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butter vs margarine.......go figure

Posted by Chad on October 22, 2009 at 3:17 PM

From one Stephan Guyenet, PhD in neurobiology.  Finds studies that are for some reason 'hidden' from mainstream and posts them.  Here is an interesting one:

Butter vs. Margarine ShowdownI

Came across a gem of a study the other day, courtesy of Dr. John Briffa's blog.  It's titled "Margarine Intake and Subsequent Coronary Heart Disease inMen", by Dr. William P. Castelli's group. It followed participants of the Framingham Heart study for 20 years, and recorded heart attack incidence*. Keep in mind that 20 years is an unusually longfollow-up period.

The really cool thing about this study is they also tracked butter consumption. So it's really a no-holds barred showdown between the two fats.

Heart attack incidence increased with increasing margarine consumption (statistically significant) and decreased slightly with increasing butter consumption (not statistically significant). That must have been a bitter pill for Castelli to swallow!

It gets better.

Let's have a look at some of the participant characteristics, broken down by margarine consumption:

People who ate the least margarine had the highest prevalence of glucose intolerance (pre-diabetes), smoked the most cigarettes, drank the most alcohol, and ate the most saturated fat and butter. These were the people who cared the least about their health. Yet they had the fewest heart attacks. Imagine that. The investigators corrected for the factors listed above in their assessment of the contribution of margarine to disease risk, however, the fact remains that the group eating the least margarine was the least health conscious. This affects disease risk in many ways, measurable or not.

Can this study get any better?  Yes it can. The investigators broke down the data into two halves: the first ten years, and the second ten. In the first ten years, there was no significant association between margarine intake and heart attack incidence. In the second ten, the group eating the most margarine had 77% more heart attacks than the group eating none.

So it appears that margarine takes a while to work its magic.

They didn't publish a breakdown of heart attack incidence with butter consumption over the two periods. Perhaps they didn't like what they saw when they crunched the numbers. I find it really incredible that we're told to avoid dairy fat with data like these floating around. The Framingham study is first-rate epidemiology. It fits in perfectly with most other observational studies showing that full-fat dairy intake is not associated with heart attack and stroke risk. In fact, several studies have indicated that people who eat the most full-fat dairy have the lowest risk of heart attack and stroke.

It's worth mentioning that this study was conducted from the late 1960s until the late 1980s. Artificial trans fat labeling laws were still decades away in the U.S., and margarine contained more trans fat than it does today. Currently, margarine can contain up to 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving and still be labeled "0 g trans fat" in the U.S. The high trans fat content of the older margarines probably had something to do with the result of this study.

That does not make today's margarine healthy, however. Margarine remains an industrially processed pseudo-food. I'm just waiting for the next study showing that some ingredient in the new margarines (plant sterols? dihydro vitamin K1?) is the new trans fat.

Butter, Margarine and Heart Disease

The Coronary Heart Disease Epidemic


*More precisely, "coronary heart disease events", which includesinfarction, sudden cardiac death, angina, and coronary insufficiency.

So what are we to think of this?  Maybe studies published aren't what they seem?  That maybe, just maybe, what we are supposed to eat is the exact opposite of what we (my generation who grew up in the 80's) were taught to eat?!  I know of a friend who will gladly hear that broccoli and butter and cottage cheese might be part of a well balanced meal!

Categories: Food politics, Weight Loss, General Nutrition

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