Margarine - plastic or food ?

Scris de 
Leo Radutz
 in data de 
text de 
5 minute
Scris de 
Leo Radutz
 in data de 
 - text de 
5 minute

MargarineThere is a belief that margarine appeared during the Second World War following the rationing of butter and after American researchers accidentally discovered that if they heat a mixture of vegetable oils to 150 degrees Celsius, in the presence of hydrogen and using nickel catalysts, they get a white product. A product similar to butter, but with a molecular structure identical to that of plastic, named "Margot" after the wife of one of the scientists.
The chemical structure of margarine looks very much like that of plastic.
It is made up of trans fats that are the most harmful to the human body. Trans fats can not be absorbed by the body, intoxicate cells and disrupt metabolism and digestion. In high doses it causes obesity, heart disease even cancer.

Since then, it is said, margarine has been enriched with all sorts of dyes, flavors and synthetic vitamins and thus transformed into a product that has become very toxic due to the processes of hydrogenation and then inter-esterification. Synthetic fats can not be burned by the body, they are deposited on the membrane of the cells of the immune system and paralyze it by storing it in tissues. The heart, brain and blood circulation would thus be strongly affected.

*Margarine appeared during The Second World War
FALSE – Encyclopedias say that margarine was developed in the 1860s by the French chemist Hippolyte Mège Mouriès, being recognized in Europe and patented in the USA in the 1870s. On the WorldFoodHistory website it is shown that it was invented to be a cheaper substitute for butter, at a time when it had become an exotic product in France, so that poorer people had something to anoint on bread.

In the first phase, Mouriès prepared the margarine by beating the cow tallow with salt and milk, cooled to solidify the mixture, which was then kneaded to gain a plastic consistency. Later, other animal and vegetable fats proved effective in obtaining the product. According to the encyclopedia Britannica, the fats used varied greatly. At first the animal ones predominated, then the vegetable ones were switched to, mainly the oils from cotton seeds, soybeans, coconuts, peanuts, corn and palm.

In the '50s, the increased interest in the effects of polyunsaturated fats and oils on health encouraged the use of corn, saffron and sunflower oils as ingredients of margarine. In 1973, global consumption of margarine was 25% higher than that of butter.

*Margarine was produced by hydrogenation
TRUE – With the development of technology, manufacturers have begun to use for the production of margarine a mixture of hydrogenated vegetable oils, with a high degree of plasticity, and the ingredients have come to include emulsifiers and flavoring agents, vitamins A and D, dyes or preservatives. This practice was spread until the early '90s, when it was discovered that trans fats obtained by hydrogenation entail the risk of cardiovascular disease.

*Margarine has the same molecular structure as plastic and is toxic
FALSE – Dr. Serban Damian, sports nutritionist accredited by the International Olympic Committee, says that the analogy between margarine and plastic is exaggerated. "Plastic has a polymeric structure, that is, long chains of molecules obtained synthetically from petroleum, while margarine is a mixture of water and fats of vegetable origin on which, indeed, chemically intervened by the process called hydrogenation. That it is toxic seems to me a bit much said, with questionable effects on health, yes. Trans fats, those obtained by hydrogenation, negatively influence the lipid profile, increasing the risk of cardiovascular diseases".

Representatives of Unilever, a company that has three brands of margarine on the Romanian market, say that it has been proven since the '90s that trans fatty acids damage blood lipids: "they increase the level of total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) and lower the level of HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol)", citing two studies published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Since then, margarine manufacturers have begun to eliminate these acids. Unilever dropped them in 1995 by excluding hydrogenated oils. "Trans fats can be present in these margarines only in the form of traces, as a result of the refining process of the natural vegetable oils used in the production of margarine," the company's representatives explain.

*The inter-esterification process in obtaining margarine is harmful
UNCERTAIN – Lately, says Serban Damian, the industry has begun to add to the composition of margarine fatty acids from the Omega 3 and Omega 6 groups, whose benefits have been intensively documented, information also strengthened by Unilever. It's one of the attempts to wash away the sin of trans fats.

Margarine producers have moved from the hydrogenation process to that of fractionation and inter-esterification. According to Unilever, by fractionation the different fractions of the fats are separated, based on their melting point, and the solid fraction is mixed with the vegetable oils to give them the necessary structure. This results in a spreadable mixture.

"Inter-esterification is the reorganization of fatty acids along the glycerol molecule. Besides this redistribution, the components of fats, including the structure of fatty acids, remain unchanged. Studies have shown that inter-esterification does not affect blood fat levels," the company said.

Some studies claim that the inter-esterification process would be much better for obtaining margarines because it eliminates the harmful effects on the body, especially in terms of altering the lipid profile, which is closely related to cardiovascular diseases, says Serban Damian. "Other studies say that it wouldn't be quite OK either. " And this is because this process would destroy the natural structure of fat and would be replaced with an artificial one, by redistributing at random the fatty acids, the artificial acids being more harmful than the natural ones.

*Margarine is healthier than butter
FALSE – Serban Damian repeatedly states that, although it spoils harder than butter, margarine is not a better alternative to him. "The main reason is composition. Butter is a 100% natural food, in which fats have not been altered by chemical processes. Margarine, on the other hand, is a quasi-synthetic food. Obviously, in both cases the amount in which the product is consumed must be limited, because both have an increased caloric concentration". In addition, margarine has questionable effects on the body. "Margarine is a factor that is added to others. I don't think it in itself produces disease, unless there is a favorable ground", but the nutritionist thinks.

If you leave a piece of margarine in the sun, nothing will stain, it will not spoil or change its properties. No flies will settle on it, a sign that it does not contain any nutrients.

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