The Real Skinny on Margarine

When I was a kid in grade school I used to love science experiments. I would imagine myself as the mad scientist concocting various chemicals in a foaming beaker and uttering the “mooohahaha!” laugh I’d seen on TV so many times. Then came courses in lab safety and a dashing of all my delusions of mad scientist grandeur. When I happened upon the explanation of how margarine was made however, I had a Timothy Leary flashback moment going back to my innocent youth described in the above sentences.

It turns out that there is some real “MAD” science behind this goo that is masquerading as a food. Firstly, they take a poly-unsaturated fat (preferably one of the cheapest ones like soy, corn, cottonseed or canola), which is liquid at room temperature, and most likely already rancid from the extraction process, and mix them with tiny nickel oxide particles. These particles act as a catalyst for the reaction. The reaction takes place with hydrogen gas at high temperature and mixed with soap like emulsifiers and starch to give it a proper consistency. It is then steam cleaned at high temperature in order to remove any abnormal odors. At this point it is grey in color, so, it must be bleached, then dyed yellow and flavoring agents added so that it will resemble butter. It is then compressed into tubs and marketed as a health food. Before it was allowed to be dyed yellow (thanks to intense lobbying by the margarine industry), it was actually dyed orange or bleached to white. Scary eh?

The other day, I happened to see the new Becel margarine adds on TV that claimed it to be a heart healthy substance, capable of saving all the women in my life from heart disease and stroke. My first feeling was bewilderment, followed by shock, then stunned disbelief. No, I wasn’t having a Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA) or stroke, just a Saturday Night Live “Really!” moment. The “as part of a healthy diet…” segment, which is carefully inserted into the sales pitch with surgical precision, always gets me thinking. Exactly what “part” that might actually be? The science fictional part methinks.

Also, while plant sterols may lower cholesterol, they don’t come from a chemical plant, but from veggies, which are also a source of fiber, trace minerals and nutrients. Therefore, take these margarine adds with a grain of science fiction.

Be Well.

Dr. Audette

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