Old Wives and Their Tales

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

I spent a perfectly lovely day with my mother-in-law on Saturday, driving three hours, round trip, to a baby shower. The conversation turned, as it often does, to food and options for healthier eating.

“Do you know what the nurse at the nursing home where I volunteer told me?” she asked.

“I shudder to think,” I replied, quite sarcastically.

“She said that I should always eat butter instead of margarine because margarine is man made and full of unhealthy stuff, and butter is natural.”

(I would like to point out here that the nurse was talking straight out of her ass to a woman who is on medication for high cholesterol.)

I recalled having half-heard this before, but I thought I had also heard that it was an outdated notion. So I decided to look it up and this is what I found:

Back in the early days of margarine, this may have been a true statement. Margarine consisted largely of hydrogenated oils. And, if you will recall our discussion from last week, you will remember that hydrogenated oils equal trans fats. This is probably where margarine’s bad reputation came from.

In my refrigerator today, I have three different products: Land O’Lakes Butter, I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter Light, and Smart Balance Light. Both of the margarines had 50 calories per one tablespoon serving, compared to 100 calories for an equal serving of butter.

Butter is derived from animal fats, so it naturally contains cholesterol. Margarine is made from vegetable sources, so it doesn’t. The butter contained 30 mg of cholesterol; the margarines contained none. The butter had 7.5 grams of saturated fat per serving; the margarine had 2.

The margarine is looking like a clear winner so far. But we know that we have to check the label for the trans fats. To my relief, neither of the margarines contained any. And the I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter Spray had 0 gm of everything! Per serving, of course.

So there you have it. You don’t always have to believe old wives’ tales just because you heard them from an old wife.