Margarine – Everything You Need to Know

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There are many debates going on about margarine and its comparison to butter, with some saying margarine is better while others propose that butter is indeed the better option of the two. There are others who have the opinion that both butter and margarine are both harmful. To get to understand what margarine is made up of and how it works in our body, let us look at margarine, how it is made and its history as well as controversial issues surrounding it as well as how consuming margarine benefits us health wise and why it is important to consume margarine, albeit within recommended portions.



History of Margarine

The origin of margarine can be traced back to the year 1869 in France. It was made as a result of the Emperor Napoleon III seeking a substitute for butter, which could be provided to the army as well as those in the lower class in the society. Margarine was invented to be a cheaper option and to be mass produced. It can also be stored easily at room temperature, thus it made it ideal for use by the army as they could carry it anywhere they went for a long period.  Being cheap it also meant that the lower class in the society could use it as a replacement for butter which was expensive.


Making margarine

The making of margarine involves a process that is commonly known as emulsification which is a process that involves the modification of various vegetable fats and vegetable oils which are blended together through hydrogenation and interesterification.

Butter on the other hand is made out of the butter fat found in milk. Therefore, margarine is mainly made of vegetable fats while butter is made out of animal fats. Vegetable fats have a different melting point as compared to animal fats and this makes vegetable fats to be liquid at room temperature while animal fats are solid at room temperature.


Therefore, margarine is made in a process that involves the lowering of the melting point of vegetable fats thus making them to be solid at room temperature. Vegetable fats also known as oils because they are liquid at room temperature, have a bond referred to as carbon-carbon bonds and the higher the number of such bonds the lower the melting point.

To make margarine, the natural oils undergo hydrogenation, whereby hydrogen is passed through the oils in the presence of a catalyst and this affects the carbon-carbon bonds. This causes a rise in the melting point of the oil thus making it to solidify. To come up with soft margarine, they simply use less hydrogen while to make harder block margarines, more hydrogen is used.

Margarines are now made with a wide range of vegetable fats and some have incorporated animal fats in them. They vary in the percentage of fat that they contain, some having as low as 10 % of fat and some having as much as 90 % of fat. They may further contain skim milk, emulsifiers and some salt, but all these ingredients will vary to come up with different types of margarine. Some will not have skimmed milk so as to cater for individuals who are lactose intolerant. The oils used are generally extracted from seeds and then they undergo refining before being added to solid fats or undergoing hydrogenation.



Nutritional Value of Margarine

There are numerous discussions and debates about the nutritional value of margarine, with the key issue being the fact that margarine has a lot of fats and in comparison to butter, which is natural, margarine has artificial elements as part of its ingredients.

It is estimated that for good health, an adult should get between 20% and 35% of their daily calorie requirements from fats, and margarine is a great source of such fats. Fats are not only important as a source of energy, but they also are useful in making cells in the body as well as the transportation of some vitamins. Vitamins K, A, E and D are fat-soluble and therefore fats are essential for these vitamins to be consumed, transported and distributed in the body.

In terms of the amount of fats it contains, margarine has varied amounts of fats, depending on the purpose; however people tend to prefer low fat margarine in recent times as compared to margarine with a lot of fat content. This is because low fat margarine is seen to be healthier than margarine high in fat content.



There are several types of fats found in margarines such as unsaturated fats, Trans fats and saturated fats.

Unsaturated fats

Unsaturated fats are simply fats that contain a double bond and they haven’t been saturated with hydrogen. There are two types which are the mono-unsaturated and the poly-unsaturated fats. Unsaturated fats have been found to help in the reduction of chances of one getting cardiovascular diseases because its consumption leads to the reduction of LDL cholesterol while increasing HDL cholesterol.

Low – density lipoprotein, also known as LDL cholesterol is associated with an increased risk factor of one getting cardiovascular diseases, therefore since unsaturated fats lower the amount of LDL cholesterol, unsaturated fats are found to be good for the body. HDL cholesterol on the other hand is high – density lipoproteins and they are considered to be good cholesterol because they are capable of transporting fat out of the walls of the artery which prevents accumulation thus, helping to prevent cardiovascular and other vascular diseases.


Trans fats

Trans fats are non-essential fats since they haven’t been found to play any important role in the diet or in the body. Margarines do contain Trans fats; however over time there are efforts to reduce the amount of Trans fats in margarine due to the unhealthy consequences associated with the fats.

There is a link between Trans fats and heart diseases ad this is because Trans fats lead to a high concentration of LDL cholesterol which is basically the bad cholesterol, causing an increased risk of one suffering from a coronary heart disease. As a result, there are margarines being made that contain little or no Trans-fat as a way of responding to the health concerns of the consumers.

Saturated fats

These are fats that have no double bond as a result of being saturated by hydrogen molecules and this causes them to be solid when in room temperature. Margarines mainly contain saturated fats and unsaturated fats, which were hydrogenated to turn them into saturated fats.

Although there is no direct link between saturated fats and heart diseases, it is believed that replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats in the diet does reduce the chances of one suffering from coronary heart diseases. Therefore, one should keep their saturated fats consumption at a minimum and consume more unsaturated fats instead.


Margarines may contain stanol esters and sterol esters which are chemical compounds that may be added to margarine because they have cholesterol lowering effects. This means that the addition of stanol and sterol esters makes margarine to be healthier due to lowered cholesterol, especially since they lower the amount of LDL cholesterol in the body.


Uses of Margarine

Margarine is mainly an alternative to butter, hence the uses of margarine vary as it can be used in many ways, but mostly it is in the same way one would use butter.

Spreading is one of the most common ways that margarine is used. It is spread on bread whether fresh or toast bread, being spread either on each slice or on alternate slices. The recommended amount is that you spread a little on each slice so as not to consume too much, considering that margarine contains a lot of fats.

The other use of margarine is frying. Just as how cooking oil and cooking fat are used to fry, margarine can also be used to fry food, albeit it will have a different taste due to how margarine is made in comparison to cooking oil or cooking fat. You can use margarine to fry vegetables or meat and it can be a healthy alternative to cooking fat since you can find margarine that is fortified with vitamins as well as other healthy minerals.


Margarine can be used to top dress food. You can add margarine to your meals just as a way of making the food taste better. However, when using margarine as a top dressing for your meals, ensure that you do not use too much so as to maintain the healthy required intake of fats that are necessary for a healthy diet and avoid over consumption which will lead to health complications.

Another common use of margarine is baking. Baking can be used in baking a wide variety of pastries, ranging from bread, cakes, cookies and others. In recipes that require butter, you can simply replace the butter with margarine and any form of margarine whether liquid, soft or hard will work well if used for baking.

The key thing to note when it comes to use of margarine is, know what you want to use it for and get the right margarine. Find the most suitable according to your needs because you can get liquid, soft and hard margarine or you may have to choose between low-fat or high fat margarine depending on what you want to use it for.

However, you should generally watch the amount of margarine you consume so as to avoid having too much fat intake.  You can go for liquid and soft margarine as much as possible compared to hard margarine because the harder it is, the more hydrogenation it underwent and the more saturated fats it contains.

They key to a healthy diet is to find a good balance and when it comes to fats, there is no difference. There are numerous debates as to whether margarine is healthier than butter and vice versa, but the truth is, with a good balance in your diet, margarine can actually boost your calorie intake and be an important part of your daily diet, especially considering you can get margarine that is fortified with vitamins and some essential fatty acids such as omega 6 and omega 3 which are great for growth and development of your body.

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