracted through a chemical process using dangerous solvents like hexane which can make their way into the final product. The high heat at which they are processed also makes them turn rancid (oxidize) very quickly.

(4)    Polyunsaturated oil can cause diabetes and heart disease. …

…Israeli Jews may be regarded as a population-based dietary experiment of the effect of a high omega-6 PUFA diet, a diet that until recently was widely recommended. Despite such national habits, paradoxically a high prevalence of cardiovascular diseases, hypertension, non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus and obesity-all diseases that are associated with hyperinsulinemia (HI) and insulin resistance (IR), and grouped together as the insulin resistance syndrome or syndrome X. There is also an increased cancer incidence and mortality rate, especially in women, compared with western countries. Studies suggest that high omega-6 linoleic acid consumption might aggravate HI and IR, in addition to being a substrate for lipid peroxidation and free radical formation. Thus, rather than being beneficial, high omega-6 PUFA diets may have some long-term side effects, within the cluster of hyperinsulinemia, atherosclerosis and tumorigenesis.

As bad as vegetable oils may be, hydrogenated vegetable oils are worse – that’s why they make a point of telling you on the label how little trans fats (created by the hydrogenation process) the product contains. The Weston A Price Foundation‘s article Trans Fats in the Food Supply. explains that hydrogenated vegetable oils “have been increasingly implicated as contributing to type-two diabetes, cancer, heart disease, auto-immune disease, tendon and bone degeneration, and problems with fertility and growth. Because of these facts and concerns, the NAS [Natural Academy of Sciences] concluded there is no safe level of trans fat consumption.”

The cover label also tell us that it has no cholesterol. Recent studies have shown that the amount of cholesterol in our foods doesn’t matter since the liver makes most of the cholesterol we need and the contribution from foods is negligible. Additionally, 25% of the cholesterol your body produces is used by your brain; the rest is used for other important processes such as in scar tissue, to make critical hormones, as an antioxidant, for your immune system, and much more.

What about the other ingredients?

E471 is used as an emulsifier – mono- and diglycerides of fatty acids (glycerol monostearate, glycerol distearate). They are synthetic fats, made from glycerol and natural fatty acids, derived mostly from plants, but can also be from animal fats. E471 is generally a mixture of different products, with a composition similar to partially digested natural fat. While they may be considered “safe”, if they are synthesized from fatty acids of plant origin then they most likely have the same negative health profile as the vegetable oils above.

Lemon acid, commonly called citric acid, is found in many foods but we can’t be sure of its origin. It was originally derived from lemons, today it is more likely to be made from fermented wheat or black mold.

test tubes

Flavor and smell substances – the actual substances are considered trade secrets so we have no idea what they are and what their implications are for our health. In Artificial Food Colors linked to hyperactivity and adverse health effects we learned about the negative effects of artificial colors, made from coal tar and/or petroleum. It is highly likely that artifical substances imparting flavors and smells have adverse effects as well.

Vitamins – added vitamins are generally synthetic and do not work in the body the same way that natural vitamins do. In this case they do not even mention which ones they have added. Why the secret?

Beta carotene for color – probably the safest ingredient except for the water. If the salt is not sea salt it is missing important minerals your body needs to utilize it properly.

While other butter substitutes may have different ingredients, unless the only ingredients are cows’ milk and lactic acid it will feed “dis-ease”, not health.

And while “Mother Nature” may not be able to tell the difference, now you know how to tell.


Pearls of Halacha – Acid from Lemons
What You Need to Know About Citric Acid
E471 Mono- and diglycerides

Related articles:

Why you want grass-fed butter and where to find it in Israel
How Yellow My Butter