Since margarine contains less saturated fats compared to butter (5 grams to butter’s 8 grams), it has mistakenly been touted in some places as the healthy alternative to butter. Margarine companies sell their products as the healthy version of butter – which it isn’t, as butter is the best alternative – since the saturated fats in butter have been purported to cause heart disease in some people.
However, what is not said is that different people’s bodies react differently with saturated fats, some people need to avoid all kinds of fat for the sake of their health. Butter is made naturally from cow milk, which is healthy for the body. Margarine, on the other hand, undergoes chemical processing and has additives, making it much unhealthier.
Below are some of the reasons why you should avoid margarine:
- The hydrogenated oils that make up margarine are high in omega-6 fatty acids. While these omega-6 acids are needed by the body, they are already everywhere in our diet. If not properly balanced by omega-3s (which are becoming rare in our food), they can result in cancer, heart disease, and belly fat.
- Hydrogenation (the process of hardening the vegetable oils used in making margarine solid) results in artificial trans fats, which are unhealthy. They increase the levels of blood insulin (puts you at a higher risk of diabetes), decrease fertility and immune response, increase the levels of LDL (what we call ‘bad cholesterol’) and increase the possibility of heart disease.
- Vegetable oils used in the manufacturing of margarine are highly concentrated in polyunsaturated fats, which become unstable and generate free radicals when stored for a long time or exposed to light. These free radicals, over the long-term, are responsible for numerous health problems such as cancer and heart disease.
- Solvents such as hexane used in the extraction process are industrial chemicals that can lead to toxic effects in the body.
It is, therefore, much safer to use butter, especially from milk produces by grass-fed cows. Coconut oil, olive oil, macadamia and hazelnut oils are also good alternatives to margarine.
2. Artificial Sweeteners
Artificial sweeteners are claimed to be a healthy alternative to the regular table sugar we take, with less sugar and calories than table sugar. They can be found in drinks, cakes, desserts, toothpaste and chewing gum. These products are often marketed as ‘diet’ or ‘sugar-free,’ especially soft drinks, yogurts and fruit juice. They are said to be good especially for people who have diabetes so that they can still enjoy food while watching their sugar levels.
However, are these artificial sweeteners healthy? Though some people claim that they have no effect on the human body, research into some of the sweeteners has proved this wrong. People who regularly consume artificial sweeteners may increase their risk of type 2 diabetes, weight gain, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease.
There is a concern that artificial sweeteners make the body less adaptable to the sugar found in other foods. Someone may end up not taking sweet foods such as fruits because the body isn’t used to that much sugar. You end up taking foods with little nutritional value, just because they contain less sugar, at the expense of nutritious and healthy food.
In as much as consuming too much sugar is bad for your health, these artificial sweeteners aren’t any better. Studies have shown that consumers of either artificially-sweetened or sugar-sweetened products are equally at risk of health problems such as weight gain, diabetes, and others. Artificial sweeteners, therefore, do not lower the risk at all, contrary to the claims of manufacturers.
So what are the alternatives to table sugar, so that we can avoid the artificial sweeteners? Natural honey has proven to be one of the best sugar substitutes, with a myriad of health benefits. Molasses (a by-product of sugarcane processing), pure maple syrup (not the artificial one with additives) and date sugar (dried and ground dates) are great, natural and healthy sugar substitutes.