When someone tells you that a food is ‘buttery,’ you want to eat that buttery goodness. Thoughts of fat and clogged arteries may cross your mind but mostly: you just want to eat it. When someone tells you that the food before you on the table is ‘margariney’ you want to— oh, wait. No one tells you that food is margariney. Margariney probably isn’t a word and it’s for sure not used colloquially. But why?
We use margarine all of the time! Surely, it deserves its own adjective. It doesn’t have its own adjective because margarine isn’t enticing. It doesn’t taste especially good, unlike butter. Come to think of it, margarine doesn’t have too many redeeming qualities. Maybe we’re using it for lack of better options- but what if there *were* better options?
Let’s back up. What’s wrong with margarine? Regarding the butter vs. margarine debate, Harvard University HealthBeat says the following: “Although a staple of the American diet, butter came under a great deal of scrutiny when its high levels of saturated fat were associated with increased heart disease risk. Many people accepted the demise of butter in stride, ruing the loss of its savory flavor but agreeing that its effect on the heart might be too high a price to pay. They dutifully switched to margarine, as researchers and nutritionists suggested.
Then the hazards of margarine came to light. Its high levels of trans fats packed a double whammy for heart disease by raising levels of LDL (bad cholesterol) and lowering levels of HDL (good cholesterol). Many people felt betrayed or duped” In other words, people got scared of butter and switched to margarine (and us kosher-keeping Jews didn’t have much of a choice when making meat meals), but it turns out that margarine doesn’t necessarily decrease your risk of high cholesterol or heart disease after all. Some argue that not all margarine is created equal, however. Some food companies have caught on to the fact that trans fats can be dangerous for the reasons previously mentioned, and have created products that have less of it or none at all. With that in mind, specific brands of margarine that contain less trans fat may be a better choice for people who are concerned about high cholesterol or heart disease, as opposed to butter.
If, after reading this post, you’re still intent on using margarine, it might be a good idea to start comparing packages. This article on Livestrong.com does a pretty good job as far as explaining what to look for. Aside from the issue of harmful trans fats in most margarine, almost all margarine, like butter, has a high calorie content, which means that it should be consumed in modest amounts. Meaning, that kugel recipe you have that calls for a stick or two of margarine should probably be modified. Not only that, but even if we find trans fat free margarine, are we maximizing the potential nutritional benefit of our food by using it, or just avoiding the harmful, and exchanging it for something that, if consumed in small amounts, is pretty neutral? A nutritionist that I consulted years ago encouraged me to replace margarine in my parve recipes with other products, without telling myself that margarine is awful, but rather telling myself that there are other products that will maximize the nutrients and general benefits that I get from eating certain foods.
The consensus seems to be that traditional margarine that is high in trans fat is harmful to your health, even in relatively small quantities. However, if you take care to choose the right margarine, you can avoid some of these health pitfalls, so long as you consume it in smaller amounts. Better still is using products with more potential health benefits than margarine, to increase the nutritional intake of the food you eat.